Chapter 30: Parenting – bringing up the next generation
|"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. "|
- Hodding Carter.
Being a parent is the world’s toughest job, and being a doctor can be very challenging as well, which means that trying to combine both can be overwhelming for most of us ! One would expect doctors to be good parents, because they are intelligent, educated, and know enough about pediatrics and psychology, to be able to bring up children well. The sad reality, however, is that the children of most doctors are quite unhappy with their parents, and their commonest complaint is that their doctor-parents have very little time for them.
Why is it so hard for doctors to be good parents ? Aren’t they smart enough to know that their children are their most important investment ? The fact is that the pressures of trying to balance both family commitments and work pressures are enormous. While many doctors do a bad job at parenting, the difficulties are even greater when both parents are doctors !
The personality traits that make for good physicians—self-discipline, sacrifice, ambition, and a certain amount of obsessiveness—cant help but influence a doctors parenting style. Doctors are rugged individualists who are used to toughing it out, and they dont usually ask for help, which means they often don’t deal very well with the perplexities of family life. They are used to knowing what to do, and to even advising their patients as to how to bring up their own children; but they are completely flummoxed when it comes to the real-life problems presented by their own children ! They don’t know how to ask for help – or what to do with it, when it is given. This often ends up making a bad situation worse, as the rift between parent and child widens.
Because medicine is a caretaking field, doctors would be expected to make caring, concerned parents. However, many are so obsessed with being the best is their field, that even though they want the best for their children, work and home frequently pull them in opposite directions. Women doctors have a much worse time of it. While men can delegate parenting to their spouse, mothering is still a full-time job, whether or not you are a doctor ! Women doctors have to be super-women to try to juggle the pressures of both parenting and their profession – and they often end up messing up both ! Since they are usually perfectionists, they find that striking the right balance between work and home is not always easy. In fact, many compromise and take a specialty such as dermatology, psychiatry or pathology, because this is less time-intensive and allows them more time to accommodate to their family priorities.
Not having enough time to spend with their kids is by far the commonest complaint of most doctors. Medicine idealizes being busy, which means that if you want to spend time with your kids, you have to limit how much you work, which undermines your professional stature. Many doctors will sensibly decide that while there are other doctors who do what they do, they will never get another chance at raising children – after all, you are the only mother your children have ! After time constraints, the second biggest problem physicians cite about raising children is discipline. The two, not surprisingly, are related. If you cannot spend enough time with your children, they are not likely to listen to what you tell them to do. You cannot dictate to children the way one dictates to patients, because the process of negotiating with children is extremely time-consuming.
Sadly, it’s not only the children who are hurt by this lack of togetherness . Doctors are very conscious about the important role parents play in their children’s lives, and when they find they cannot devote the time and energy their children need, they often end up bearing a huge burden of guilt, which complicates matters even more ! They try to expiate this by giving their children all the toys and luxury and pocket money they want – which makes matters even worse because their kids then exploit this guilt, by asking for more and more . As one doctor put it, the problem is "affluenza—my children expecting too much."
Some perfectionist physicians give themselves failing grades as parents: "I dont feel Im very good at it," or "I wasnt brave enough," or "Whatever you do is not enough." However, there is no doubt that being a parent can be one of the most rewarding achievements of your life. Some of the joys of parenthood as described by physicians are: "Being able to love someone more than I could have imagined." "Seeing life through their eyes, and learning from their innocence." "Having grandchildren!" Children also gratify egos – they love you unconditionally, like no one else ever will.
So what can you do to become a better parent ? Make every effort to attend all your childs special events. Sending a substitute, like a spouse, doesnt work – you cannot outsource this job ! . You are important to your child, and when you are physically with your child, be there emotionally as well ( remember to switch off the mobile !). Take up a game together with your children, such as tennis . This will allow you to spend time together, and both of you can look forward to this "quality” time – especially if he starts beating you as he grows older. This will allow the family to keep physically fit as well; and allow emotional bonding too ! Make sure you spend at least one holiday every year together. Don’t forget the extended family. Make sure your children meet their grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts ; and participate in family events, such as marriages and get-togethers – this can give them strong roots, which will help them for the future. Help them to honour family traditions after explaining to them why they are important. A simple thing you can do on a daily basis is to eat a meal together every day; and make a weekly appointment for having fun ( dinner and a movie if you want to keep things simple) with the whole family. A common mistake many doctors make is to over-emphasise the importance of academic achievements. The important thing is to find the area in which your child shines, and give him as many opportunities as possible to excel in this !
Just like you can help your child, don’t forget there is a lot your children can contribute to your growth and wellbeing too ! Your children can broaden your horizons and teach you new stuff , keeping you young and alert ! Take pride in their achievements – and set up rituals such as bedtime stories , which help to create family bonds. While bringing up a second child is a lot easier because of all the experience you’ve gained from bringing up the first one, sibling rivalry can add a new layer of complexity to family building !
Should your child become a doctor too ? The decision whether to become a doctor like Mom or Dad can be a soul-searching experience for both generations. Many children need to rebel when they become teenagers, to demonstrate their own independence, which is why many will deliberately choose not to follow in their father’s footsteps. Others see the toll which being a doctor can take on an individual’s lifestyle. They feel sorry that their father has such little spare time for himself and for his family, and do not want to repeat the same mistake and fall into the same rut when they start their own family ! On the other hand, many doctor’s children are pushed into becoming doctors. Physicians often want their children to become doctors, because they have an established practice, which they can hand over to them. They also feel they can provide useful career guidance; and their contacts would help give their children a flying start in the medical profession. However, many of these children often end up as unhappy misfits, disappointing themselves and their parents as well, and making a mess of their lives. Others are propelled into medicine because they find the work their father does is fascinating, and would love to follow in his footsteps. Many children are profoundly influenced by their fathers love of medicine and his empathy for patients. When a parent is a proud physician, the pressure to carry on the family tradition can be intense, and some doctors will take their children on hospital rounds; and even into the operation theater, where they hold retractors during surgery. The important thing is to let your children make up their own minds. Any doctor’s child who wants to become a doctor just because he cannot think of alternatives displays a complete lack of imagination.
Medicine is a career which is worth pursuing only if your children want to . They should go into it for their own reasons, because theres a lot theyd have to give up. The best advise is to tell your children - do what excites you, whatever that may be. Given the pressures and stresses of modern medicine, many doctors are now actually discouraging their children from entering medicine. But many doctor’s children do pursue medicine , despite managed care woes, government regulatory hassles, and malpractice threats. Theirinspiration is often their physician-parents, who serve as such strong role models that their kids yearn to be just like them - after all, there will always be room for a good doctor ! As a doctor’s child, who is a doctor herself says, " Growing up with two parents who are doctors, and seeing how much joy they derived from their work, I eventually came to realize that in no other profession could I reap so much happiness, because of the positive impact I could have on other peoples lives.”
Society needs to realize the important role parenting has in doctors’ lives. We can start providing newer options, such as tele-medicine; part-time jobs; or job-sharing, which will allow doctors to both do a good job professionally, without taking them away from their children. A happy doctor at home is a happy doctor at work – and we should stop looking down at doctors who wish to work part-time so that they can spend more time with their children as being unprofessional or unmotivated. Our children are our most valuable investment, and our most important contribution to the future.
The sad truth is that children do not remain children for very long. They grow up and grow away too soon, so make the most of them while you can ! Savor these years – they won’t come back again. Take good care of your children now – they will take good care of you as you grow older.
Kahlil Gibran put it best when he said, " Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Lifes longing for itself. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”