The Dad Behind the Working Mom

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As a working mom, I could not do all of the things I want to accomplish as a mother or career woman without the support of my husband. Beyond offering me encouragement along the way, he is an equitable partner in our home. I am grateful that my children will not only have memories of their father as the one who provides adventures, like sledding, biking, and being thrown in the air, but a model for active participation in the household, from changing diapers to washing dishes. Their father takes them to the grocery store and picks out their clothes in the morning. Our children grow up seeing household duties as family duties rather than specific to either mom or dad. While there are plenty of chores that each of us excel at and prefer, such as his cooking and my story reading, they have learned that we both can and should do a bit of everything.

After our first child was born, I returned to work six weeks later and my husband stayed home to care for him over the next three months. At my son’s first few pediatrician appointments, my husband provided the details of his day, such as his feeding schedule and developmental milestones, as the primary caregiver. It was initially off-putting as his mother to be the non-dominant parent, but I eventually came to appreciate the beauty of having his father embrace this role so that I could maintain my career trajectory. Rather than have to put our newborn in daycare, our son developed a strong bond with his father, who remains a strong attachment figure in his life.

My husband is an amazing partner and allows me to be the best person that I can be. He is a role model for our children and I am proud of the ways in which I see elements of him blossoming in them. He challenges me to push myself when I need to be pushed and reminds me to slow down when I need to ease up. I probably do not applaud him enough, but I am thankful that Father’s Day reminds me each year to recognize how lucky I am to have a father like him in my and my children’s life.

[This post is being republished from the Today Parenting Team site from 6/2/15.]

When a Pediatrician Breaks Her Own Rules

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I smirked to myself as I typed instructions for a nurse to pass along to my patient: “I do not recommend adding rice cereal to the bottle. When developmentally appropriate, it should be given by spoon only.” Yes, you should never put rice cereal in the bottle. I have never put rice cereal in the bottle to see if my child would sleep longer. I have never tried to sneak in a few extra calories and iron by adding rice cereal to the bottle. Ok maybe once. Or twice. Or at times when I am desperate.

As a pediatrician, I dish out parenting advice all of the time and most of it is extremely research-based. It is rare that I use more anecdotal recommendations, although I hear all sorts of home remedies from families each day. My inclination to follow the science over experiences is likely due to being early in my career. Sticking to the scientific evidence on a topic allows me to have the support of the medical community behind my recommendation, but with only a few years of practice under my belt, using anecdotal evidence from patients feels less safe. However, there are times that I use my own parenting experiences when talking with patients. It is sometimes hard to restrain from sharing these stories, as a pediatrician in the trenches of parenthood.

I was relieved when I recently overheard a colleague also giving out advice that she doesn’t follow herself. This attending physician was explaining why children shouldn’t use combination sunscreen and bug spray products, then immediately told us how much she loved using it herself. I laughed immediately, thinking of all the topics that this reminded me of in my own practice. Whether it is related to feeding, sleeping, hygiene, screen time, or discipline, pediatricians often find the evidence-based recommendations that we give to patients and parents much harder to practice than preach.

The reality of how difficult parenting by the book is has made me a better pediatrician. Instead of judging that mom who puts rice cereal in the bottle or uses the combination sunscreen-bug spray product, I see in her a woman like myself and my friends who is doing the best she can. A woman who respects the ideal practice guidelines yet modifies them to fit her family. Although I support the occasional rule-breaking for the sake of sanity, I fear telling our pediatrician as much as I imagine some of my patients fear telling me. I hope that they see in my flawed practices though permission to be honest about the life hacks that we all use to survive the turbulence in parenting.

 

[This is not medical advice. You should talk to your health care provider to determine what is best for your child. The opinions above are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.]

Ages and Stages of Motherhood

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Kids often like to flip through the cards on my ID badge, which dangles from my neck into their grasp during their physical exams. Flipping through, they see first my main ID picture, taken very recently, and next an older photo from my first week of residency. The latter photo, now seven years old, shows a version of myself that feels like yesterday. I had just flown home from a Caribbean cruise, my skin sun-kissed and hair golden in its highlights. I was relaxed, well-rested, and healthy.

“Is this you?’ the kids often ask in bewilderment. Then I flip quickly between the two saying “yes, pre- and post-kids, pre- and post-residency.” This always gets a laugh from the parents.

I know there are women who have two children and seem not to age a bit. I thought after my first that I was mostly unchanged, but by my second, I realized how old I have become. After wrestling around on the floor with my children, my knees creak when I stand. I have wrinkles on my forehead from all the times I have raised my eyebrows in surprise, which with a preschool-aged son happens more and more these days. I surrendered both the expense and time needed for getting my hair highlighted to let it be natural, and the natural color seemed to change with each pregnancy.

Being a physician seemed to compound these effects. Time was even more precious, stress more acute, and habits unhealthy. The end result becoming that I didn’t love the ID picture on the front of my badge anymore. So as the kids gaped in amazement at my younger self, I did too, and wondered where she went.

While getting my hair cut recently, the stylist looked at me as I hurried in and out of her chair on my way from a meeting to school pick-up. “Honey,” she said grasping my shoulders, “you deserve something for you.” Of course she was right. It wasn’t about making myself look younger, because I know I’ll never look like the girl on the old ID badge again, but rather investing in myself now so that I am confident in who I am. So I’ve allowed myself some indulgences, like coloring my hair or painting my nails.

However, even if I primp and pamper myself, I am still a 30-something working mother of two. There are pieces of my children that I carry with me always now, parts of me that are forever changed from their being. But as I hold them in my arms and they run their hands through my hair and glide their fingers over the contours of my aging face, I see how beautiful I am in their eyes and love every imperfection that makes me their mother.

Preschooler Fashion

shoesI swore I would never buy light-up shoes. When these first came out in 1992 I was only eleven years old and already had enough fashion sense to know that these were utterly ridiculous. I put them in the same category as the shoes with imbedded inline skates (Heelys), which came out about eight years later. Suddenly kids were either stomping their feet or leaning back to glide on wheels as they walked around shopping malls and grocery stores. Before children, I rolled my eyes at these inventions.

My son has a habit of dragging the toes of his shoes to brake on his balance bike, which means that any pair of shoes we buy him from April to November lasts for only a few weeks. If he had a fashion style, it would be hobo chic. So knowing his shoes won’t last long, I rarely spend too much money on each pair. The upside is that we get to try out many different styles.

At the age of four, my son is starting to have opinions about what clothing he wants to wear and it is a little harder for me to pick out things that I like without running it by him. He recently informed me that he wanted light-up shoes and I groaned as he pointed them out to me. Eager to get him into any shoes that actually had intact soles, I conceded. Then, as I watched him dance around in his new shoes and tell me fantastical stories about the lighting shooting from his shoes, I realized how much fun it was to watch him assert his own sense of style. Although I’ll miss the days when I could buy anything in his size and dress him up, I’m enjoying seeing him express himself in fashion. And if anything describes his four-year-old self, it’s lightning shooting from the soles of his feet.

The Long Way Home

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The ten minute drive home from work is both the best and worst ten minutes of my day. I am fortunate that my husband and kids pick me up from work most days of the week and we all drive home together. As much as  I love my job, I cannot wait to see my children at the end of the day. As our car pulls up, I wave excitedly at them and see their beautiful faces smiling back at me, their necks craning eagerly to see me. Best part of my day. Then, I get into the car and the next ten minutes are a symphony of complaints and cries. Worst part of my day. I try to get my preschooler to tell me some tidbit of his day, but typically he responds with whining about what he wants to eat or what toy he wants me to buy for him and how upset he is that he isn’t eating said food or playing with aforementioned toy at that very instant. Meanwhile my toddler weeps that she is rear-facing (she’s under two!) and cannot see me as well as her brother. Sensing his mood, she surmises that she should also be upset. Then they argue over a few rogue goldfish snacks they found wedged between the car seats. Toys get flung around and we yell from the front seat some parental guidance about car safety that sounds like Greek to my children. I hear the echoes of my own childhood in each phrase (“do you want me to get in an accident?!”). By the time we pull into our garage, we are sometimes so exasperated that any fantasies I had about our evening plans are replaced with dreams of going straight to bed.

Hours from bedtime though, my children need entertaining, which this time of year typically means playing outside. So we all burn off the energy we worked up during the car ride by running, biking, and climbing. After playing together, things seem to calm down and we are all happy again. A few blissful moments before we begin to battle over eating dinner.

I know that we are not alone in the after-work/after-school witching hours. As a working mom though, these few hours between work and bedtime are the only time I have with my kids during the week, so it frustrates me when this time is spent negatively. Whenever we are in such a rut, I brainstorm strategies to make our time together special. Special is one of my preschooler’s favorite words, so any mundane task or food can be elevated by describing it as special. Such as, “I have a special snack for you,” elevates “here’s this thing I bought that you haven’t tried before and I hope you eat.” Or “we can’t  go there but we are going to another special place” improves the reality of “your favorite place is closed so let’s try the next best option.” So there are lots of “special” moments incorporated into our rides home. Sometimes it works, sometimes we continue to battle.

Each time though I find myself frustrated by the backseat yelling, crying, or fighting, I try to remember that this is their way of venting. If I were driving home with only my husband, or a coworker, I would use that time to air my grievances. It’s my version of therapy. Ten minutes later and I feel unburdened by the stresses of my work day and ready to tackle my home life. Similarly, my children have long days at daycare/preschool; sometimes their days are even longer than mine. So why should I begrudge their time to complain about it? Although they don’t give me tangible complaints, like boy mom, school was hard today, or guess what so-and-so said today, they give me their troubles in an age-appropriate expression. They let it out with a scream, a tantrum, a cry. Then as I sit there, wishing I could complete a sentence to my husband without a shrieking toddler or having my seat back kicked with the wrath of four-year-old feet, I remember that they are also trying to tell me about their daily worries and that by the time we get home we will all happily play together.

Now we play a game that my preschooler himself initiated. We take turns naming the best part and worst part of our day. Typically his best part involves some demand of his that I gave into and his worst part is something that he would like to apologize for but hasn’t yet. Then I counter with my best part being whatever said thing he has actually apologized for and my worst part is whatever we had just been yelling about, for which we have now repented. The game turns into an orchestrated way of verbalizing our frustrations, apologizing for hurting each other, and modeling how we wish things were better. So while the worst part of my day may be hearing my children greet me with high octave cries of their daily struggles, my best part is that I am raising children who created a way to make that worst part better for us all.

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