Whenever I have a patient the same age as one of my kids, it is hard not to compare. Although my training has already taught me what developmental milestones to expect, I have a living reminder at home. Sometimes it helps me appreciate what the child’s interests might be, based on the current trends in my own household, and this usually gives me some extra points with my patients. Holding and examining a child similar in age/size/interests to my own reminds me though how much I miss them while at work. When I see a baby the same age as G smile at me, I wonder if she is smiling. A toddler like N tells me what he had for lunch and I wonder if N ate his. These encounters sometimes make me regret that I am away from my own kids and instead taking care of others’. Mostly though, the memories of my own children make me more confident in my patient encounters, as if I have some insider knowledge about this child and the parent’s experience.
As a pediatrician, the fact that I spend my time away from my own kids taking care of other kids is full of its own dilemmas. It’s hard to explain to your kids that you can’t be with them because another child needs you more. It will be especially challenging if one of them is home sick and I have to work, as I wouldn’t want them to think that other sick children take priority over them. As of now, I don’t think N has any idea what I do at work, as he has simply stated that I “work in a big building” thanks to Todd Parr’s The Mommy Book. When a friend told him I work at the hospital, he replied, “Nooooooo,” in a tone that mocked that notion as if she had said I worked on the moon. I know someday soon he will begin to understand what I do and I hope he is proud and not resentful.
An adolescent medicine physician once told me that when talking about her long work hours with her teenage daughter, she blamed the residents and their need for her teaching rather than the sick teenage patients. She said that she didn’t want her daughter to identify with the sick role as one that would get her mother’s attention. She chose to highlight her role as teacher rather than healer. I, however, want my kids to know exactly what I do because I am proud of my profession and think they will be too. I want them to see all facets of my career. Although I may spend my days caring for their peers, they will always know that I am first and foremost their mother. I am always there to care for them and the time I spend caring for other sick children only makes me a better mother when I come home. They won’t have to be sick to get my attention, because they have it all the time.
So as I hold your giggling 4-month-old or chat with your precocious 3-year-old this week, it will be familiar. It will make me miss my own, but in a happy way. When your children are sick, I feel for you. When they aren’t going to get better, I cry for you. As a mother, I feel an automatic connection to my patients’ families as we navigate parenthood together. Sometimes I can teach them about what worked with my kids and sometimes they are teaching me of what is ahead. We are partners in this adventure, sharing not only a doctor-patient relationship, but a bond of motherhood.