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Parenting teaches me how to be a grown-up

June 20, 2020

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I am so impressed by trainees these days. You all seem more mature and put together than I was at that time. It makes me wonder how I got through all those years, just fumbling and foibling along the way. But I did my best, and now here I am, blogging about life as an attending IR. Pretty cool stuff. So I got to thinking about the continuous nature of personal development as a physician. And for me, parenting has been part of that process. While child-rearing isn’t for everyone, and a world-wide pandemic isn’t the most relaxing or convenient time to do so, it’s a fascinating process nonetheless. I wanted to share some of the things my little guy (who’s now two and a half) has taught me lately. Basically, concepts in medicine have helped me in parenting, and parenting teaches me how to be a grown-up. 

Employ graduated responsibility

Graduated responsibility is integral to medical training. As an intern, you can order acetaminophen independently before you feel comfortable giving narcotics. You’re on a shorter leash until you develop and earn your autonomy as a physician in training. This concept of incremental responsibility can apply to parenting, too. 

My toddler likes to carrying as many things as he can. Embarking on a trip to the next room, he needs two plastic cups, a stuffed animal, and a pizza crust, just in case. So I can’t trust him with a beverage too, because he doesn’t know his limits. He’ll spill it accidentally, or sometimes on purpose, concentrating like he’s performing some sophisticated experiment in gravity. But on a good day, he can have an open, non-sippy cup with a small amount of liquid, to get used to the responsibility. If he spills it, he helps clean it up. One day, he’ll need to clean up bigger messes as he learns to be a grown-up.

Momma doc superpowers

As a parent, there is a lot of baggage too. And after a toddler adventure, everything returns home a little bit sticky. After a trip, I release my boy from his carseat and set him down. He used to bolt toward the road, but now, I can trust him to get himself to the front door safely. Gradually, I introduce a bit more responsibility, asking him to carry something inside. Now he shares the burden of schlepping stuff with me. As in medicine, in parenting, we learn to delegate and empower trainees using the concept of graduated responsibility. Being a doctor and a parent requires straddling these seemingly disparate worlds, and I think that’s where the magic is. Parenting reminds me of these concepts I learned in the context of medicine. Reapplying them helps me in my grown-up life, too.

Reject limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs can affect anything in our lives, right down to our diets. With the goal of feeding my little one well, I’ve given him a variety of foods as long as he’s been on solids. But my family has given me some funny looks over the years, as I’ve prompted him to try certain things. Like French parents, I reintroduce foods, even if he’s rejected them before. Feeding him only “kid foods” would limit his nutrition quite a bit. The idea that kids can only eat certain things is a culturally prevalent limiting belief in my opinion.

I get that some kids are truly picky. Sometimes, “toddler foods” can be integral to feeding a choosy child. But I’ve learned it’s not as simple as “Toddlers don’t eat X or Y.” It’s actually a caregiver’s limiting belief that “he won’t eat that,” which results in not offering certain foods. Since I’ve made it a point not to let others’ pre-conceived notions get in the way, my boy has eaten cabbage and kale, mushrooms, olives, blue cheese, and raw onions. He even sneaks onions from the cutting board!

Really, my kid just wants to do whatever I’m doing. If I’m eating salmon and veggies, he eats salmon and veggies. If we’re eating pepperoni pizza, he eats pepperoni pizza. Because of this fact, it puts pressure on me to set an example and be a better grown-up.

How to be a grown-up: learn to do better myself

I’ll give a small example of how I’ve changed my own eating habits recently. While I haven’t eradicated my chocolate addiction, I’ve been able to mold it, acquiring a taste for bitter dark chocolate and cacao nibs. Over time, the super-processed, sugary milk chocolates have become less appealing by comparison. I am trying let go of limiting beliefs, like, “I’ve always been a sweets person,” or “I just need my afternoon sugar fix.” I’m swapping out milk chocolate in favor of a healthier habit. And I hope that in aggregate, better habits like these will help make me a better grown-up.

Move toward things rather than running from them

In life, it is more effective to intentionally move toward the things we want, than to run away from the things that we don’t. For instance, if we don’t like our work environment, it’s better to think about and search for an ideal one than to jump at the next one to escape as quickly as possible. In this way, we can get closer to the things that bring us joy and satisfaction, rather than aimlessly running away from things that are difficult. This is how we become better grown-ups.

This concept has been reinforced for me in parenting. It’s like the art of redirecting a toddler. For example, when we arrive home from an outing, Wes wants to play with landscaping rocks, throwing them all over the driveway. Instead of telling him what not to do, which is pretty ineffective, I lure him to an attractive marled rock near the door, and remind him how excited he was to take a shower. Redirection a useful parenting skill, and could apply in other areas of life, too. We can even use it on ourselves as grown-ups!

What I’m focusing on right now

The world-wide coronavirus pandemic has been beyond stressful. Once I got past the initial weeks of panic, some boredom crept in. It’s a privileged place to feel boredom, I know. But despite feeling gratitude for our home, our health and our safety, there were moments I felt like I was on an endless work, home, work, home, work, home treadmill. While I have always felt thankful for our relative safety, the monotony has been real, too.

Instead of focusing on the monotony of the routine, though, I’ve gotten excited about a new project. I’ve written a book (which will probably be) called Tired Superheroine’s Guide to Finding Your Place in Medicine. As you know, I’ve been working on my writing skills here for nearly two years. Doing so has helped clarify my message and purpose. I also felt compelled to include the voices of women who have walked a similar path to mine. Connecting with each of them virtually over the past few months has been a joyful and gratifying aspect of the process. I cannot wait to share their perspective alongside my own. 

Join me!

The book will come out in October, and in the meantime, there is still a lot to be done. I’d love to include you in the process. As I edit, choose a cover design, and make the finishing touches, I’ll need some help from you, my people. To see behind the scenes, join us in the private Facebook group Tired Superheroines. It’s a supportive space built for women in male-dominated fields.

I hope to see you there!

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