Photo by Cathy Yeulet
When I first started practicing pediatrics, I had a particularly terrible morning with one of my children, who was 20 months at the time. The morning milk cup was the wrong color. The breakfast was wrong. The outfit she wanted was in the dirty laundry basket. I had to leave early to be at work, and the 26-inch cavewoman who lived in my house was ruling the roost.
I don’t recall exactly what the battle was about that morning. With a 20-month-old, it could’ve been about anything. That particular morning, I worked really hard to pull from my reserve and to “win” whatever battle it was, proving (to myself as much as my child) that my parenting would hold.
I finally dropped off my precious child at her Montessori school and stumbled into work, feeling like I had no fight left to take on the day. My first appointment that morning was with two well-mannered, strong, intelligent teenagers. The seasoned mother asked me how I was. I told her I had an epic toddler battle that morning, and I wasn’t sure the 90-minute parenting battle was worth it, but that, in the end, I “won.”
She calmly looked at me and smiled, like only a mom who has come out on the other side of toddlerhood and said, “It was worth it. Because by the time they’re my kids’ ages, all it takes is a look.”
I have thought of that so many times through the years. All of the hard work of parenting — the sleepless nights, getting slapped by a preschooler, getting vomited on at 3:00 in the morning, showing your little person that you are THERE and in charge — is worth it. The hard work is worth it.
When you’re a pediatrician, you see the results of all of the work parents put in. When your children are respectful to staff, it means you’ve taught them to respect others. When they suck it up and do something they don’t want to (like a flu shot), it means you’ve taught them that they can do hard things.
One of my favorite things as a pediatrician is when a younger child brings in a list of questions about her body or health to address at the check-ups. This means the parent is teaching her to pay attention to her health and body, and to be inquisitive when she doesn’t understand something.
When your teenager eventually comes in by himself and tells me what’s going on with his mental or physical health, it’s because you have taught him through the years to take care of himself. You have taught him to pay attention to his needs and address them.
So even though parenting can be a grind, rest assured that the hard work is worth it. Your kid’s pediatrician notices. And her coaches and teachers. And his friend’s parents. Keep modeling how to be respectful, especially respectful of people who are different from you.
Keep telling them to look people in the eye, be polite, don’t put their feet on the walls, don’t bully, be kind, pick up their clothes off the floor, turn the lights off, flush the toilet, make their beds, don’t litter, don’t cheat, don’t gossip, believe in themselves, and make a difference in the world.
Because one day, you will see your child make a decision that you don’t have to supervise. And it will be a kind decision. A decision with integrity. A decision to do the right thing. And it will happen because you put in the work to teach them kindness, and integrity, and how to do the right thing, even when they were staring you down in a wet diaper from the time-out chair.
And then you will realize that all of your hard parenting work was worth it.