A Non-Parent On Parental Judgment

Nothing bugs me more (okay, lots of things bug me and potentially more than this issue, but this is for emphasis) than when people judge parents and say things like, “I will never do it that way” or “how stunned do you have to be to do that?” 

Working in a Pediatric Emergency room, you hear things like that from time to time.  Okay, really you can hear things like that anywhere in life.

I am not saying parents don’t do some stupid things.  But, we are all human.  And common sense isn’t always common.  I do some stupid things too.  I walk into walls on a regular basis.  Plus, sometimes, despite what we think we would do, circumstances, knowledge and all sorts of other factors can alter the decision making process.

I am not perfect.  I have ideas about how I will and will not parent and I am sure a good chunk of them are wrong.  Thus, I admit that I will probably be a parent that waits too long from time to time to get things checked out and odds are, at least once, I will worst-case scenario and run to seek attention for something fairly simple.  And my kids won’t be perfect.  They will throw tantrums and I will make bad calls and probably discipline them in ways others think are foolish.

I feel like I am fairly self aware of these issues.

And I am not a parent yet, so really, aside from obvious child welfare or safety concerns, who am I to judge?  And even if I were a parent, can I grasp the actual situation at hand between a parent and a child?

I am also not saying that I don’t judge from time to time.  But I am saying that I am trying really hard not to.

I have noticed that many parents presume that since I am working in a Peds Emerg that I must know a lot about kids.  And I know a lot of facts.  And I like kids.  But, that does not mean I am a parent.  It amazes me how much trust a person can put in me to care for their little one.  Only to be shocked to find out I am an oncology resident with no children.

Some parents come in with simple questions.  They just want to confirm things are going alright, that there isn’t something secretly wrong with their kids.  As much as those visits get redundant, they are some of my favourites.  You get to do a bit of teaching, you get to provide some comfort and everyone leaves happy.  I know some people who complain about these parents, but really, they are doing a great job.

There are other visits where you shake your head a little because this is very clearly not an emergency room sort of issue.  But sometimes family docs are sparse or out of their comfort zone.  Or parents work or have no access to transportation, so timing is an issue.  So, they have to go somewhere.

And there are visits where everything is warranted, but there are some obvious bad calls… Kids jumping out of shopping carts, a newborn with a low grade fever for two days that probably should have been brought in when it started.  You shake your head because a better decision could have improved outcomes, but the parents are here and concerned because they love their kids and know that it might not have been the best decision, but things are done now.  You still have to care for them.  And treat them well.  We all make bad choices from time to time.

I have a difficult time understanding how people can be all high and mighty.

Sure, you don’t abuse your kids.  But, there is a fine line.  And I have seen a fine line be crossed when someone has a chronically fussy baby.  I cared for a little one once who was squeezed because she was crying so much.  Dad got frustrated after days of screaming and crying.  He didn’t even realize what was happening until it happened.  And then it was too late.  This tore their little family apart.  But, they worked through it.

Sometimes even great parents and families are just steps away from making terrible mistakes.  That is why we educate.  Teach people the basic principles.  Even if you don’t have common sense, if I show you how to check a temperature, when to give medicine and when to come back, you can probably follow those directions.

And yes, there are some terrible people out there or people who really probably shouldn’t be parents.  But, they are.  And if we can’t change that, we should help them.  Especially for the sake of the kids.

I know a few people I grew up with who have now reproduced.  Sometimes, when I see this, I think they would make good proponents for effective birth control, though more and more are now having children intentionally (clearly a sign of  true adulthood).  Most of them are awesome parents and I admire them.  But there are also the ones who have make me shudder a bit because they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.  And I read their Facebook statuses and sometimes wonder how they get through the day without polling their Facebook friends for very simplistic parenting advice.  But, I also know they love their kids to bits and want the best for them.  And that is what really matters.  Not my high and mighty medical knowledge.  That doesn’t necessarily make you a good parent (I have met some doctors that were pretty crappy parents).  And judging them doesn’t help a thing.  I am sure they will judge me when I become a parent (or they are nicer people than I am).

When I was a kid, I was a chronic dislocater.  Pulled elbows, dislocated shoulders, all that good stuff.  My parents were looked at funny when they went to the ER with me.  They did nothing but love me.  And sometimes try to get my arm back in place before going to the hospital to avoid the judgment.  Unfortunately, all you had to do was pull my arm and it would pop out.

Maybe after seeing the worry they went through, I have more empathy for families with kids who really are just sickly or accident prone or well, have behavior problems that make them difficult to care for.

Plus, I keep thinking when I am a parent, despite all of the things I have learned over the years in med school and residency about pediatric medicine, I will be no different than every other mother.  Because I will be just that, a mother.  Treating fevers is not the only issue that will come up.  And I will worry because I know too much sometimes about medical stuff.  And kids are tough.  They all have their own personalities and issues before you even bring parents into the picture.

So, when I see parents who had their kid get hurt in some unfortunate way, or the kid with the flu throwing a full-on tantrum or the mom with a healthy baby with a simple cold, I try to put myself in their shoes.  How tough it must be or how I would want to be treated.  I don’t always do it perfectly.  Sometimes it is just to easy to want to roll your eyes when it takes 4 people to pin down a two year old with a low grade fever just to give Tylenol while the Mom cowers in the corner because she “can’t give her baby medicine”.  Maybe Mom never learned to give medicine.  Or maybe the kid has real behavior issues.  Or is sicker than we thought.

Parenting is auto-programed into us.  We are made to reproduce.  But, it is difficult to parent well.  At least, that is how it seems when there are so many people watching.  Society can be very judging. The important thing is the only person who matters is the child.  I just hope I remember that when I have a child.  And that others would remember that as well.

People come to the Pediatric Emergency room to seek care.  And that is what I want to do… Care.  Not just for the kid.  But also for those people who care enough to bring the child in.  Because that will one day be me or my friends.

It is human nature to judge.  It is also in our nature to make mistakes.  No parent is perfect.  No kid is perfect.  We just do the best we can.

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6 thoughts on “A Non-Parent On Parental Judgment

    • It is an interesting phenomena. Kids totally change the perfect parent personna, especially when they are present.
      I am glad you would be okay with me taking care of your child in the ER! It is probably one of my favourite things to do after the whole oncology/palliative medicine thing!

  1. Such a good post. I’m inclined to be a little judgey at times. We once had a child who came in to the ER with his pacifier taped to his mouth (he was at that age where they throw things to the floor and laugh). Parents sometimes do infuriating things, but it is useful to remember that being a parent is probably the biggest challenge known to man.

    • Wow! I can’t believe they taped the pacifier in his mouth! That is pretty crazy. Those are the times where you really have to bite your tongue sometimes or just point out how that is such a bad idea overall.
      Sometimes people just blow my mind.

  2. I can imagine that there are many times when you debate within yourself, “Should I keep my mouth shut or not on this issue?” I mean, there are obvious things a Dr. has to say, but then there are the things you might WANT to say…but shouldn’t! I’m afraid that I’d get fired because I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut!

    • Very true.
      I do have to say it seems to take a lot to get fired, but sometimes you just have to step away and remember people are their own person. I find that a big issue in the adult world where people eat, drink and smoke themselves to death no matter what you say.
      But yes, I debate often what to say or not to say. There are the obvious things, but sometimes I feel the person out about the more vague issues. How open are they and how likely are they to get really ticked off at what I may have to say.

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