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What I Couldn't Believe Our Pediatrician Prescribed

Photograph by Twenty20

Once upon a time, I planned simultaneous well visits for all three of my children.

That's right: three doctor's appointments for three young boys, all pretty much at the same time.

In theory, this was a well-reasoned plan. There would only be one car ride to the pediatrician's office, only one interminable wait in the pediatrician's waiting room, and only one bout of disappointment (and, for at least two kids, only one round of crying) over the ensuing vaccine shots at the end of the pediatrician's appointment.

In reality, this plan was a bit of a shit show.

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There was whining. There were tears. There were even a few punches thrown as the doctor checked the littlest one's ears. Thankfully, these punches weren't thrown at the doctor; they were mere sucker punches thrown between brothers.

This, however, was only small comfort to me, the mother of said brothers.

As I wrangled my toddler with one arm and admonished the other two boys to stop hitting one another, our pediatrician asked me if I had any questions or concerns about my children's growth and development. And I did. Lots of them. In fact, I laid them all out for her with all the frazzled and irrational worry that I could muster.

Honestly, in that moment, I would have been happy with aiming for them just to become "non-serial killers."

One kid wasn't learning to read as quickly as his older brother did. One flat-out refused to eat anything orange. One was, at the very moment of our conversation, trying to lick the (probably norovirus-riddled) tile floor of the exam room. One had just learned how to use the phrase "holy shit." In context. One used every single transition or limitation as an excuse to hit me, dump the contents of his dinner on the floor or scrawl angry crayon drawings on the walls. And one didn't sleep. Like, at all.

All three of them were misbehaving, ungrateful little monsters.

"I mean, just look at them!" I recall saying to their doctor.

Obviously, I was failing, and I needed my kids' pediatrician to tell me exactly what I needed to do to get them back on track so that they could be functional, productive, healthy human beings someday.

Honestly, in that moment, I would have been happy with aiming for them just to become "non-serial killers."

My little monsters' doctor looked at me with a mix of pity and compassion—and maybe a bit of exasperation—and said, "Kristen, I've seen lots of kids and lots of parents and lots of parenting styles and lots of different parenting decisions in all my years as a pediatrician. And the only common quality—the only one—among all the kids who seem well-adjusted as teenagers and adults is this: love."

It was an absolute relief to hear someone—a kid's health expert, no less—give me permission to suck and make mistakes.

She paused for a moment to let the message sink in.

"They came from houses where there was lots of love," she continued. "That's it. You'll make mistakes. They'll make mistakes. None of you will be perfect. But just love. Make sure your decisions come from a place of love. That's the best advice I can give you."

I think I might have cried. And it wasn't just the sentimental sappiness that made me cry. I cried with relief. It was an absolute relief to hear someone—a kid's health expert, no less—give me permission to suck and make mistakes. It was a relief to hear that the love I had for them was better than any efforts I was making to be perfect, or to make them perfect.

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And so the DTaP shot our pediatrician gave two of my children that day will help to prevent them from getting diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Hooray for preventing gross and deadly diseases, you know?

But she also gave me a shot of parental confidence and well-being. And though it won't prevent me from getting any gross and deadly diseases, it has prevented me from getting locked in the grips of parental despair and perfectionism.

That's a prescription I'll fill any day.

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