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Life in Emergistan

Like Emergency Medicine, Parenting Requires Attention

Leap, Edwin MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000574820.39872.cb
Life in Emergistan

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This year our daughter graduated from high school. Elysabeth Salem Leap, AKA Elysa, girl-child, princess, and sunshine, is an incredible young woman who will touch the world in more ways than we can yet imagine. If you met her, she would impress you with her mind, charm, and smile, and move you with her kindness. Raising her has been a delight from the moment she was born.

Her graduation reminded me of all the things I learned about parenthood, what I've learned while Jan and I raised four children. One of the most important is time. It's critical. Your spouse desires your time, and your children desire your time. More than that, they need it. Time is like food and water; it is emotional nutrition. It is the wordless way you say to them, “You matter most.”

Our work is vital and life-saving—and time-consuming. But do your best to make it clear to your loved ones that they are your highest priority. Climbing the career ladder is important but not as important as family. Advancement and position mean little when relationships are burned on the altar of success.

Quality time is nice, but it's also deceptive. Quantity is far better because time needs to be shared doing the fun and the mundane. Traveling and having adventures, working in the yard, cooking and eating, reading, disciplining, encouraging, and just talking.

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Talking and Laughing

If you asked my kids what they cherished most, it would probably be talks. Talking at bedtime, over school work, at meal time, on walks, in the car. Laughing at jokes and memories. Words have so much power to shape and enliven our children. It is no accident that the Greek word logos means “word” and “organizing principle.”

Of course, talking is how we teach; we also teach with books. Children should see us read. We should tell them what we read and read to them, even when they can do it themselves. Do not be deceived by the tawdry marketing ploy that electronic devices can replace your parental voice. Devices may read books, but they do not pause to explain, question, inflect, instruct, tickle, give kisses on the head, share morals based on the reading. Devices are not what we want to hear as we slip into childhood dreams; we want to hear the voices of our parents, speaking, singing, or praying us into the night.

If I could go back in time, I would read to all my children until age 18. I did some and still do a bit, but not as systematically, not as regularly. The schedules and social lives of high school make it more difficult, but it's good for them to hear as much as possible. Our children need our wisdom and knowledge in high school and beyond. They know far less than they think. Books are a great reminder of this.

Medicine makes us financially stable, and it is easy to lavish goods on our children. We should always pause, though, and teach them to work. Remind them that they are fortunate and that their successes in large part will depend on their efforts. It is also wise for them to have some sense of how hard their parents work to care for them. It is wise for all of us to remember that no amount of money will replace lost time, a lost opportunity, or a lost relationship.

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Things Large and Small

It's also vital that we love our partners. This provides kids with stability in a chaotic world. Many of the social tragedies we see in children in the ED are the fruits of terrible relationships between their parents, who they look to for solidity, safety, and consistency.

Even those of us who are divorced or separated can be amicable for the children. Our love for them teaches them what it should look like when they build their own families.

Finally, we should teach our children what we believe and what we think they should believe. How often do we hear, “I want to let them decide what to believe.” All sorts of people and ideas are influencing them, for good and bad. We must teach them what matters, which values to hold, how to live well, and how to navigate trouble and find joy; otherwise someone else less capable (or truly nefarious) will gladly fill the void.

Like emergency medicine, parenthood requires that we be attentive to things large and small. I would summarize all of this simply as this: “Love your partner and your children with all your heart, and love them far more than your work.”

Do that and you'll navigate parenthood just fine.

Dr. Leappractices emergency medicine in rural South Carolina, is a member of the board of directors for the South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians and an op-ed columnist for the Greenville News. He is also the author of four books, Life in Emergistan, available atwww.nursingcenter.com, and Working Knights, Cats Don't Hike, and The Practice Test, all available atwww.booklocker.com, and of a blog, http://edwinleap.com/. Follow him on Twitter @edwinleap, and read his past columns athttp://bit.ly/EMN-Emergistan.

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