Now, I’m not ashamed to admit that I hate going to the doctor for myself. It’s not fun to have a person’s attention directed solely at me, where I discuss all the ins and outs of my ins and outs. But taking my kids to the doctor? That should be NBD. I can talk for days, weeks, years even, about my kids. So, their doctor’s appointments should be simple, easy peasy. Sick visit? No problem. I got this. Well, visit? No problem. Seriously. I got this.
But you know what? I don’t. I mean, I really really don’t. Of course, I’m still of the “better you than me” mentality, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sweat those appointments. Things can get awkward. I never imagined they would, but they do. How? Let me explain.
Over Reactions/Under Reaction
There seems to be a fine line that mothers (or really any caregivers) walk between being completely overly paranoid regarding any small sign of illness and being completely nonreactive to those small signs of illness in their child. My dilemma? I cannot find that line. And no matter what side of the line I fall on, awkwardness ensues (though looking at it in a rational, I-have-no-sick-children moment, this awkwardness seems to be almost entirely self-created, a little spawn of mom guilt).
For example, my three-year-old son seemed a bit tired. He was whiney, and his biggest whine was that he was so tired. He couldn’t possibly clean up his toy cars because he was “so tired.” Go upstairs to put on pjs? No way. He was “so tired.” For a while, I thought he might still really need his desperately missed (by me) nap, but he was too stubborn to continue to take it. After a bit, though, it occurred to me that he might actually have some legitimate health reason for being so tired. He had low iron as an infant, so maybe?
My son had an upcoming appointment with his regular doctor to do a simple height check (he grew an inch!), so I thought I’d mention this “tiredness” and see if we could get some blood work done. Of course, my assumption was, this blood work would only serve to prove to me that I was an overreactive mother with a three-year-old who should still be taking a nap, even though he was fighting it with every bit of energy he had. I was certain, in those moments, that my son’s doctor probably thought I was a bit nutty.
So it was no surprise then when the nurse called to tell me my son’s blood work came back fine. And there I had it—just a regular old toddler making poor napping decisions. And then the next day came along with a phone call from his doctor. She decided to run a few extra tests on his blood and found that he had Mycoplasma titers in his blood. Or pneumonia. So somehow, my sweet boy had pneumonia, and I never knew. I had no idea how long he had it. But he did.
While I was busy worrying that I was overreacting to my son’s complaints, there I was underreacting. I didn’t recognize the symptoms, and those I did see, the lethargy, had been there for weeks. Now I was the mother who just went about her business while her toddler had pneumonia. Seriously, what must this doctor think of me?
What mattered most, though, is what my son thought of me, which was as the lady who would make him feel better. So with snuggles, giggles, and continued whining, we beat Mycoplasma. And I knew that his opinion was more important than the doctor’s.
Once my little people started talking, their doctor began to ask them, rather than me, questions regarding their health. Let me be the first to say that I love this. I love that it puts my kids in charge of their own bodies and their own well-being. I love that it teaches them to speak up, speak out about their concerns. I love that their doctor speaks to them like small people rather than babies under my constant care. And I would love it if my children would answer the doctor (usually truthfully). But that’s what I want to have happen. It’s not what does.
One of the ways my little people respond is to look at the doctor with fear and then turn to me, looking like the proverbial deer in headlights. I am not sure I have any idea why my child is scared to answer a simple question like “How often do you brush your teeth?” but she is. In these moments, I waiver between answering the doctor for my child, encouraging my child to answer for herself, and wondering if the doctor thinks my child is too scared of answering “wrong” in front of me, who now looks like some angry monster mom.
Often I have to awkwardly laugh these interactions off, like, “Haha…you know how much you brush your teeth. Go ahead and tell her.” But still, I can’t help but think that my child’s inability to provide an answer to such a simple question must leave the doctor wondering what it is that’s going on behind the scenes. That I’ve coached her on how to answer the doctor’s questions, and that if she answers “wrong,” there will be some repercussions? I’ve bullied my daughter into always feeling like she has to say the right thing?
Or maybe she thinks that I’m a crazy parent who jumps in and takes care of everything for their children. I pick out her clothes, tell her what she will eat, and answer her questions for her. I don’t. I want my daughter to speak up for herself, but now it looks like she has absolutely no ability to do it. The thing is, she certainly does speak up for herself (at least to me, she does).
I set my children up for their conversations with their doctor now. I tell them that they can answer any of her questions and to try to be as truthful as possible in their answers. There is no right or wrong response, I inform them. Then I cross my fingers and hope I don’t perform the deer in headlights stare again.
I’m the mother of three small children. This means that I have at least one health-related concern about at least two children on any given day. They’re full of germs and complaints, and honestly, they’re not so great at communicating how they feel. So, I don’t know if this random little rash is just sun-related or it’s some bacterial infection (we’ve had both). Maybe this cough is more than just that lingering cough every mother seems to be talking about right now.
I don’t know. So, when something happens with one of my children that pushes me to make an appointment (whether it’s a well-child appointment or a same-day appointment), I always have to fight the urge to ask a million questions about my two other children. Is there some unwritten rule about talking to your children’s doctor about a child that the appointment isn’t actually for? Is this why doctors are always late? Because each parent makes an appointment for one child but talks about them all? Am I annoying my children’s doctor by throwing out the “Oh, I just wanted to ask you a quick question about one of my other kids”? If I found the subject so important that I brought it up, does that mean it deserves its own appointment?
It goes back to that fine line between over, and under-reaction that I hear exists but can’t seem to find myself. Is it crazy to make an appointment to ask a simple question? Is it really that simple if I have to seek out a doctor’s advice? When I ask about a different child, I always talk fast and fumble over my words in an attempt just quickly to get it out and move on. It’s like I feel guilty for taking up the extra time without making a real appointment. I’m gaming the system. Somehow.
When a visit to my children’s doctor’s office or a phone call with my children’s doctor leaves me feeling a bit embarrassed for one of the above scenarios, I always tell myself that I am part of a much, much bigger group of mamas and papas and caregivers who really have no idea what they’re doing.
We’re all fumbling about, and pediatricians are in a field that is ripe with interactions with newbies to this tribe and not-so-newbies who feel like they’re just slightly managing to pull this parenting thing off, like me. There’s probably not much they haven’t seen or parenting styles they haven’t encountered. So between the newbies and the just-getting-throughs, pediatricians have seen it all, including the likes of my family and me.