Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reflections on Being a Parent

Next Tuesday, my daughter turns 18. She becomes an adult with the ability to vote, take legal responsibility for her actions, and assert her own independence.

In some ways, my job as a parent is done. She has a good moral compass, feels good about herself, and is resilient. She knows when to ask for help and is open with us about her feelings, challenges, and goals. She's decided to skip much of adolescence and go directly from child to adult, bypassing most of the rebelliousness and occasional self destructive behavior of teens.

She's learned to balance work and play, limit texting and use of electronic devices, and how to build and grow relationships. She has the tools she needs to navigate the next stage of life as she enters college at Tufts University this Fall.

What have I learned from our past 18 years together?

1. Create a non-punitive climate of trust. It's far better to encourage discussion of tough issues than to "shoot the messenger" and create a fear of communication.

2. Strike a balance between too much oversight and too little. In 4 months, she'll leave home and make decisions for herself. She'll decide what to eat and drink, who to spend her time with, and how to balance academics with leisure. Managing her every moment at home with strict oversight may produce short term success but does not enable her to take ownership of the decisions she makes - good and bad. Providing no oversight can lead to risky and destructive behaviors. We've tried to set wide and reasonable limits, then give her free reign to run her life within those limits. She's learned from her mistakes and is a stronger, more self-reliant person because she had the freedom to choose her own path.

3. As with my professional life, I pay more attention to her trajectory than her position. Humans between 12 and 19 can have highly variable moods, rapidly changing ideas, and contrary behaviors. Reacting to every event day to day is likely to cause frustration on both sides. Chances are that today's troubling issue will be gone tomorrow or next week. Focus on the big picture, not the brushstrokes.

4. Strong negative emotions accomplish nothing. In the past 18 years, I can only remember a few times that I've raised my voice. Not only was it ineffective, I spent substantial time repairing the emotional damage done. The term I've used before is "Save as Draft". If you ever feel negative emotions and want to yell, Save as Draft. Have a thoughtful discussion and rethink your emotions based on winning the war, not the battle.

5. Family experiences last a lifetime. Although it may not be immediately clear that time spent together has a profound affect, I can see that my daughter will pursue activities throughout her life inspired by the things we've done together over the past 18 years. Her love of nature, mountains, Japan, gardening, and beaches all come from those hours we spent experiencing the world together.

Of course, she'll have triumphs and tribulations in college. She'll seek our advice and support when she needs it. We'll help her launch a family of her own and continue to share our 50 years of life lessons when they can aid her decision making.

In August, we become empty nesters. Just as we transitioned from the spontaneity of our 20's to the parental responsibilities of our 30's, we're now headed into our next phase.

Thank you Lara for the past 18 years. You've made me a better person and I am confident you'll fledge into a magnificent young woman.


Todd DeShetler said...

As a father of three girls under the age of 7, I always enjoy reading about the life experiences and relationship you have with your daughter. If you haven’t already posted about the topic, it would be interesting to hear how you changed as an individual from the birth of your daughter until now.

Anonymous said...

Sweet blog entry. You're a great parent, Dr. Halamka. Being a parent is probably much harder than treating patients or running an IT system.

Anonymous said...

Best piece you've ever posted.

Sheldon Devine said...

I have been following your blogs and posting for sometime now. The experiences shared are fantastic and the information invaluable. Great to see the balance you maintain between personal and professional life. Looks like a lot of people could learn a thing or two from you. Keep up the excellent work.

Sheldon Devine

Unknown said...

Dr. Halamka, Thank you for an incredibly touching post. As a mother of a 9 and 6 year old, I will take to heart your lessons and try to apply them to our lives.

/ab said...

Dr. Halamka, I read your blog religiously as I am also in health care information management up in Canada. I regularly look to you for wisdom as I begin my career in health care.

But as a new father to be, this post simply took my breath away and inspired me to be a father like you as well.

All the best.

Paul Kirsch said...

Wow, so I read your blog because I work for a Behavioral Healthcare software company and you have some great information on Meaningful Use and Certification and I have referred our customers to your site.

Now today I get some great parenting advice too. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

Kelvin Okumura said...

Thank you for this entry and your sharing your thoughts. We are two years away from a similar transition and it is helpful to read the wisdom of those who are making the transition before us.

Unknown said...

Great post John. I have always enjoyed reading your blogs and this is really a nice one!

pjmachado said...

Thanks John for sharing so deeply!
Your insights about your life personal and professional are profound & insightful! I have 2 teenage daughters (& a teenage son) myself and it has been an adventure!
Thanks for all you do & share!
BTW - Enjoy the empty nest. I hear that it has it's benefits...

ODBasford said...

Go Jumbos! Not sure if you daughter will follow in your footsteps, but I got my start in user interface design for medical records at Tufts. Best of luck to her, it was a blast for me!

My ball said...

Thank you for this post. I enjoy reading all your post and this particular post is reminder to rethink and refocus on broader picture of life than day to day or week by week transactions and interactions with kids and other in general.