When I started my journey on embracing my imperfections as a parent, I quickly dug into parenting books, blogs, and podcasts. I would kick myself every time I made a “parenting mistake,” and I would blame this on my ineptitude as a father. Many physician parents do this to themselves. Starting in high school and college, we are trained to be the best. Any time you failed, it would greatly affect your ability to get into medical school, residency, or the field of medicine you truly desired. There was always a goal set in front of us as well as a predetermined pathway to get there.
However, when it comes to parenting, there is no set pathway, end goal, or diploma that we receive. Although we have our parents to help us out, the physician dad of the 21st century is different from that of the 20th century. There are plenty of parenting books out there, however many of these treat our experiences as the same: this is how you do potty training; this is how you start solid foods; this is how you discipline. They are very much a “one-size-fits-all” type of parenting fix, and in many cases they do not delve deep enough into the common themes that really affect our ability to be the parent we truly want to be.
The themes I am speaking of are what I refer to as the 6 B’s of Being a Physician Dad. I get that the alliteration may be a little over the top, but let’s face it – medical school trained us to memorize mnemonics. Parenting is hard enough; let’s keep this part simple.
The 6 B’s are what I see as the core foundations of what makes us a good parent. When we learn to improve these aspects of our lives, we inherently become a better parent. The 6 B’s are:
- Better Half
Notice how NONE of those themes say PARENTING??? That is because our parenting is a direct reflection of who we are as a person. Most parenting books and solutions tend to be a quick fix for a set situation. Reading a book on how to potty train your child does NOT prepare you to deal with discipline situations later in life. These books tend to address the superficial situation but fail to help you with the core foundations of being a parent.
I have taken care of thousands of families and children in my pediatric practice. They all carry a common theme: children are born as a blank canvas. It is our brush strokes as parents that make our children the people they become.
These brush strokes are formed via two types of teaching with our kids: Direct and Indirect. Direct teaching is self explanatory. This is what we purposefully try to teach our children in a particular setting. We may help them with their homework, teach them a song, help with the ABC’s. This is what our kids learn from school. Direct teaching is a purposeful form of teaching that has a set goal in mind.
Indirect teaching is where the 6 B’s shine. This is the teaching we do when we aren’t trying to teach. This can include our mannerisms, behaviors, eating habits, exercise routines, how we treat our significant other, our strength in our faith, money habits, and discussions about work. Our children are like sponges very early on in life. They watch how we react to certain situations, talk about other people, or respond to the news. They tend to mimic this in themselves, becoming a clouded mirror of our own souls. Their brains are quick to rewire themselves, taking in information at an alarming rate.
When our 6 B’s aren’t where we want them to be, we can’t be the fathers we strive to become. However, if we can improve these different core foundations on a daily basis, this will inherently bleed over into our daily actions as a parent and how our children view us as Dad.
Let’s Talk About the 6 B’s in More Detail
Our brain is the machine that drives us. Not only does it help us live, but it creates the routines of our daily lives. You may not recognize it, but everything you do in your day is based on a routine: the patterns after you wake up in the morning, the way you drive to work, the foods that you eat, and how you respond to your kids when they are misbehaving.
Everything you do is a programmed system of thoughts that leads to certain feelings and actions in your body, which become easier and easier to do the more you do them. For example, you may have always said you would be the dad that never yells. Then came the one time that you let your voice go. Mine was when our older son kicked my then pregnant wife in the stomach (he was 2 years old and didn’t understand, of course). You may have felt guilty after this occurred (yep), but then the next time something happened you yelled again. Then again. As the pattern continued, your reaction to yell became easier and easier, and now you can’t remember the time when you weren’t yelling at your kids. This pattern of yelling out of frustration is a learned pattern. Initially your brain was resistant to do it; now that the pathway has been paved it becomes easier and easier to reactively choose that response.
On the flip side, if you train your brain to respond to conflict with calm, understanding, and peace, this not only helps you as a dad respond to negative situations, but it also inherently trains your child to do the same. Your child will also not be so scared to fail in front of you in the future.
The brain is pliable and easily manipulated once you know how to do it. You CAN do it if you choose to put in the work.
Just as our every day life is based off routines, our eating, drinking, physical activity, and sleeping habits are also routine oriented. There is a lot of science out there that focuses on how all of these different aspects of your body can affect your overall mood, mental wellness, and ability to live a long happy life.
For example, I recently did a blog post and podcast episode on the benefits of sleep. There are so many subcategories within just the topic of sleep that I could have done a multi-hour episode; there are so many more subcategories when it comes to understanding the rest of your body’s health. Once you learn to master your own health, you will be better equipped to handle the stress that comes along with being a parent and physician. You will also be a role model for your child’s own health as well.
I posted on how our children develop their beliefs in a past blog post and plan to do a podcast episode on it in the future. Our core beliefs are what drives us every day. Right from Wrong. Religion. Faith. Empathy. Compassion. All of this stems from your core beliefs. These also affect how you view the world, including political affiliations and your interactions with those that think differently from you.
When we are strong in our own beliefs, we can be a foundation for our children and those around us. Your child’s core belief system is programmed early in life, and as parents we have a strong influence on how that occurs. Being a role model with a strong belief system can either greatly influence your child’s core belief development or significantly impact it in a negative way.
This area of your Core Foundations as a Physician Dad focuses on your relationship at home. How do you refer to your significant other? It may be a spouse or relationship out of wedlock. You may be in a same-sex relationship. You may be widowed or divorced. No matter your current state of this principal, it affects your child on how you handle it.
Let’s use an example of a household with two parents. The way you talk to and interact with the other parent greatly influences your child’s understanding of not only respecting others, but it also influences their interactions with a future partner. If the house is calm and loving to all members, then this has a stronger positive influence on your child’s brain development. However, if there is constant conflict, arguing, yelling, or abuse, all of these can negatively affect a child’s brain development and their ability to understand fear, right from wrong, or risky situations in the future.
Dads who are single either due to divorce, separation, or whom are widowed have a different experience here, yet the concept is the same. You may not have the other parent in the house to model appropriate respect and relationship expectations, but you can still discuss this with your child. You can still find other means to be a solid role model for your child’s ability to have healthy relationships in the future.
How solid are you with your career? Do you come home glowing about how awesome of a day you had? Or do you constantly complain about your patients or the administration? Do you spend more time at work than at home, constantly missing important life events (or even the small ones)?
Work-life balance and physician burnout are common themes amongst physicians. It greatly affects our ability to be a loving and strong father figure. However, the term “balance” is often scoffed at, as it is nearly impossible to devote your whole self to work AND your whole self to home. When one part of this takes the lead, the other parts have to be placed on the back burner. Being able to find a way to improve this in YOUR life is extremely important as a physician AND a dad.
Yes, money doesn’t buy you happiness. However, an inability to understand your money may also lead to more stress, longer days at the office, and longer years of working. You may have to take more shifts to cover the constant cost of your glamorous lifestyle. A lack of financial knowledge may be delaying your retirement planning, getting disability insurance, or focusing on life insurance.
Many doctors are really good at being a doctor. However, most of our pathways to get there did not include personal finance. Luckily, resources in this category are starting to grow when it comes to physicians. When you have the foundation of money secured and a plan in place, this removes certain stresses from work, making you a better father and husband at home.
As I discussed above, being a physician dad is not simple. Heck, being a dad in general is rough. However, there is no book out there that is going to teach you how to be a better parent without first learning how to improve yourself. The 6 B’s – Brain, Body, Beliefs, Better Half, Business, and Bucks – all help you become a better doctor and a better dad. If you are one of those doctors who strives to be the parent you always wanted to be, I challenge you to join me as I search out the best experts in these fields while adding my only knowledge as well.
Embrace the imperfection.
Imperfect Dad, MD