On the Side - December 2017
Choose to Serve
by Carol Mason Shrader
The Child Life Specialist was working with my 3-year-old triplets in an effort to prepare them all for Benjamin’s upcoming surgery.
“This is a doctor,” she told them patiently, as she held up a photograph of a man in dress clothes and tie.
“Now who do you think this is?” she asked, holding up a photo of the same man dressed in blue scrubs and a blue surgical scrub hat.
“Daddy!” my three screamed in unison.
Daddy wore blue scrubs almost exclusively in their minds. On the rare occasions when this orthopedic resident came home during their waking hours, they were thrilled to see him. Thrilled. He would lay on the floor to play with them and promptly be snoring. They never noticed. They climbed over, sat on, stood on and had a big time “playing with Daddy.”
I will confess that I was frustrated the first time he fell asleep. I wanted them to have quality interactions. It was only when I paused to see the JOY on my children’s faces that I realized my expectations were not what mattered. The trio loved playtime with Daddy. They had no preconceived notions or ideas. They loved the guy in blue scrubs, and he absolutely adored them!
Today, I have the perspective of hindsight and watching the day-to-day relationship of my young adult trio with their Daddy (Cate too, but she came along after training so her playtime involved less naps!). And with this perspective, comes a short list of things I wish I had known:
- Be flexible. Playtime might involve naps for your husband. IT IS OKAY! I promise. Family mealtime might involve taking your husband his favorite snack to the back door of the hospital as he pops into the van between cases to eat and hug the children. Easter egg hunts CAN take place in the call room. And Christmas might need to fall on December 23, 28 or even January 1 if your husband is on call or on a particularly challenging rotation. Guess what? Toddlers have no idea!
Your willingness to flex so that your husband is included in whatever way possible will go a long way toward helping your children build relationships with him. Today, the triplets recall memories of residency years and are shocked when Dad has no recollection. I smile and gently tell them Dad was in the hospital most of those years. They honestly do not remember it that way. He is a part of every single memory.
- With Daddy away during so much of the triplets’ preschool years, disciplining them fell to me. I had a system. I knew how they responded. I was in charge. But guess what? When Dad WAS home, he also needed to take on some of that responsibility. On my good days, I held my tongue and let him parent. On my less-than-good days, I fought for the control I had grown accustomed to. Do I need to tell you which was the better choice?
Hear me, dear ones, we must allow our men to help us parent. The lack of involvement in discipline matters will be a road block to relationship building between our husbands and our children. It might feel awkward and frustrating for you—I mean daddies don’t tend to discipline exactly like mommies—but be intentional in including your husband in the parenting decisions. Trust me when I tell you that having a co-parent is imperative when you hit the teen years!
- And finally, while I do not want to place guilt on you, I do want you to know there is a reason the saying is: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”
We carry much weight in the emotional wellbeing of our children. That might sound hard and heavy, but it is reality. And as such, we have the extraordinary privilege of setting the tone for them. If we are whining and grumbling and complaining all the time because Daddy works so many hours, you can bet they will be resentful of the hospital, the job, the patients…and, ultimately, of daddy.
But if we talk about sharing the mission to heal, then we make it a family calling. Yes, the sacrifices are real: “Daddy might not be at the little league game tonight because someone needs him. But he loves you and I am sending him live updates every play!” Or maybe Daddy had to duck out and answer an emergency call during the choral concert. Your “Aren’t you glad that patient had someone as smart as your Daddy?” will help your child far more than your wrath that he missed a song or two.
Make it your family mission. We are called to care for others—Daddy does it directly and by caring for Daddy, so do we.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, ESV).
Helping children navigate having a medical daddy can be challenging. My little bitties once bowed their heads on a hospital elevator to pray for a patient they saw rolling past. Three years later, they would cry when the sun came out on the weekend because their 5-year-old minds equated children playing outside with Daddy getting called in for a trauma…thus, the sunshine made them cry. Helping them color this as service, and acknowledging their personal sacrifice so that Daddy could care for others, helped salvage their compassion and empathy.
This is your mission. May your heart overflow with the privilege of your ministry of healing—in the name of Jesus.
Carol Mason Shrader
Carol lives in Mississippi where her triplets are college juniors and her little is in sixth grade. She has worked so hard to make her wonderful Wade’s surgical practice their family mission that often he thinks it is completely acceptable to have her look at the most gruesome textbook photos!