career transition and life coaching for physicians

What Worked For Me: Tips for Raising Sane, Loving Children

Today you will find a short manuscript entitled, “What Worked For Me”, a treatise on parenting, written by Judith Vaughan, M.D., a newly retired neurologist from Sacramento and a former client of mine.  It is at once touching, funny, and full of kitchen table wisdom.  If you have children at home, you will certainly benefit from Judy’s loving experience.  If your kids are already grown and flown, you’ll still find it worthwhile and amusing.  If you have no kids, perhaps this article will inspire you to give it a go.

Any comments can be directed back to Judy at:

What Worked for Me

Tips for Young Physicians Who Want to Raise Sane Loving Children

I am a Neurologist, recently retired after 30 years of full time specialty medical practice.

My “credentials” for writing this piece are my three adult children, aged 26 to 36. All are in loving committed relationships. All three still speak to each other and to their parents. They are wise and witty.

They all have active careers- one vet, one psychologist and one musician by night, auto mechanic by day.

Was our family life perfect? God help me, no- divorce, near bankruptcy, alcohol abuse all touched our family.

I don’t mean to take too much credit- the children as individuals are ultimately responsible for their lives. They had a good father. Even though it didn’t always seem so, we had luck and grace.

Here’s what I would tell a young physician who asked me for advice:

  1. Be there. Physically and emotionally. There can’t be quality time without- well- time. Live near work to minimize commuting time. (See #9 as well. We lived in small communities.) Limit your time at work to what you agreed to- though few physicians will be able to accept this, full time is 40 hours, not 60 with evenings on the computer finishing records. Do some things with the kid- rather than chauffeuring him to scouts, be an assistant leader. (I taught our children horseback riding; their father was active in Boy Scouts- imagine campouts in sub-freezing weather.) Arrange parent schedules to maximize parent contact and minimize paid childcare.
  2. Promote independence early, with flexibility. A four- year-old can make a peanut butter sandwich; don’t sweat the mess. If her outfit isn’t what you would have chosen, maybe it’s charming. If her homework is done to her satisfaction and she hasn’t asked for your help, she’ll get feedback from her teacher. Reinforce self amusement and creative play.
  3. Model and expect self –discipline, tolerance and self-honesty. If you screw up, admit it and share with the children, as much as is age appropriate, how you are being accountable. Listen carefully to what young children say-they rarely deceive, but you may not understand their point of view. Doubting and questioning a child’s experience teaches lying and deceit. Honor and model interest in other cultures and the arts.
  4. Negotiate family rules and confess inconsistent enforcement. Different children have different needs, and parents change in their level of comfort for behavior. Take the child’s lead. “Tell me I have to be home by midnight,” my teenager said.
  5. Put the child to work, at home and at your work if feasible. Before computer records and COBRA, my daughter could do simple clerical tasks at my office after Junior High School. One day she said, “Gosh Mom, you really work hard.” I thought,”Yes! That’s why you’re here!” Any child who complained of boredom was given a family oriented job. Dog poop, anyone? (See #2.) As they advance, they will have work opportunities outside the family. Emphasize those with educational or ethical value.
  6. Live simply to keep special things special. Show stewardship for the special things, like training that wonderful puppy or doing maintenance on that classic old truck. (It’s no mystery why my son’s a mechanic). Overabundance leads to a need for unrealistic limit setting and inconsistent messages about what’s important. Think about the nutritional message of a typical restaurant meal for all of us. A child who has a TV set and video game in his room will have a hard time limiting “screen time.”
  7. Encourage and support the child’s individual interests or exceptional local opportunities. Involve them in your interests, but don’t insist. (Two of mine learned horsemanship, the third thinks that occasionally we might talk about something, ANYTHING other than horses.) Negotiate a reasonable trial period for lessons. Remember anything worth doing is worth doing badly- how else do you get any experience? “Do something hard every day,” I said to them. Resist overscheduling and overspecialization. Your child does not have to be “the best” at anything. The world is enriched by his being passionate about something. Try to keep a straight face at Middle School Band Concerts.
  8. Enjoy food preparation and eating together. Teach basic nutrition and empower her to make her own decisions about eating. My daughters were slightly overweight. I told them I couldn’t monitor what they ate. As adults they exercise and eat a healthy diet. All three of the children are good cooks. I had the “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it” rule. I insisted on a taste and didn’t prepare substitute foods, even on “Branch-out Night” when we prepared something new.
  9. Live where you can experience community. Consider a smaller town or extended family setting. I once received a phone call from a retired teacher to tell me my daughter had crossed a street unsafely- that’s “the village” raising the child. Honor family history and cultural ties. The children will “get it” as they get older.
  10. Recognize the price of this commitment. You won’t win the Nobel Prize. Your “work ethic” will be questioned. You may have a non-traditional career. You may not feel you’ve fulfilled your potential or earned enough money. However, your patient encounters will be enriched by your shared humanity. You may laugh more, take too many pictures, and joyfully await your grandchildren.

By Judy Vaughan: email:

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