“Why do we have to wait three days for the lab reports to come back? Do you know long it takes to find a parking space in the lot, how far we have to walk? The hospital food is terrible. Visiting hours are ridiculous.”
The attending doctor wants to talk about treatment, but it appears this family would rather pontificate and complain. The attending might agree with their concerns–that hospital fare is unexceptional is hardly newsworthy–but the attending has ten minutes to spend with each family. The attending can talk about the size of the hospital parking lot or they can discuss the health of the patient, give comfort, talk about potential outcomes and life saving therapies. This family’s incessant litany of grievances—however justified—are beyond the attending’s jurisdiction. The attending is fluent in the most up to the minute research concerning radiation, chemotherapy, and gene therapies. The parking lot may be inadequate, but the attending is fresh out of bull dozers and, their ability to perform brain surgery notwithstanding, is not competent to operate heavy machinery.
Solving the problems of the institution—turn-around time for lab work, over-crowded parking lot, bland menu—won’t bring this family any closer to the information that the attending can provide–five-year mortality statistics, recommendations about pain management and palliative care.
The doctor has ten minutes to spend with each family. In a perfect world, the doctor would have as much time as the family needed to address their every concern. The attending can pretend to speak to the paucity of doctors in this country, but they are unlikely to be able to add the requisite number of doctors necessary to allow more time with each family. Certainly not today.
Metaphorically, we also have ten minutes with our beloved children. A rainy afternoon with a child who has a runny nose may seem interminable, but wishing away the days may be ill-advised. The kids will be grown and gone before you can say, “why doesn’t anybody want to play Parcheesi anymore?” Parents have choices about how to spend those fleeting, incandescent years. Is there a way to reframe your thinking?
“He doesn’t have good grades,” “his room is a mess,” “he forgot to take the garbage buckets to the street again,” “he overslept,” “he’s disrespectful.” All of which may be true. And if fixating on those factual assessments were likely to change anything, I would be all in favor of repeating those insights indefinitely. Frankly, if I were able to get any of my children to clean their rooms never mind take a garbage bucket to the curb, you would hear me rejoicing all the way over at your house across town. And I am certainly willing to apply gentle pressure and reminders to ensure that the kids do lend a hand around the house. The Filthy Room Lobby and The Spoiled Children Consortium receive no contributions from me. But when the conversation is predominately focused on grades and chores, I wonder if my limited time with my kids might not be better spent elsewhere.
Dr. Spock taught us to “put down the book and pick up the baby.” Yes, parenting is a sacred duty. And sure “sacred duty” sounds serious. Bringing up kids is about sacrifice, sure. But dagnabbit, parenting is also supposed to be exhilarating, a hoot and a half. Good for a few laughs at the very least.
Wordsworth said that poetry is emotion reflected in tranquility. Shouldn’t parenting be hilarious as often as possible in real time?
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” remarked Hamlet when trying to reconcile some difficult information regarding his mom and incestuous sheets. And it’s certainly tough to put a positive spin on an empty pizza box ensconced in the room of your adolescent child. (No, I am not willing to consider how long the empty pizza box has been under the bed nor whether you should just sell your house and move away without mentioning the new address to the kids.) But before you can reflect on how “the days are long but the years fly” you will be an empty nester wondering where the time went.
We might as well try to squeeze as much joy out of our ten minutes with our kids as we possibly can.