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The extraordinariness of ordinary parenting

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  March 17, 2014 08:33 AM

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Thumbnail image for superman.jpgThe other day I was in the midst of seeing patients when my 23-year-old daughter called, very upset. She had just been in a car accident. She was okay except for some burns from sparks from the airbag, but the car wasn't. There were EMT's there and the car was being towed. 

I told my wonderful colleagues what was going on, and they volunteered to see the five remaining patients in my schedule. I spoke to the parents that were there already and explained. I drove to the hospital, picked up my daughter, drove her to the place where the car had been towed so she could fill out paperwork, helped her with calling the insurance company, then drove her to get a rental car (she does home visiting for her job, so needs a car). 

As we stood at the counter at the rental place, I said, "So, are you going to be extra nice to me for leaving work and helping with all this?"

She looked at me quizzically. "What else was I supposed to do?"

She was right. What else was she supposed to do when she needed someone in an emergency, someone to be there for her, pick her up, help make things right? Of course she would call her parents. It doesn't matter what I was doing at the time, or what I had to do to be there with her, or what others had to do to make it possible for me to be there with her. It was my job as her mother.

It got me thinking about how extraordinary ordinary parenting is. Think about it. From the moment they are born, it's extraordinary. We give up sleep. We change diapers. We deal with screaming babies, and tantruming toddlers. We find patience we never thought ourselves capable of, whether it's with folding laundry, singing "The Wheels on the Bus," pushing swings or explaining yet again why pulling the dog's tail is a Bad Plan. We stay home with vomiting children--and start vomiting ourselves a few days later. We go to myriads of school and sports events (many of which require missing work), we do more cooking and housecleaning than we ever thought possible and endure the scheming and nastiness of teenagers. We teach teens to drive (and take years off our lives in doing so). We endure the sheer terror of fevers that don't go down, bad bumps to the head, bleeding wounds and missed curfews. We worry every day, and feel each of their sadnesses. It goes on and on, even after they are grown.

And yet, this is all ordinary for parenthood. It stretches and stresses us, it forces us to do things we previously thought impossible, and makes us feel extremes of emotions--and yet, it's unremarkable and expected. There's no money (in fact, it's outrageously expensive, especially once they get to college), no glory. It's simply expected of us.

But even though glory (and money!) would be nice, I don't think it's actually necessary. As taken for granted as we may feel (and are), the whole reason it's so expected of us is that we are the center, the rock, the reason it all works and falls into place. That's pretty amazing, if you think about it.

And we are connected to our children in a way that's impossible to describe, and just as amazing. It's a gift, full of possibility and purpose, that we often take for granted ourselves.

It's the ordinariness, I think, that makes it so extraordinary. It's not an accomplishment we pull off once; we do it again and again. it's woven into the fabric of our lives.

Our exhausting, overwhelming, extraordinary lives.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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