As I hope any readers of my blog(s) would know by now, I am embarking on my career in hospice and palliative medicine. It is an area I have been interested in for many years, and my particular passion is in the realm of pediatric palliative medicine. No, I'm not crazy.
Given this area of interest, during residency training I tried as much as possible to have exposure to palliative care experiences and to find out more and more about the role of palliative care in pediatrics. During my behavioral and developmental rotation, my academic project and final presentation focused on "Children and Death Concepts." Since kids are not simply "little adults," the way they understand and process the circumstances and events of death and dying - whether it's a pet, a grandparent, a parent, or their own death - depends on the child's age, prior experiences, and what they are simply able to comprehend based on their developmental level.
side note: what I found in my research was that, even though children are supposed to progress through various stages of development and eventually form a "mature" or complete concept and understanding of death, there are many adults I have worked with who are still very much in "immature" phases of their ability to comprehend death and mortality - something I think is an area ripe for discussion on the palliative care world
So, having this knowledge about children and the way they do or do not understand death and dying has recently come into play with something so very unrelated to death and it got me thinking about the effect that my job and my life are going to have on my own child. What are my own parental idiosyncrasies going to do to my kid?
Here's the story.
I have long been very proud of my child's sleeping habits. Maybe a little too proud. I hear other parents tell stories about their 2 year old still waking up in the middle of the night, demanding a drink, a meal, or to climb in bed with mom and dad. Or the kids who refuse to ever sleep anywhere except mom and dad's bed. I admit, I have been judgmental about this and have had little pity for those people when they complain about being tired due to their toddler's inability to adapt to sleep. I have seen it as a parental fault in a way, because I have felt that as a parent it is our job to help teach a kid how to sleep, and that we help them establish lifelong good sleep habits. And who doesn't want good sleep?
Okay, so back to the story. Henry has recently started preschool, which, as a new stress in his life has affected his mood, his eating, and, oh yes, his sleep.
He's been fighting getting into bed. He's been climbing out of his bed, needing us to put him back in several times before he finally passes out. He's been waking overnight, coming into our room, asking to sleep with us.
And, because it's so. much. easier. to let him climb in, snuggle up, and just go back to sleep versus the alternative, which is dealing with him crying and screaming as we order him back to bed.
Another back story: earlier this week, out of nowhere, H told my mom, "If Henry is a bad boy the blue vac will go out with the trash and you can't play with it anymore."
Oh. really? We don't know where he got this idea, but it seems to have the daylights scared out of him...
Therefore at 4am a couple of days ago, when H got out of bed, my husband out him back in - with a warning.
If he didn't stop crying and didn't lay back down and go back to sleep, then the blue vac was going to be put out for the trash guys to come take away.
The child as immediately silent and slept the rest of the night.
Okay, so how do I tie these two seemingly disparate tales together?
Henry is near an age where children develop a "magical thinking" about death. They can believe that it was something they did, they thought, they said that caused the death. They are especially prone to believing that some bad behavior on their part caused the death.
Henry loves all vacuums. If we take away one of these beloved objects because he does something bad, then (this is now becoming my own musing) are we setting him up to believe even more strongly that his bad behavior causes things that are precious to him to be taken away?
If we do this, then if and when there is a death of a person (or, our beloved dog), is he more prone to believe that HE did something to cause the death.
Are we setting up a belief system, a paradigm, for him to be burdened with the wight and guilt of that?
How cruel are we?
What kind of parent would do that?
And am I a total nut job for even having these thoughts and making a jump from a threat that is supposed to help control behavior to something as morbid as death of a loved one and the emotional damage it might inflict on our poor little vacuumless child?
THIS is where parental idiosyncrasies come into play, and how my work, no matter how hard I try, is going to seep into my raising of my child.
Don't you feel sorry for him?