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Eight Life Lessons I Learned From My Kids

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  September 27, 2013 06:31 AM

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My youngest, Liam, turned 8 recently. As I gave him a birthday hug and remarked on how big he was (“That’s because I’m standing on the couch, Mom,”) I told him that I was glad he was born. “Why?” he asked earnestly. “I’m happier because of you,” I said. 

And wiser, I thought. 

As a pediatrician, I’ve had lots of years of school and other training. But as I look back on my life so far, I think that the most important lessons I’ve learned, the ones that really guide my daily life, were lessons I learned from my children. While there are countless things they’ve taught me (like that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches get irretrievably mushy quickly, or that keeping diapers off to help rashes is just silly), here are the top eight:

Life is messy. One only has to look at our house to see that this is true. But more than just in our house, orderliness and perfection are hard to come by—and overrated.  Some of the best moments in life come when you give in to messiness and enjoy it…and stop worrying about everything being perfect.  Besides the fun that can come from a bit of chaos, there is the simple fact that…

Sh*&t happens. This is true in small ways (diapers and pets will both teach you that quickly) and big ways. Despite our best efforts and hopes, things just don’t always work out well. Sometimes they even work out tragically. This is deeply sad and frustrating, but it cannot be changed; it is a simple truth that has to be accepted, and risen above. Which is often much easier said than done, but is never impossible. We’ve found it easier when we remember that…

Laughter is necessary. Really. It’s important to laugh every day, I think. There’s nothing like a fit of the giggles to make the world bearable. Whether it’s silly knock-knock jokes (“Boo Who?” “Why are you crying, Mommy?”), Monty Python Flying Circus marathons, or just cracking up over burps (or farts, if you have a first-grader), laughter lightens us, connects us, stops us in our tracks and gives us a different perspective. Kids expect and pursue laughter; we grownups too often don’t.  Another way that kids are different is that they… 

Celebrate whenever possible. Whether it’s a birthday, losing a tooth, making a goal at a soccer game or getting a good grade on a test, reasons to celebrate (and have special dinners or ice cream or buy a little prize) abound. Yes, it can be overdone (we’ve all seen the parents who overdo it), but the basic concept is a good one: we should be grateful and find (legitimate) reasons to appreciate each other and the good things that happen. It’s also important to reinforce that… 

Hard work pays off. As a parent, you see a lot of hard work. You watch your children learn to walk, ride bikes, read, learn to swim, study for tests and do so many other new and hard things…and while the hard work doesn’t always pay off in the way you expect (and is so much harder when your child has special needs), it always pays off. I am continually humbled and inspired watching children learn everything they need to learn, and it’s helped to teach me that…

Patience isn’t optional. It takes patience to learn something. It takes patience to be a parent, incredible amounts, more than anyone ever could have explained to me. I get to practice being patient every single day as I parent our five children. Other things that take incredible patience are getting everyone ready in the morning, laundry and T-ball games. Along with patience, I’ve learned that…

Loving means forgiving. Our children make us crazy. They make us angry. They break our hearts on a regular basis…and yet, I’ve learned, really loving them means letting all of that go and forgiving them. When we do, it also makes it more likely that they will forgive us when we inevitably make them crazy, angry or break their hearts too.

And last but not least… 

Snuggling makes everything better. We grownups forget, sometimes, about the power and comfort of physical closeness, of the way that so much can be said and healed by holding each other. My children remind me of this every day, and for this lesson, as for all the rest, I am grateful.



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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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