From all of my experiences as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I knew how important it was to set reasonable expectations for myself and my future child. However, knowing, believing, and enacting do not always align! Early in this journey, I found myself getting stuck in the details caused by my baby tracking app. I had been given advice to find an app to track sleep, diapers, nursing, etc. This all made sense to me and seemed like a simple solution to help organizes are newly chaotic lives. While tracking this data has been helpful in some ways, I have found that it sometimes makes me lose perspective. For example, the app will chart out sleep patterns for the baby. I have spent an embarrassing amount of my day combing through the data to try to figure out the “exact right time” to put the baby down for a nap or for bedtime. I even have made a google sheet of data trying to find some “perfect” schedule that will get my baby the “right” amount of awake time, nap hours, and sleep time. I’m sure you notice I have put quotations around the words “perfect”, “exact”, and “right.” This is, of course, because I really truly don’t believe there is a perfect, right, or exact here. I completely have gotten stuck in the tiny details and caught in some perfection trap. Whenever I ask my pediatrician questions about the baby being “OK” or not, the answers are very simple. Is she gaining weight and having enough diapers? That’s it. She does not ask about awake windows, bedtimes, or nap times. Even without those numbers, I can look at her and see if she is calm or fussy, comfortable or in distress. Even though it has only been a few months, there is a true gut feeling and parent intuition that can guide me and tell me whether the baby is truly OK or not. Giving myself some moments of mindfulness, which usually occur during my daily walk, helps bring me back to a healthier perspective. On the other hand, sitting and staring at my phone and baby tracking data does quite the opposite.
So how does this relate to my patients and their parents? Life obviously gets quite a bit more complicated as your kids grow up. You need to focus on a few more details than just weight gain and poopy diapers 😊 However, I believe that our parental focus can still be more zoomed out and focused on the big picture than it often is. With my new perspective, I encourage parents to do two particular things. First of all, think of what are the basic things that are important to your child’s wellness? What are those few things you really need to keep track of to make sure your child is OK? You can start with general areas, like physical health, emotional health, and school. Then, consider some basic goals in each area. If your child is not meeting those goals, then start with a smaller goal and know you can always allow them to grow into your more aspirational goals. Next, give yourself daily moments of mindfulness (or, a time and place during which you can think uninterrupted at the minimum) to check in on those goals. I think of this as a daily reboot for my brain. While I may sit and try to draft up a nap and bedtime schedule like my child is an engineering problem set from my college days, when I go on my walks, I drop those details. I remember that she has been gaining weight like a champ (and her adorable baby rolls remind me that she probably continues to do so) and is also a diaper champ (not always my favorite achievement of hers, but still important). My added goal is that she seems generally happy. Judging from the endless smiles and coos we get all day, I can check that box as well. While I would love for her to be on a schedule so there is more predictability in our lives, that is still aspirational. I have not given up on it, but I surely can sleep better at night when I let myself remember each day that she is doing OK. So, parents, give yourselves that opportunity to remind yourself that your child is OK when they actually are doing OK. This way, if they truly are not, you will be able to recognize this more easily and respond to it more effectively.