Pediatrician offers advice for ‘expecting’ dads
David Hill has a 12-year-old daughter and sons who are 10 and 7. He’s also a pediatrician in Wilmington, N.C., and has written “Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro,” published this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics. We thought we’d get some of his thoughts to mark Father’s Day.
What is the most common misconception new dads have?
I think many of us, or far too many of us, buy into the myth that there are certain parts of parenting at which we are naturally incompetent. I think we get a lot of messages, sometimes from other men, sometimes from family members, certainly from the entertainment media, that we are not going to be good at changing diapers or kissing boo-boos or making dinner, that maybe we are not good nurturers. I think when we buy into those myths, we really sell ourselves and our children short.
Parents these days have a bad reputation for being over-involved in their children’s lives. What’s going on? What ought we do about it?
I think we are at a point where our sense of investment in our children is astronomical, and it makes it very difficult to open ourselves to the possibility of them failing, at every point in life. I just came from the round of awards ceremonies at the end of the school year. And most children in the audience got an award for something. And at the same time we are facing the adult world where fewer and fewer people are getting rewarded for anything. ... Society at the moment seems to be selecting a small number of very big winners and a large number of people who are not winning much of anything. I think parents feel a pressure to help their children be among those winners, if it’s a winner-take-all society. Personally I am terrified of what the future holds for my kids unless they are at the top of the top. And I think this is a normal reaction to the economic anxiety the vast majority of us feel right now.
I think one of the skills that kids have to have to deal with that world is independence. And I think really one of the most critical duties of a parent is to equip our children with a really useful set of tools for coping with life, and among the most useful of those is a sense of independence.
What do you see in the world of parenting today that bothers you?
I think a lot of the parents I see today have a difficult time with loving limit-setting. In other words, an example. We are seeing an explosion of dental caries right now, and it seems to be related to drinking bottles for prolonged periods of time, drinking juice, drinking soda. And when I talk to parents about this and introduce the idea that perhaps their children should drink water rather than soda or juice or drink from a cup rather than a bottle, a startling number of parents look back at me and say, “But they’ll be upset.” A really important part of loving our children is teaching them to do things that are healthy for them and helping them when that doesn’t come naturally to them. However, I find that a lot of parents are so afraid of upsetting their children and will allow them to watch excessive quantities of television, to play violent video games, to stay up late at night, to pursue diets that are really nutritionally deficient in a lot of ways. … One of the hardest challenges of being a parent is accepting that sometimes – sometimes frequently — you are going to cause your child to be upset.
What’s the most fun thing about being a dad?
The most fun about being a parent is having one or more new sets of eyes with which to view the world. My kids see things and hear things and think about things every day that I don’t, and when they bring those things to my attention they give me entirely new ways to view the world around me, and that is so valuable. Yesterday one of them spotted a fox at the edge of the woods that I would never have seen. And there are an awful lot of songs on popular radio that I would never know.
What do you want for Father’s Day?
You know what? I haven’t really thought about it. Like a lot of dads, I don’t. Not another mug. I have way too many of those. It sounds so trite, but I want three hugs and smiles from my kids and a chance to do something with them that they really enjoy. You know, peace in the house.