“I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural”, said the Doctor. “She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of sympathy and disdain at my other child, my snot-encrusted, snack-covered, bellowing son (16-months at the time).
A little earlier she had witnessed his utter outrage as I fought him into his buggy, and gave him a snack in a desperate attempt to quieten him enough to hold a conversation.
And this was only after he’d wriggled, arched and screamed off my lap and sped to the other side of the room. First, to try and empty some temptingly positioned drawers, and then to have a go at climbing the also rather tempting-looking ‘ramp’ the examination table had been left in.
The patient, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, hadn’t yet had a look in, and was standing half hidden behind my chair, sucking her fingers.
We somehow made it through the urine and glucose tests, no thanks at all to the bedside manner of the doctor. She made no attempt to even speak to my daughter, let alone distract or engage her. In fact, at one point as she took out the needle she said, “I think you should turn her around, I don’t think she will like seeing this.” And then seemed surprised and a little disapproving when her victim started to whimper and protest.
Anyway, as I said, the results were negative, there was no sign of any infection or physiological problem. This was great and what I’d wanted to discount (she had been dry through the night since she was 27 months, and this spate of bed-wetting for ten days straight seemed out of character).
But this is when the doctor said THAT, the aforementioned, that maybe I should try to give her more attention. And to make matters worse, she kind of half-whispered it, as though it was some sort of dirty, shameful secret that my apparently partially deaf and dumb child shouldn’t be allowed to hear.
I was so stunned and humiliated and enraged I lost all capacity for speech. I nodded blankly at her and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Bear in mind that I’d only met this doctor once before and I have no illusions that she remembered or knew anything about us. She asked NO questions about our family life, our circumstances, or my beliefs or thoughts on it. And she offered no advice as to how to give this ‘attention’, or whether I may need support, or if I thought it was actually possible to give my daughter more attention. As such, I’m guessing she just made the assumption that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
But I’m lucky in that I did understand the kind of attention she was referring to, I do have support at home, and on a good day I’m secure enough to know that I do work extremely hard to offer my children constant time, love and attention. It’s frequently difficult, and by no means perfect, and sometimes undoubtedly the balance tips too far towards one child and away from another.
I was fortunate that I could pretty quickly write it off as a regrettable experience and move on without taking it personally. But it makes me worry for people who are not so lucky, who don’t have as much support, and the potential damage to parenting esteem this kind of interaction can create.
There were pictures on this doctor’s desk of university-aged children. So maybe she’s just forgotten how excruciatingly hard and demanding children of this age are. And, consequently, how tired and sensitive the mothers of children this age tend to be.
And she’s forgotten that actually, it’s virtually impossible not to give attention all damn day long. And she’s forgotten how it feels to have to carry on giving attention long after you’ve got absolutely nothing left.
In fact, this kind of forgetting seems pretty common, and I often wonder whether it’s behind all kinds of apparent judgements and attitudes towards parents with young children.
And as inconceivable as it may feel now, my other worry is that I too might forget just what it’s like. So I record this story, in part, in the hope that the re-reading of this kind of incident will help me remember in years to come.
To remember that parents of young children need to hear carefully chosen words, to be offered empathy and solidarity, praise and reassurance.
To remember to lie through your teeth if you must, but somehow convey they’re doing a good enough job and one that you wouldn’t want to swap with them for all the tea in China.
HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR
I’m a Mum of 3, parenting and kids coach, and founder of Heart Parenting.
I support parents of kids of all ages to make changes, get unstuck and find peaceful ways to connect, love and enjoy their children.