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Parenting to avoid regret

In my previous post, I wrote about fear porn, journalism which is designed to make parents fearful of the choices they have to make now. Parents who get immersed in this crap that’s being spewed at us become immobilized, fearful that everything we do may put our children at risk in some nebulous and undefined future.

I advocated rational decision-making, in which parents make a decision based on the information they have on hand. Then, I wrote, parents should simply move on. Regretting past actions doesn’t change the past action, doesn’t change the results, and certainly doesn’t make us better or happier people.

I always want to make sure on this blog to say that I am not setting myself up as an example of perfection in parenting. I believe that parenting is a messy business, and we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us. The reason I write about it is that I feel that parents exchanging information and ideas has transformed parenting—I hope my contributions help transform it for the positive.

So here’s my:

Case study in avoiding regret

At the age of eighteen months, one of my children was diagnosed with a congenital disorder. It was a physical part of the child’s organs that did not work correctly. At the time, all the data that had been accumulated on this particular disorder said that the best practice was to put the child on a low daily dose of antibiotics and watch to see if the body would correct the problem on its own.

I had no reason to question this information. The science was sound—this was a relatively common problem and my child was in no way special or different. (Though to us, of course, he’s very special and different!)

We went with the standard treatment. He ended up taking a daily dose of antibiotics for three years, then had the problem surgically repaired once it was clear that he was in the small percentage of children in whom the disorder doesn’t correct itself with no intervention.

Simple story, right?

Like many things medical, it wasn’t so simple. The human body is incredibly complex. We may know more about how outer space works than we know about how the human body functions. Medicine is still a frontier. We think of the barbers who sawed off limbs in the 17th century as barbarians; in fifty years, doctors will probably see the doctors of today as barbarians. It’s all relative.

In the time after he went on antibiotics, data started coming in that suggested that longterm antibiotic use might have some pretty wide-ranging negative effects on the body. You may have read about the human microbiome. That’s all the stuff that’s living in your gut. It turns out that the stuff living in your gut doesn’t just affect your digestion. It may be related to, in no particular order:

  • autoimmune disease
  • depression
  • autism
  • eating disorders

And so on.

So in putting our child on antibiotics for three years, we were now learning, we may have…

Stop right there

This is the problem: we may have. I put an underline and an italics there, because here’s where I’m getting to my main point.

We can’t know what result our decisions had on our child’s future

That’s right, we can’t know. Perhaps, without the therapy, our child would have lost a kidney, been on dialysis for the rest of his life, or even died. Perhaps our child would have been just fine.

But perhaps, just perhaps, the antibiotic therapy actually caused other issues that have come up in the meantime.

This is when we need to depend on our belief that rational decision-making is always the best approach

Sure, I could spend days, weeks, months, and years in regret. I could feel like I have to do something to “fix” the result of making our decision.

But the fact is, we made the decision armed with all the knowledge we had at the time. Certainly, some scientists were already studying the microbiome and had suspicions about its connection with various human maladies. But that doesn’t change one fact.

We made the right choice with the information we had on hand at that time

If you haven’t read my previous piece, please go read it so that you can understand the context. Do I suspect that the antibiotic therapy may have contributed to some issues that we faced later? Yes.

Am I tempted day in and day out to regret my choice?

Of course.

Do I regret doing what was seen as medically necessary for my child?

Absolutely not.

I made the best decision I could make at the time with the information I had on hand.

It’s time to move on now, and we’re moving on. Our child is a healthy, wonderful teen. Our family is secure in the knowledge that we always try to make the best decisions we can, and we try not to beat ourselves up over what we might perceive as past mistakes based on our current knowledge.

Parenting is a messy business, and we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us.

Posted in Culture, Health, Parenting.

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