Staying Connected to Today's Medical Family
by Omar Hamada, MD, and Tara Hamada, MD
Today's Christian Doctor – Summer 2012
In some ways, things have radically changed since the “Leave it To Beaver” and “My Three Sons” concepts of the traditional family from the 1950s. Yet, in other ways, things have remained the same.
Regardless, many challenges are being waged against the traditional American family today. With each passing day, the slow but steady advance of tangible threats grows. While some of these threats are easily recognizable, others seem to run under the radar as insidious characteristics of our culture that are eventually accepted as normative. These affect the medical family just as much as they do any other family.
What exactly is a medical family? Why even make a distinction? Is it just the same as any family where one or both parents have a demanding job? As most physicians have moved away from the grueling and always-on-call life of a solo family doctor, is there still a difference between a medical family and a business executive’s family or an accountant’s family or an attorney’s family?
As Christians and as physicians, many of us hope that there is a difference. We felt a sense of calling into the field of medicine, and we hope that high ideal carries over somewhat to the rest of our lives including our children—so that they understand why we work so hard. And so, we attempt to straddle the delicate balance of spending enough time with our families, and at the same time trying to influence our children to have a servant’s heart that focuses on others in the midst of a “me”-oriented culture. Our generation is blessed with a multitude of options concerning this balance of career and family, but it is not always easy to determine which option is best for our current season of life.
When Dr. Armand Nicholi wrote on this subject in “The Crisis of Family Disintegration” in 1972, there were many new threats to the traditional family—more ubiquitous and enticing television programming, dualearner marriages, the women’s liberation movement, the awakening of the sexual revolution and a cultural shift in family versus individual values. He referenced a study of child-rearing practices that showed a “progressive decrease” in the amount of contact between parents and their children. So he asked the question, “What makes parents so inaccessible to children?”
As a psychiatrist, Dr. Nicholi specifically spoke to Christian physicians about priorities and avoiding the “famous father syndrome,” in addition to the absent mother. He describes this syndrome as, “. . . the father is held in awe, is distant and gives the child everything but himself. He is so busy providing materially for them . . . that he neglects his family’s emotional and spiritual needs.” Dr. Nicholi cited this decrease in contact as the cause of various maladies seen in his psychiatric practice. Interestingly, he also noted that the only country where children spent less time with parents than the United States at that time was England. England was also the only country that exceeded the U.S. in violence, crime and delinquency, a statistic that creates an alarming correlation.
I believe many physicians did heed his advice to carefully consider where their families ranked in priority, and listened to his suggestion that loving our neighbor first and foremost includes loving our families well. However, our families are still very much in danger in our current culture, perhaps now more than ever. It is up to us to continuously re-examine, through prayer and Scripture, where in our families we need to focus on being more actively counter-cultural.
The beauty of the medical family today is that it can be so varied in regard to career paths and work situations. There are families in which the father stays home and the mother works full-time, as well as the more traditional families with the father working and the mother staying at home. There are families where both parents work outside the home as physicians, or where one parent is a physician and one parent works in another professional field. We see shift work, outpatient only, inpatient only, academic faculty, part-time, locum tenens and any number of other combinations. The flexibility we now have that enables us to forge our own road in our professional and personal lives is an amazing blessing. The challenge is to live fully open to how God would lead us to experience His blessing in our current season of life.
Many factors in our cultural lives have likewise changed since Dr. Peterson wrote his article “The Father: God’s Surrogate” in 1957. However, in his article, Dr. Peterson didn’t focus on those cultural factors influencing families; instead, he highlighted the authoritative role of the father in the family. And that is one thing that has not changed with the passing of time. Just as God continues to remain the absolute authority in our lives, the father remains the authority in his children’s lives. One important constant to remain mindful of is Dr. Peterson’s statement, “. . . as I am secure in my relationship to my heavenly Father, my children will be secure in their relationship to me . . . . My children mirror my spiritual relationship with my heavenly Father.”
The most vital and yet easiest step to neglect as we strive toward success in medicine and family is staying connected to our heavenly Father and effectively communicating this connection to our families. How many wonderful parenting or medical books do I consult, and how many wise and godly friends or colleagues do I email before I remember to lay my current challenges and stressors at His feet? It is wonderful to have access to the resources we have available, but He will often narrow our search for a diagnosis and solution to our personal problems if we will but ask. He reminds me frequently that my parenting is usually more about His growing me than it is about me growing them. I am beginning to think He gave me four children because He knew it would take me a while to learn each lesson!
I think of the many challenges we agonize over in our families—which shifts and hours to work, how we educate our children, how to have the critical five meals together every week, etc. While these details are important, they are greatly overshadowed by the importance of how we are daily walking with Him. If I allow Him to bathe me in His grace so that it overflows and spills over my children and my spouse, the impact of His presence in our lives will dwarf the fact that I missed dinner last night. Through this time spent in His presence, He will also gently guide us in making all those other numerous decisions at the proper times and in the proper ways. As we learn in Deuteronomy, the first step in godly parenting is inscribing His Word on our own hearts and the hearts of our children.
A great example of this comes to mind. I was talking to a friend of mine recently who comes from a strong Christian family that extends back several generations and now counts several hundred direct descendants in the “immediate” extended family. Though they are admittedly not a perfect family with perfect people, I am personally at a loss to think of even one who has gone astray. Dr. Rad Andrews, a general surgeon in Memphis, Tennessee, was recounting some of the things his mother and father did to ingrain the love of Christ in him and his siblings; the same techniques he and his siblings strive to ingrain Christ’s love in their own children. His parents, the late Dr. “Chubby” Andrews and his widow Margie, taught their children to love the Lord with all their hearts. Rad said that everyone knew his dad was a physician, but recognized that the Lord was more important to him than the practice of medicine. Dr. Chubby Andrews was fearless as a follower of Christ in front of his peers and his patients; though some people made fun of him for his faith, he was not ashamed to live out the gospel in a very public manner. He lived a life of enjoyment recognizing that whatever was happening around him and in his own life, there was always time for family, for grace and for joy. Though he was a very well-respected and busy surgeon, he preferred to be at home than at work and made every attempt to ensure this was the case. He would make his rounds early in the morning, then return home to have breakfast with his family before leaving for work once again. And he strove to make sure that he returned home every evening to have dinner with his family.
At the same time, Rad said there was harmony at home between his mother and father with regard to his dad’s work. Margie recognized that sacrifices had to be made, and she supported her husband wholeheartedly in his quest to provide for his family while at the same time ministering to his patients and others he came into contact with through medicine. The strength of their marriage, and consequently their family, came from Margie’s support, honor and respect of her husband. She ran the home and was always available for whatever needs arose, while being willing to not work outside the home. The Andrews family also ingrained the love of Christ in their children by maintaining periodic weekly or twice weekly family devotions and prayer. Those times of family devotion were just as important as eating together at breakfast or dinner. It was their dedication to remaining connected with their family that made such a difference.
Of course, times have changed, and now we no longer can always have a “traditional” family structure. But what can we learn from successful medical families who have come before us and from the Scriptures to assist us in shaping a strong Christian medical family for the sake of the gospel? Perhaps prioritizing our own personal relationship with the Lord and with our family, as well as living a life of grace, love, honor and respect, will go a long way in helping us maintain a godly home.
The family is under attack. It is disintegrating and the pressures do not avoid Christian or medical families. In fact, they are probably greater. Unfortunately, when pressures mount, we tend to dive into our work even more intently. By changing our focus and making an effort to stay connected more with the Word and with our families, perhaps we can strengthen our families so that they are built on the Rock instead of on shifting sands.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, NASB)