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The month of May is known for flowers blooming, grass turning green, days becoming longer and warmer, and of course, for Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day celebrates the female parent. She can be the birth mother, a stepmother, a foster mother, an adoptive mother or the child’s second female parent. We often describe the ideal mother as patient, respectful, strong, humble, empathetic, authoritative and supportive — valuable traits, but these are important for all kinds of parents.

In my role as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, one of my greatest joys is supporting and educating all parents as they navigate parenthood.

Working as a team with parents is important to optimize the best outcome for the child, for parents and for families in general — family defined loosely because it means something different to everyone. We become parents when we give birth to a child, when we adopt a child, when we foster a child and when we have a stepchild. It is also not uncommon to have a teacher, neighbor or family friend unknowingly or knowingly take on the role of parent. A child is often part of a wide circle of caring adults.

My role is to give guidance, encouragement and perspective to the child’s caregiving team.

Support and encouragement for parents is vital because it can be overwhelming to understand and remember all the information and recommendations for every aspect of raising a child. Nutrition, sleep, developmental milestones, safety, screen time, physical activity, mental health, mindfulness and oral care are only a few of the areas that parents become responsible for.

There are multiple ways to approach all these aspects of parenting. With every topic, there are recommendations from a multitude of sources. Sometimes determining what is reputable and what is safe can be overwhelming. Choosing a reliable reference for information is important. I help families find that information.

In particular, I refer them to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the Vermont Health Department’s Children, Youth & Families division, all of which provide reputable websites with sound advice and information.

I help parents assess whether a child’s symptoms are normal or more serious. Parenting can be stressful if the infant has colic or reflux. Assessing to make sure that there is nothing else going on and then helping the family develop strategies to address health issues is a collaborative approach.

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Also, sleep issues at any age can be brutal in the moment. Sleep deprivation makes everything more intense, for parents and for children. Reviewing various options for dealing with sleep issues provides a plan of action. Sometimes sleep continues to be an issue, but most children do eventually outgrow this and develop healthier sleep routines with guidance.

It’s also important to remember that children need to see a medical provider on a regular basis, not just when they are sick. Well-child visits are important because they are an opportunity for assessing a child’s development and for helping parents anticipate what to expect next.

Parents sometimes worry that their child is not developing at exactly the right pace. Reminding them that developmental milestones have ranges can help.

In pediatric health care, the AAP’s Bright Futures Guidelines are the gold standard, developed to help pediatric providers with assessing developmental and behavioral health, physical growth and well-being, immunizations, and oral health of their young patients. There are psychosocial and behavioral assessments and depression screenings. Bright Futures provides a schedule of screenings and assessments to make sure a child is progressing in the appropriate time frame.

Sometimes, when developmental markers are not met, all that is needed is time and activities to encourage a particular outcome. Making referrals for further evaluation and assessment when this is warranted is also part of the process. Sometimes early intervention with the Vermont Department of Children & Families’ Child Integrated Services or Occupational Therapy at Grace Cottage is needed.

Development and behavioral concerns are a part of every well-child visit. Each age has its own unique challenges and we discuss them as a team, coming up with strategies. As the child gets older, they are often part of that team effort. Each age has challenges and expectations that are addressed.

One thing I always stress with parents is to enjoy their child. Parenting can be one of the most rewarding, but also the most challenging, stressful jobs that people take on.

Despite the challenges, parents have a unique opportunity to help mold their children into well-rounded, emotionally healthy productive members of society. Mistakes will be made, but as long as they are acknowledged and apologies are made, parenting can be one of the most rewarding jobs we will ever have. Mother’s Day month is a great time to remember what a blessing it is to be a parent.

Cynthia Howes, RN, CPNP, has been caring for Grace Cottage’s youngest patients since 2021. She earned her CPNP degree from State University of New York-Syracuse and her RN from New England Baptist Hospital School of Nursing in Boston. Howes has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare and has worked as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont.