Elizabeth Berger, MD
Dr. Berger is a mom of two grown children, a child psychiatrist, and the author of Raising Kids with Character, in New York City.
How many children do you have? We have two children, now 29 and 27 years of age–both busy writing their doctorate dissertations! Our son teaches philosophy in a New York college and was recently married. My husband and I are thrilled about this. Our daughter-in-law works as a teacher and is getting a graduate degree in educational advocacy. Our daughter is becoming a psychologist and sees patients of her own now.
What is your specialty? I am board certified in the specialty of Psychiatry and also in the subspecialty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. I have always made teaching and writing part of my career as well direct patient care. At this time, I am retired from active practice.
What is your favorite parenting tip? My favorite parenting tip came to me from an elderly hospital nurse when my newborn daughter was a few hours old. She bustled out of our room saying gaily, “Well, enjoy her!” These words blew my mind. I was so busy worrying about every silly thing that I was actually astonished to be reminded that the whole point was the enormous joy that each new baby brings into your life.
What has surprised you most about parenting? That it isn’t graduate school. That parenting is above all a deeply personal, deeply intimate love relationship–completely quirky and unique for each child, impossible to “manage” or approach as a “job” or a “task.” Of course, you keep sharp sewing needles away from 2 year olds as best as you can, but the rest of it is really about the full depth of human experience: love and hate, life and death. It’s about sharing these profound mysteries, every day.
How did you get your kids to eat healthy food? I was interested in raising my kids to have a healthy outlook on food, rather than “getting” them to eat this or that. I wanted them to look back on their experiences at home with a sense of meaningfulness, to remember the process of preparing and eating meals as a source of enjoyment with other people and as a creative outlet. Meals are an important way to bring together all the family members to establish traditions, to take a break from work within their daily routine, and an opportunity to ask one another “about your day.”
Naturally, a carrot has more nutritive value than a jelly doughnut, but when the focus is on enjoying mealtimes rather than waging war against jelly doughnuts, eventually it all tends to fall into a sensible perspective.
How do you work exercise into your family’s life? When our kids were small, we were happy to see our kids playing in the neighborhood, running around and getting sweaty and out of breath. I used to say, “Did your clothes get all dirty? Good! That means you had fun.”
Later, it was nice to support our children’s sports activities by watching their organized games and meets, volunteering as coach sometimes, and showing a lot of team spirit. Even now, we like to walk instead of riding the bus, take the stairs instead of the escalator, and observe the “use it or lose it” philosophy of muscle power.
How do you recharge your batteries? People I love recharge my batteries! I have been lucky to have known so many amazing people and to have shared such great times with them over the years. Sometimes you need a friend who is out-of-the-loop, someone from a completely different background with totally different priorities. Then you get some fresh air–a whole new perspective. I think it’s important to value time alone, too, and to have a balance between group interactions, one-to-one experiences, and some space for personal reflection, daydreaming and watching the grass grow.