Today we’re releasing an interview with Dr. Kelly Fradin about her new book, Advanced Parenting: Advice for Helping Kids Through Diagnoses, Differences, and Mental Health Challenges. You can listen below or by searching for “ParentData” on your favorite podcast app. Kelly’s book is about navigating significant parenting challenges, and I think it’s likely to be a valuable read for almost all of us. Who among us has not faced a complex parenting moment, even crisis, and been unsure how to deal with it? I highly recommend you listen here and buy the book.

There is a part in this book, which we talk a bit about in the podcast, that really got me thinking. Kelly talks some about her own childhood battle with cancer, and an early conversation with her parents around what would happen next — treatment, chemotherapy, and more. As she relates it, her first question to her parents was “But I can still play, right?”

This leads into a discussion in the book around recognizing that what will matter to a child in some of these hardest moments may be different from what matters to an adult. And beyond that, she discusses how it is necessary to make sure to continue to place value and attention on parts of life beyond what I have decided to call the “Big Concern.”

This seemed to me an extremely important parenting insight. The book talks about, when the Big Concern is very serious, how to see the value of prioritizing activities your child enjoys as much as possible even if they do not directly contribute to addressing the key worry.

This idea is also important when the Big Concern is less fraught. Imagine your child is struggling in school and their grades are slipping. A first instinct may be to have a laser focus on that issue. Let’s restrict their ability to do extracurriculars outside of school until their grades improve. No baseball team until you get a B in math.

As parents, this may make a lot of sense. Getting good grades in math feels crucial to success in life. Being on the baseball team, unless your child is in the top 0.0001% of elementary school baseball players, is unlikely to have any impact on their long-term success. And of course, there may be times when this is the right choice. If extracurriculars are interfering with sleep, it might make sense to limit them.

But: the baseball team may matter to your child in a way that you do not fully absorb. It may be important to their well-being, it may be motivational, and it may be the case that giving this up could make things worse overall, even if it provided more time for studying.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t face these problems head-on and try to solve them. It argues, though, for doing so deliberately, with a look at the whole picture of our children’s lives, not just the concern that is most saliently in front of us. As our children get older, it becomes even more important to listen to their inputs to these conversations. One of the hardest things about parenting is when to decide that we know best, even if they disagree, and when to let them choose.

In the end, I took two very big lessons from this book.

One is that even when one risk is the most salient, we should still remember all the other ones. I don’t mean this in a daunting way, but there is a reality that we tend to over-respond to the risks that are most in front of us in a given moment. We see the risks of bad grades, but we don’t see the risk of mental health struggles down the line. We see the risk of illness, but we don’t see the risk of lost learning.

We can combat this in our decision-making, but it requires deliberate thinking, some of which might be uncomfortable. It sometimes requires us to recognize tradeoffs that are tough to make — it’s a version of the “no secret option C” point. It may be that the best thing globally for your child is to stay on the baseball team, even if this limits how much progress they can make in their math grades.

I took another, perhaps more personal, lesson from this and I’ll share it in case it is useful to any of you. The book is about parenting. But this lesson is about recognizing that different people will strike a different balance in the face of hard things. It’s a general one.

I am not proud to say this, but when my mom had cancer, there were moments when I couldn’t help but think some version of Why aren’t you more laser-focused on this? Why wasn’t she approaching her condition with a single-minded win-at-all-costs attitude? Why weren’t we going down every possible experimental rabbit hole? Why on earth were we talking about vacations?

I feel some shame saying this out loud. It came from a place of love. But it wasn’t a place of respect. For her, in her journey, there was a balance: between enjoying the time she had left in the life she had built, and seeking more time. I can’t possibly know how I would have approached this balance if it were me. More than that, though, it wasn’t for me to think about how she saw this balance for her. This book helped me see this; and for that, I am very grateful.