Dr. Jean Pallotto is a neonatologist who delivers and treats babies in a variety of high-risk situations. She is the Medical Director of the Children’s Mercy Intensive Care Nursery and also serves as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Medicine.
Tell me about your family.
“I’m married to Terry and have 3 children – Isabella (20), Nicholas (17), Jonathan (13).”
At what point in your medical career did you start your family?
“I got married after my first year of medical school and had my daughter at the end of my residency. After residency, I worked for a year in a NICU as a pediatrician and then did a neonatology fellowship for another three years. My oldest son was born in my second year of fellowship, and my youngest son was born when I was two years out of fellowship.”
What was it like keeping up with early career and early motherhood at the same time?
“Tiring! You have to be really organized and have a lot of help. My husband was a great support—we partnered in taking care of the kids at home, and he was supportive of my schooling. We also had family and friends that we called on as needed.”
How do you balance a demanding career, family life, and time for yourself?
“You need a lot of supportive people around– and you can’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes you struggle with guilt or the feeling you’re never in the right place, but you have to keep remembering how much you love your family and your kids, and remember that it’s important to take time for yourself, too! Sometimes it’s okay to watch TV, read a book, or go to sleep early because that’s part of being healthy.
“I think the biggest thing is letting go of the guilt and know you’re doing your best. Looking back, I see that my kids know I love them, and I’ve also taught them to be independent—I hope that’s part of helping them to grow up to be healthy adults.”
How has working with parents and babies in high-risk situations influenced your own parenting?
“It makes you take pause to be thankful and not sweat the little stuff—that’s probably one of the biggest things. You learn to appreciate different people’s perspectives and what they go through. You try to bring that perspective back home and use it as teaching moments with your own kids.”
Talk more about how that looks. How have you been able to involve your kids in your career?
“Part of my job involves being on call or staying overnight in the hospital. So my kids inherently understand what’s involved to support babies being born at all hours. They don’t really know what I do day-to-day, but I try to share some of the challenges in a generic way (that isn’t breaking confidentiality).
“I’m also helping them see the balance of having a career and home life, and the importance of doing other activities and taking time for yourself. I really like what I do, and I think that’s important to share with them – that they pick a career path that they like, even though it’s sometimes difficult and not always easy. You have to like the core of what you do.”
How does being a mother help you in your job in working with families?
“My own kids help me know how to prepare my patients because I can give practical, anticipatory guidance based on experience. My favorite thing to remind moms is to take naps when the babies are sleeping! As a mom, you know what it feels like to wake up every two to three hours with a baby that’s crying. You can never totally prepare someone for that, but I do my best to remind them to take time for themselves and ask for help.”
What is your advice for moms, especially those in the trenches of parenting young children?
“There’s no perfect cookbook on how to be a parent. Be there for you kids and love them. Don’t feel like because someone else is doing something differently that you’re not doing the right thing with your own kids.
“I think something I’ve done that maybe I shouldn’t have is getting them involved in too many activities. When they’re really young, they just need play, creative time, reading stories, outside activities, and spending time together. Those things that everyone tells you to do—try to find ways to make them happen. Sometimes we take on so many other activities because everyone else is doing it. But we just need to communicate that we’re there for our kids and help them find what they like to do.
“And ask for help! Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself.”