By day, Steve Silvestro, MD, is a pediatrician in North Bethesda and a bone marrow harvesting physician in Washington, DC. By night (and some weekends), he’s the host of “The Child Repair Guide Podcast.”
We talked to Dr. Steve about how he manages such a busy schedule while raising his 12-year-old daughter, Adeline, and his 10-year-old son, Cole, with his wife, Monica.
What do you love about the work you do?
I get to help kids and parents feel less anxiety and more confidence through all the ups and downs of growing up, which is a pretty special role. What I love about the podcast and all of the associated projects with social media and YouTube is the incredible opportunity to do this in a unique, creative way—to feed the imaginative part of my soul and bring helpful, enjoyable content to people in the process.
What do you love about being a dad?
Before you have kids, you might worry that being a parent means losing a part of who you are—that it’ll hold you back from becoming who you’re supposed to be. I find it’s actually the opposite that’s true—that being a parent forces you to grow and develop parts of yourself you never knew needed work, or maybe never even knew were there at all. I’m trying to get more in tune with who I am every day, in part to become the parent I want to be for my kids, but also because of what I learn about myself as my wife and I raise them.
Tell us about “The Child Repair Guide Podcast.”
Several years ago, I received a phone call from a mom who was sobbing because her 18-month-old daughter had a fever of 100.8. Keep in mind that the medical definition of fever starts at 100.4, so this was just barely a fever. But it was her daughter’s first fever, and the mom was petrified.
At first, I was taken aback by how worried this mom was over such a common childhood occurrence, but then it struck me that I wasn’t terribly different when I first became a parent. I probably diagnosed my poor daughter with half a dozen bizarre things when she was a baby—none of which she actually had—all because my new-parent eyes were catastrophizing every possible problem.
So in 2016, I launched “The Child Repair Guide Podcast.” Over 100 episodes later, and having covered everything from basic medical questions to talking to kids about race and puberty to growth mindset and more, it’s blossomed into a thriving podcast, YouTube channel and social media presence. It’s been a pretty amazing journey!
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work and your home life?
This is a healthcare crisis, and there has been a lot of wonderful praise for healthcare workers, but the experience has been odd for primary care docs. If the ER or ICU is the front line, we’re kind of in Iceland. In our practice, we’re each only going into the office one day a week to see a small handful of baby or toddler checkups, then doing telemedicine from home the rest of the week.
The biggest challenge has been trying to educate families about the pandemic in a way that walks the line of being both imperative enough that people take this seriously and reassuring enough that we don’t cause overwhelming anxiety. Early on, I wrote an article that went mega-viral with more than 2.5 million views. It discussed why play dates were not a good idea, and the way it resonated with so many people reinforced to me the role that good, clear messaging can play in helping people respond to challenges.
As for my family, we’re facing many of the same challenges that other families face—how to deal with online learning, working from home and being confined to a space with the same people day in and day out. But we’ve also used this as an opportunity for creativity. My kids were making a video news show for a while. My wife and I have teamed up to make “10-Minute Preschool,” a YouTube series for preschoolers stuck home during the pandemic. And we’ve all taken to learning or practicing instruments. We’ve been busy!
What it’s like to work in a NICU during the coronavirus pandemic
What do you find challenging about raising kids, and how have you tried to resolve those challenges?
The funny thing about being a pediatrician and a “parenting expert” is that it doesn’t mean that I make any fewer mistakes than anyone else. It’s just my job to research the solutions and then share what works.
I’ve long held a philosophy that “you cannot teach what you have not learned.” But when it comes to being a parent, I think it’s okay to recognize that we’re still learning each step of the way, that we are all works in progress. In fact, that’s a message I try to instill in my kids as well.
What’s something that makes juggling fatherhood and your career a little bit easier?
The obvious answer is that I get to do it with Monica, my amazing wife. She really is incredible. She’s the glue that holds this crazy boat together, and she’s often the force that keeps us moving towards the fun.
I’m also grateful that I’ve had years of experience with meditation. My formal practice is a bit hit or miss these days, but I draw on the lessons and skills I’ve learned all the time.
What do you and your family love to do together?
We’re pretty tight-knit and do quite a lot together, but the first thing that comes to mind is reading. Even though my kids are 12 and 10, we still read together at night. Sometimes we’ll have a story that my wife will read aloud over a few weeks, or sometimes we’ll all read our own books in bed together (we call it “ruggling”). As someone who didn’t actually read that much as a kid, I’m glad to that my children are growing up readers.
How do you take care of your mental and physical health?
I exercise a few days a week, drink primarily water (or coffee!) and am always trying to eat more plants. I’ve also long recognized that I have a better day when I sing—whether it’s around the house, in the car or just in the shower.
What are 5 things you can’t live without?
- My wonderful family (of course!)
- Music—I’m a diehard U2 fan
- Harry Potter—Monica and I were hooked from the beginning, and it’s been a blast raising a family of Potterheads
- The 1-minute express button on the microwave
What would you do if you had one hour without any responsibilities?
Right now, the answer would be “play guitar.” I tried to teach myself guitar when I was in medical school, which is probably the worst time to try and learn. Then residency happened, then kids, and my playing fell by the wayside.
Now in these last few months, I’ve picked it up again and have found a joy in playing that wasn’t there before. So whatever moments I have when I’m not doing something with my family or for “The Child Repair Guide,” I’ve stolen away to play guitar.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Washington FAMILY.