It's a small thing, but parents really seem to appreciate it. Regrettably, I didn't realize this at the beginning of my neonatal career. I didn't much enjoy talking to parents then, although I'm not sure why. Now I find it very enjoyable to get to know the parents and have them like you and trust you. I also find that if you have to call parents to give them bad news, it goes much better if you've developed a relationship with them and they not only know who you are when you call them, they actually have confidence in you.
I think, though, that some parents don't realize that building a relationship is a two way street. Although the main onus of developing a good relationship with parents is on the physician, the parents will have a better relationship if they do their part, too. One of the most important things for parents to do is to actually show up to visit sometimes. It's especially helpful if they show up at a time when the doctors can talk to them. I like it when parents are there during rounds, so they can hear the same information we do about their baby and hear the plan. If they can't be there then, it's nice if they can be there sometime during the day so I can chat with them when I wander through the unit in the afternoon.
Some parents , of course, can't make it during the day, because of work or transportation issues, and only come in the evening. The unfortunate truth is that those parents just don't get the same attention that daytime parents get. They have to rely on the night duty physician, as opposed to the physician doing the daily rounds, to talk to them. Some night physicians do it well, some do not. Here parents can take some of the initiative in building a relationship. I think it's great when a parent who I haven't seen much calls to say they just want an update on their baby. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. (Why? Are we doctors that intimidating? Or don't they care about their babies? [I think they do.] Or are they just not aware they can do such a thing?)
As I think about it, I realize there can be all kinds of nuances in parent - physician relationships. Maybe we can talk about it more later, but for now I've got to go cook supper.