Parenting advice at the doctor’s?

Posted by in Dinah's Days and Nights | 3 comments

Is your pediatrician an expert at raising children, or is he/she a medical doctor?

Being a doctor is about diagnosing and treating disease, isn’t it? Or have I misunderstood something? I have been googling pediatric residency curricula to try and find out how much parenting is part of their education. Not surprisingly, pediatric residencies focus on the primary care of children as well as aspects of disease in children in a variety of disease sub-specialties.

Many parents look to their pediatricians for parenting guidance. It’s good to be open-minded about parenting and to learn from others, so it is natural to get input from those you respect. My concern is in the power dynamic. Just as women agree to obstetric procedures without understanding whether they are necessary or right for them or not, they agree to parenting advice because a doctor is seen as knowing what is best just simply because he/she is in the powerful position of the expert and must “know”.

This can sap parental self confidence and autonomy. It is not a willful conscious act by either side. It is part of our culture of healthcare.

How can it be changed and parents be strengthened? So many ways…… But some are ridiculously simple. The pediatrician wears street clothes, no white coats and no stethoscope round the neck. The room is lit with natural light. Children play on the floor. The doctor sits down at the same level, on the same kind of furniture as the parent and without a table or desk between them. The doctor and parent talk on a first name basis. They are equals! They have different knowledge and experience, but they are equals, and the parent certainly knows her child and her family dynamics more than the doctor. These things help a parent to remember that, if solicited, a pediatrician may give valuable and wanted parenting advice, just as a grandmother, a neighbor or a teacher might; but parenting style, parenting decisions are up to the parent to figure out!

So have the courage of your convictions, parents. Mothers know how to give birth, mothers and babies know how to breastfeed and parents know how to parent.

3 Comments

  1. I see and hear so many sad stories of pediatric advice that goes against evidence based research and often against parent intuition. Please do your own research. Listen to your own wisdom. Doctors are meant to treat and prevent illness.

    • thank you for this

  2. On re-reading this, I want to add that when doctors feel themselves to be experts they get used to giving advice, and parents get used to getting it. If the relationship felt more equal not only would parents not feel beholden to the advice, but pediatricians would get a more humble sense of themselves and their role.

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