Who’s The Expert Here, Anyway?

Document Imaging Man!

Document Imaging Man! (Photo credit: richtpt)

It’s no secret that I have a healthy skepticism of a lot of modern “wisdom.” This often puts me at odds with doctors. I’ve complained before about the waste of time that is a well-child check, unless immunizations are necessary, because it fills up appointments that would better serve someone who is–gasp–sick.

I get particularly snarky when doctors try to overstep their authority. They are not developmental experts; they are not parenting experts. Their expertise is medicine.

At Michael’s nine-month well-child check (one of those appointments that is a complete waste of my time), his doctor brought up bedtime routine, via a discussion of dental hygiene. I made the mistake of admitting that our routine followed a different order, and he admonished me that nursing needs to come before tooth brushing (which makes sense) and book reading (which doesn’t). Because after all, we want them to be able to put themselves to sleep, not have to be nursed to sleep.

I felt my hackles rise. You try putting four kids to bed, I wanted to say. You’ve only got one. Don’t tell me I have to do this a different way. It’s nearly impossible as it is. Michael is so distractible, I can’t get him to nurse at all while other kids are running in and out of the room, giggling, bickering, asking to have their shirts oriented the right way.

Besides, who made him the expert on child bedtime? I nearly said, “Dude. You’re like, twelve. You have one kid. I am a fourth-time mother. Don’t you dare lecture me about proper parenting skills.”

But I thought of my friends in the medical field, who often remind me that our family has greatly benefitted from the medical profession. Which is true. Although those benefits have come when doctors are doing what lies within their expertise, and never, ever when it oversteps those bounds.

Still, I like our doctor, and our bedtime routine already doesn’t work very well. Maybe, I thought, I ought to at least give his way a try.

So after a few days of teeth gnashing, I did. That first night, Christian was teaching, so I was flying solo. We nursed first–with, I might add, great difficulty and frustration (see above); then I brushed Michael’s teeth and read him a book amid the battle of getting the other three through their bedtime ablutions. I put him in bed…and there commenced forty-five minutes of screaming. He was hysterical. In the end, I pulled him out of bed to nurse some more, just to calm him down. After that, he went to bed beautifully.

I tried for almost a week to get Michael to adjust to the “experts'” version of ideal. And then I said, You know what? I know my child. They don’t.

Wow. What a concept. I know my child, and they don’t.

And this, folks, is my point. I am a fourth-time mother who has been through early childhood with boys and girls, both typically-developing and developmentally delayed. I have more than a decade’s life experiences on the doctor who sees my kids, and I have a strong sense of self and a strong vision of how I want my kids raised.

And yet even I felt compelled to ignore what I knew about my children, simply because he was the “expert.”

If I find myself pressured this way, how much more is a first-time mom going to doubt herself based on advice that feels wrong for her child?

For generations–millennia, in fact–people have been raising children without parenting books, without the benefit of research, without enrichment activities and educational apps and closets full of toys. It’s time we stop second-guessing our parental instincts. No researcher, doctor or educator knows your child the way you do. You are the expert. You can call in help whenever you need it, but don’t ever let someone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Because you’re the one who knows, not them.

17 thoughts on “Who’s The Expert Here, Anyway?

  1. Kelley

    Agreed. And while I think well-child check ups are still a good thing, I totally think that you have to trust your mama instincts. I also think that listening to the “experts” (especially immediately after birth while you are still in the hospital) often results in first time moms giving up/being unable to nurse. I know a LOT of people (myself included) who couldn’t successfully nurse #1 but had no trouble with later children. For me, it was because I felt bullied by the experts in the hospital and beyond.

    • I think you’re right on all counts. Just wish I knew some way to prepare these poor new mothers, with their hormones going crazy and feeling sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, that they still know better, they’re still the expert on their child.

  2. joymhb

    Well done, trusting your instincts! Also totally agree that it is so important to support and encourage new moms to trust what they know to be true about their little ones.

  3. evanscove

    I appreciate more and more what parents go through to bring up their kids. And it seems that plenty of parents and experts alike are acknowledging that a lot of this so-called expert advice is junk. Gee, how did our ancestors ever make it without a host of parenting pundits to tell them how to do things? 😉


  4. I do defer to Daniel’s medical staff on a whole host of things but there are some occasions where I smile politely and ignore them.

    Case in point: our WIC nutritionist in Pomona who chewed me out every month because Daniel was underweight and gave me recipes for shakes to get him to eat. I told her that there was no way this was going to work. I was right — it didn’t.

    The dietician at UC Davis was the one who decided that we should try Pediasure with him to see if we could get some extra calories in that way. He was finally plottable on the growth chart within 3 months of that.

    • Yes, when there are medical issues it changes things. Like I said, we’ve had plenty of great doctors, nurses and other medical staff experiences–when they were interacting with us on medical issues!

  5. I agree!!! Our Dr. told me at Liz’s 6 month that she wasn’t growing well enough and if she didn’t catch up by 9 months, I would have to stop nursing and offer high calorie formula. He didn’t know (or ask) about family history. My husband is 5’6″ (and taller than his whole family), I’m 5’7″ (and taller than one side of my family), and Chris’s grandmother was 4’11”. At 13 years old, Liz is still well under 5′. Her 10 year old brother weighs less than 60 lbs.

    At work, I also see that women no longer trust their bodies to nourish their babies. Boobs worked for thousands of years and suddenly we question if they will work and quit nursing. About .1% of women actually can’t nurse and occassionally there is a strange mix of events that it truly doesn’t work out, but mostly we just don’t trust. It makes me sad.

  6. Great post! My first pediatrician was an older guy and the first thing he said to me was that he always listened to the parents because we knew our child best. And he did listen to me. Unfortunately he retired within a year and I never found a decent pediatrician after that. It was always a struggle.

  7. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never gotten into long-drawn-out discussions with our kids’ doctor about things like routines before bed, etc. I just do what I do and haven’t shared much with the doc. What we do works for us and my kids are healthy and well-adjusted. Personally, I like all the well-child checks and do them up until age 5. After that, unless the kid is sick, I don’t take the kid to the doctor. I am moving my daughters over to my doctor now that they are approaching teen years and I know I can trust my doctor with the sex-ed and birth control bit more than the doctor we’ve taken the children to while small. And, I did a 9-year well-child check for Dani and I’m glad I did because we found out about her severe case of “stool retention” which has prompted me to move full-steam ahead and change her to a gluten-free/peanut-free diet (if we’re cleaning her out with a colon cleanse, I’d like to avoid this in the future!!)

    Anyway, I guess I have a healthy skepticism that anyone can tell me how to raise my kids as well as I do it on my own. Maybe it’s my 11 years worth of experience…maybe not. But I tired long ago of any doctors who thought they could tell me what to do with my kids (for example, I let my kids sleep on their tummies. They can always raise their heads and turn them within days after birth and while it takes me a night or two of making sure they are okay throughout the night, it has been the right thing for our family)

    • I have gotten into the habit of NOT bringing up things I know they won’t like…and I’ll fudge and smile blandly if they say things like “I’m sure your house is childproofed…” But sometimes I let myself get irritated, and then we have problems. (Eye roll. My own fault.)

  8. Kathleen, props to you for not chewing the doctor out. When a doc suggests something that I disagree with I just politely smile. Every child is different and as an attentive parent I know you can read what your kids need so don’t doubt yourself. Hang in there even though the sensory overload must at times be crazy making.

  9. Kathleen, I thought it took great humility to try your doctor’s way, especially for the better part of a week. That you were also kind in what you did not say is also worth some time off purgatory. That life is a kinda purgatory stands us in good stead preparing for the final act. And experience, does count, that’s what internship is about and you’re doing your residency now.

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