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.