Have you seen the recent cover of Newsweek? If you are one of the few who hasn’t, it depicts a young woman breastfeeding a three year old. Since its publication, I have heard a vast array of opinions regarding this topic and on a larger scale, the whole arena of parenting. Often, as a doctor I find myself between my patient's opinions.
This blog will cover the calling we face as parents and my views on what constitutes good parenting.
New Mother Vs. Mother-In-Law
It is not an uncommon occurrence to have a new mom before me with her young child in tears. She entered this commitment to parent this child with love - then enter the mother-in-law (I’m going on personal statistics here). saying things like
“He’s fussy—you should supplement with formula,” or
“You need to give him a pacifier,” or
“Don’t hold the baby so much! You’ll spoil him.”
Times change and opinions differ, but who's better to decide what’s best than the person who has committed to raise the child with through their growing years?
Parents Vs. Doctors
Sometimes I get patients who come to me after having a dispute with their former healthcare provider over parenting decisions and I will admit that this is often a fine line. Telling a patient that their parenting decision is wrong is no way to foster a doctor-patient relationship. In general though, there are hard lines about what neglect is and then there are opinions.
For a period in her career, my wife was a Child Protective Services worker having to decide whether neglect or abuse was present. Usually this decision is made more easily than you would think. It typically boils down to love and education - if they are getting both, that's really what is most important.
With my patients, I see myself as an advisor. It is my job to know what the books say regarding safety, risks and health. If a parent loves their child, is educated on the topic and the child is not in danger, there is no problem. If a child is in danger, I am mandated by law to report the situation to authorities.
Gray areas lie in things like immunizations and “the family bed.”
Although, I do have recommendations as a physician, I draw the line at making sure parents are educated. If parents disagree, I listen to their opinion and thought process. This, in turn, enhances trust and allows the relationship to grow.
My Views as a Parent
In a nutshell, our job as parents is to grow our children into functional, autonomous adults who have the tools to succeed in life. Parenting is about consistent balance on many different planes. Parents must ensure safety, but allow exploration. Parents must set the stage for success, but include a taste of failure in the growing experience. Parents must hold their children close in family, but foster growth in autonomy. Parents must meet needs but not give in to every desire. Above all, parents must love unconditionally.
Kids don’t come with a guidebook. Though books do exist on the topic of parenting, these are just opinions. As you parent and you examine the different aspects of parenting, ask yourself if you are acting in love. If the answer is yes, you are likely on the right path.