Dealing With Opposition

Obligatory Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. It’s not advice at all. It is just our story about how we have learned to interact with doctors, and some personal pondering about it. So don’t sue me if you try to use it as medical advice and it doesn’t work for you as it has for us.

In case our readers haven’t noticed, we are, um, different. We knew a long time ago that we weren’t going to let the culture determine our parenting. I’m not going to go into all the details, but a few of the things that we do differently include letting our babies and small children sleep with us, nursing well beyond six months, not starting solids until the babies are around ten months old, refusing iron supplements for those babies, never letting a baby ‘cry it out, home birthing, homeschooling, exclusive breastfeeding (no pacifiers, no bottles), never leaving our babies with other people, throwing away schedules for babies, not bothering with a specific hour for bedtime (for anybody), and so forth.

None of these are truly medical decisions. I grant that the delayed introduction of solids and refusal of iron drops could be seen that way, although I would not agree. These are all decisions about parenting styles– many of them fall under something called ‘attachment parenting,’ although we never heard of attachment parenting until we had already been parenting this way for fifteen years and had our seventh child. Nonetheless, there are doctors who believe that they have some medical authority to tell me that my babies should not sleep with me, or they need cereal introduced at four or six months (which is poppycock), or that I should really get a sitter and leave the baby to go out some evening. They are mistaken and they have left the medical field and intruded into the field of parenting.

Personally, I would avoid going to the doctor altogether if I could, but because we have seven children, and some of them have asthma, one is profoundly retarded and has cerebral palsy, and one is a walking accident constantly happening, and so forth, and so on, we’ve been in and out of a lot of hospitals and emergency rooms.

In the beginning, I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was kind of afraid. So I tried very hard to be tactful, to be diffident, to be polite and not argue (no, really Mom, I did!). And the more I acted like this, the more doctors argued with me and turned totally unrelated appointments into inquisitions and moratoriums on our parenting decisions and other completely non-medical areas.

We give doctors entirely too much authority in our lives. Being a family practitioner does not make a doctor an expert in the fields of nutrition, religion, education, childcare, parenting, plumbing or any number of other areas. It gives hime a respectable amount of expertise in the medical field. Where my child sleeps is not a medical decision. Where he goes to school is not a medical decision. Have a degree in medicine does not maker a person more qualified than I am to decide whether or not to leave my child with a babysitter.

I got tired of this overstepping of boundaries. I decided to be polite, but *firm.* And I found, to my amazement, that the firmer I was, the less pushy they were. I’ve talked about this with a friend who is more timid than I, and she says that she continues to get the same sort of interference from her doctors, while I have long ceased to receive it from ours (military families move a lot, so we don’t often have time to develop a relationship with a family doctor).

My friend and I think what happens is that sometimes our desire not to rock the boat communicated the wrong message. Doctors confused politeness with uncertainty. Seeing what appeared to be a diffident mother making a nonmainstream decision and waffling over it, they felt honor bound to work at changing my mind on the issue.

Worse, they would see this as uncertainty on my part, which made it appear to them that without really being convinced myself, I made decisions they think are nuts- and really, I can’t blame them for being bothered by this.

Once I decided to be firm and politely speak my mind, they seemed to have more respect for me, possibly because they decided I at least had the courage of my convictions and appeared to sure of my ground.

Sometimes trying to be what we think is polite is really sending a mixed message.

Now if it comes up I just make my position firm and off limits, and they mostly will
cheerfully move on to something else- they no longer feel like they are somehow deficient in duty if they didn’t try to talk me out of something I wasn’t really convinced about and informed about in the first place.

I have a small handful of tactics that work great when I am of sound enough mind to use them (always a question for me when dealing with doctors, who are intimidating just because that’s how we’ve come to view them, and usually if we are at the doctor’s I’m already unhappy about it).

The first time a doctor shifts the discussion to some area where he has no business taking it, I say firmly, but cheerfully, “Thank-you for your opinion. How long until The First Year Girl’s stitches come out?” Or, of course, I would ask a different question if for some reason we were not there because the FYG needed stitches added or removed. Again.

That’s the simplest, and surprisingly very effective, method. I just smile, thank them, and change the subject to the reason I am seeing them in the first place. Sometimes I have to do that two or three times, but they generally get the message. Doctors are generally quite intelligent.=)

Sometimes I have to say, “Thank-you for your opinion, but I feel differently, and I am not here to discuss this issue. Can you suggest something to minimize scarring on the cut we are here to discuss?”

I always try to follow up my ‘off limits’ signs with something the doctor *can* address. It soothes professional pride and is just a nice thing to do for a doctor who has just been told he can’t talk to you about a subject.

Thrice, I think, I have had to tell a doctor “I appreciate that you believe differently, but this not why I am here, and this issue is not negotiable. I will not discuss it further.” Okay, one doctor I had to tell this to something like ten times.=)

Generally, it actually *improved* my relationship with the doctors, as they quit viewing me as a waffling sister unsure of her decisions. If nothing else, they decided I was at least as strongminded as the doctor.;-)

This approach also works when homeschoolers encounter members of the public who are opposed to homeschooling, when large families are approached by zero population grown types, when people either object to our disciplinary measures or object to our lack of them, with people who want to argue with us about why we are vegetarians, with people who want to argue with us about why we eat meat, in short, it works with all sorts of people who wish to talk to us seriously about any controversial issue where the decision we make is not truly, in the end, their business.

Smile, thank them, and change the subject to an area where they do have some authority to speak and we would like to hear their opinions. Of course, for this to be truly effective, we must also remember that we don’t get to argue with them about their choices either. If they persist in arguing, offer them a hefty book on the subject and suggest that if they would just read this book, then you could at least discuss the topic intelligibly together. They will better understand your position. The main point of this tactic is not to get them to read the book. It’s to get them to agree to postpone any further pestering of you until they read the book. ‘They’ will almost never actually read an opposing viewpoint, so getting them to agree to put off the discussion until they’ve finished the book is an indefinite time-out from harrassment.

If that doesn’t work, set the boundaries. Tell them firmly this topic is not negotiable and you will not discuss it further. Then don’t. Leave the room if you have to, walk outside, hang up the phone. Do whatever it takes to make it clear that while you do not wish to be rude, you simply aren’t going to subject yourself to fruitless discussion any more. It sounds rude, but it actually makes for much smoother relationships.

adapted and reposted as per David’s request

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