Doctor, Heal Thyself

A medical advice column was recently brought to my attention, written by Dr. Peter Gott. I must admit, I had never heard of Dr. Gott before, despite his being widely syndicated. Strangely enough, whenever I have a concern about my health, I tend to visit our family physician or the hospital instead of consulting section 4a of the Sunday suburban newspaper. In fact, the whole concept of a medical advice column seems somewhat flawed. Let’s say best case scenario, given the volume of mail received, and that this is a weekly column, that your question is answered within two weeks. "Dear Dr. Gott: Lately I seem to be bleeding from all the wrong places. What gives?" "Dear Reader: All signs indicate that you have only three days to live. Oh, wait, that means… sorry…"

So, what prompted me to read this particular week’s column? Dr. Gott, who from what I can determine is a medical doctor, has decided to issue his opinion on parenting methods and child psychology. Co-sleeping to be specific. If you aren’t up to speed on the lingo, co-sleeping is exactly like it sounds. Parents and children sleep together in what is known as the "family bed". Now, let’s not even get into whether or not co-sleeping is right or wrong, or what affect it has on the children. Let’s address how the dear doctor chose to handle his reader’s question. It’s strange that because this man obtained the title of "Dr." he suddenly has become an expert on everything. It’s called "Dr. Laura" syndrome.

There are problems with this column from the very start — the question itself, who it came from, and how it was asked:

"Q. My four-year-old grandson sleeps with his mother every night and has done so since infancy. Now he refuses to sleep by himself. Please detail any psychological damage caused by this practice."

The first thing that annoys about this question is that it’s the !#$% grandma asking this question, and not the parents. You know she gives them grief every time she’s at their house, or talking on the phone, or writing them a letter, or standing outside shouting up to their window at 3 a.m., and is turning to this advice column to validate her nagging. "See? Dr. Gott says you shouldn’t do it." Ah, the joys of an overbearing mother-in-law. There’s something else that bothers me. Look at that last line; it is not "will it cause damage", it reads as "I know it causes damage — please tell me specifically what kind." Again, further proof that this woman is looking for validation, not advice.

On to Dr. Gott’s sage response:

"They sleep with their children and are much less likely to set boundaries for their youngsters. The playpen, for instance, was a vital accessory 30 years ago, but modern parents, for a variety of reasons, refuse to use it."

Can someone explain how these three things are related? What does co-sleeping have to do with "setting boundaries"? That phrase in general makes my skin crawl. It seems as if I should have the equivalent of an employee handbook for my kids. I teach my son manners, and try to keep him from behaving like a lunatic, and if that’s not the proper way to set boundaries, then so be it. Everyone he meets thinks he’s sweet, outgoing, polite, and about 18 months older than he is so I think I’m doing fine.

And the playpen — he really wants to make an issue out of this? First off, he loses me by saying it was a "vital accessory 30 years ago". Uh, I don’t know about anyone else, but I strive to look forward in my parenting techniques, not backwards. And we all know how pleasant it is to think that we’ve become our parents. What’s next? "Nobody used car seats 30 years ago, what’s wrong with these parents of today?" There also were not all of the nifty gadgets that we have around today that allows for better babyproofing of the home, hence, a more secure feeling to let your kid crawl and play and not go into the "baby jail". Ah, but he goes on:

"Predictably, toddlers who consistently run free require much more supervision, a task that places a huge stress on parents of any age."

He calls it a "huge stress". I call it spending time with my kids. Gee, I have nowhere to place my baby so I can take a nap, watch television and generally avoid my parenting responsibilities. Boo hoo. Apparently instead of letting my child "run free" I should chain him up to the side of the house. Wouldn’t want to cause any more stress.

"Similarly, the child who sleeps with a parent limits adult activities, and the fun really starts when, at long last, the child has to be transplanted to his or her own bed."

I’m assuming by "adult activities" he means sex. Ah, yes, the ol’ no sex when co-sleeping argument. How original. I’m going to have to take a giant leap here and assume that these parents find creative ways around this. I’m very sure that at least the husband comes up with creative ways around this. Maybe Dr. Gott should be glad because if what he says is true, these awful, awful parents won’t be having any more kids. But it’s not over:

"Withdrawal, anger, frustration and insecurity inevitably follow — all of which could have been prevented if the procedure had taken place years before when the child was in a more malleable state."

"When the child was in a more malleable state." Of course I know that I help shape my child’s view of the world and his behavior. But the way that’s phrased is just downright creepy, and sounds like the instruction manual to make your own "Children of the Corn". And since when did parenting become a "procedure"?

"In my view, your grandson’s mother should bite the bullet and insist that he sleep alone. While such a change may cause unhappiness for a time, it will be well worth the tribulation as the child develops."

Dr. Gott has just assured that the next Sunday dinner at Granny’s house is going to be very uncomfortable indeed.