Many times when faced with a clinical dilemma a parent will turn to me and ask, “What would you do if this were your child?”
When faced with this question I never quite know what to say. And each time I feel a little on-the-spot. But why is that? Aren’t I comfortable recommending for someone else exactly what I would do for my own child? After all, what have I got to hide?
Here’s the problem: the decisions we make as parents involve our values, tolerance of risk, level of concern and frustration, prior health experience and religious belief to name but a few. There’s no way to fully tease those things from the parent sitting across the room.
Perhaps it’s the intensity of the fact that my child would or could be in the same situation that bothers me. When I disclose what I would do myself as a dad, it’s intimate. The decision I make for my child says a lot about me and my fears and concerns. When I disclose that I’m biasing their decision with the things that are important to me.
When I get this question, what I really hear is, “I can’t really weigh the options so help me out.” And I do. With my answer they believe that I’m telling them what I would do. But in fact it’s nothing more than an exercise to help them understand what they really want.
When I’m in an exam room I’m a pediatrician, not a father. But the art of what a great pediatrician does involves understanding the mindset of a parent. Through this understanding I can frame my recommendations in such a way helps parents make the best decisions for their kids.