Dr. Kenneth Polin has been giving medical advice, orders and
recommendations to parents for nearly three decades.
No baby bottles allowed in the crib. No pacifiers for school-age
children. No sweets or caffeine before bedtime.
Such pediatric staples are echoed by doctors across the country
to millions of obedient or, at least, well-intentioned parents.
But Polin, of Town and Country Pediatrics in Chicago, has a
confession to share with you: He doesn't always follow his own
advice for his own children. And he's not alone in the "do as I
say, not as I do" ranks of Chicago-area pediatricians who also are
For instance, Polin's 13-year-old son watches television much
more often than he would recommend to other parents. Polin explains
this by admitting real-world circumstances sometimes get in the way
of textbook recommendations.
"Sometimes I'm a better pediatrician than a parent," Polin
Dr. Amberly Brewer, a pediatrician, also struggles with the "too
much TV" dilemma for her 6-year-old son, Samuel, and her
16-month-old son, Oliver.
"There are days when our 6-year-old gets more than his allotted
two hours of screen time," says Brewer.
The same goes for her younger son, who enjoys watching "Thomas
the Tank Engine" in the morning despite the recommendation that
children under 2 not watch TV at all.
"I've never been able to figure out how this is remotely
possible in the winter when he has an older sibling and lives in
the middle of the great Midwest tundra," she says.
Brewer says no parent can be perfect, not even when that parent
is a pediatrician armed with "every possible rule for
"As parents, we try to do the best for our children, but
mistakes will happen," she says.
For example, Brewer had her first son, Samuel, during her second
year of residency and her husband's second year of graduate
"I admit parts of that first year of motherhood are a
sleep-deprived blur," she says.
One incident she will never forget is waking up in the middle of
the night to the sudden wail of her 8-month-old baby boy. Her
husband brought Samuel into their bed so she could nurse him.
"Our routine at the time included reading books and cuddling Sam
before placing him to sleep in his pillow-free, bumper-free,
blanket-free crib," she says. "But, being the tired parents we
were, we fell asleep and Sam fell asleep right along with us on my
Sam soon slid off his father's chest right onto the floor, with
a thud, she recalls. He was unharmed, but it was a "very scary
moment of truth" for the young parents.
"I like to say that one of my jobs is to advise parents of best
practice recommendations. However, it is ultimately the parents'
jobs to make the best informed decisions they can in the context of
their own personal and cultural values."
In other words, guidelines are just that-guidelines,
"They are road maps designed to help us minimize the hazards and
maximize the potential that every child and parent faces," Brewer
says. "Some rules, like use of safety belts, need to be followed
rigidly, while other rules, like timing when to wean an infant to a
cup or graduate from a crib to a bed, are more flexible."
Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais, a Chicago pediatrician, author and
mother of four, straddled the doctor-parent line while
breastfeeding her twins. Official pediatric guidelines emphasize
breastfeeding babies for six months, if not longer. But Flais
breastfed her twins for only three and a half months.
"I still feel guilty about it," says Flais, who penned the 2009
book Raising Twins, From Pregnancy to Preschool-Advice from a
Pediatrician Mom of Twins.
Flais has since learned, however, that any amount of time a baby
is breastfed is still beneficial.
"Moms can take comfort if they breastfed their baby for only six
weeks. The baby received the optimal nutrition and immune factors
for that amount of time."
Flais understands firsthand how hard it can be to obey every
rule and recommendation when life's circumstances get in the way,
even for doctors.
"We're human too," she says. "You just do your best and educate
yourself to the gold standard guidelines."
Dr. Timothy Ames confessed to sending his children back to
school the day after they had a fever.
"To heck with this waiting 24 hours after the last elevated
temperature," he says, recalling what he told his children. "You
look good to me, kid, go get to work."
In another instance, when his older son was 3, Ames struggled
getting him to sleep at bedtime.
"Somehow I thought if I explained to him loudly and in great
detail how upset I was that he kept getting out of bed once I had
tucked him in, he would take the hint and leave me alone," Ames
"My priest had to give me my own advice about just putting him
back in his room without discussion, so that I could prevail with
my superior patience and stubbornness," he says. And it eventually
Brewer agrees, admitting that she and her husband have been
"abysmal failures" at getting their sons to sleep through the night
as infants and young toddlers. This, despite reading and trying
many "guaranteed" sleep method books that have made their authors
very wealthy, she notes.
Dr. Lisa Gold, a Crown Point, Ind., pediatrician, labels her
early parenting recommendations as "B.C."-before she had children
of her own. She would strictly advise what she was taught in
For example, absolutely no baby bottle after the first birthday.
"I firmly would express this recommendation at the 9-month
office visit in preparation for the D-Day," she says. "Then came my
first child," she recalls. "What? The bottle gone at 1 year old? I
don't think so."
She lingered past the one-year mark for her son, Nolan, and then
slowly weaned him from it completely by the time he was 15 months
"Since then I have modified my recommendations, and I definitely
don't scold the parent who still is giving a bottle to their
15-month-old," she says. "But we talk about the process of
And those impressive parents who have their child off the bottle
at 1? She asks them, "Wow, how did you do that?"
On the flip side, Brewer is proud to note that she advocates and
follows to a tee many of her own recommendations to other
Her son is one of the only children in their neighborhood who
consistently wears a bicycle helmet. She's a stickler for things
like proper car seat usage and lathering up her kids with sunblock,
then reapplying it frequently. And neither of her children has a
television in their bedroom.
"That being said, some non-AAP-approved things (American Academy
of Pediatrics) have occurred in our household," she freely admits,
while her toddler plays with his older brother's "not for children
under 3" toy.
Then again, she is trying to resist the urge to exchange that
Hot Wheels toy car for her son's blanket, "binky," that she's
trying to put away for good.
Gold mentions other popular recommendations from pediatricians
that often don't get obeyed, such as don't give in to temper
tantrums and don't respond to a whining child.
"I can't think of any physician who didn't break those rules,"
Brewer agrees: "I don't disagree with or lack faith in any
advice I might give. I just can't comply with it all of the time.
That doesn't mean that I won't keep trying."
And neither should other parents.
Jerry Davich is a freelance writer and father of two living in the Chicago area.
See more of Jerry's stories here.
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