Why Dr. Dobson is Not My Doctor (and now, neither is my doctor…)

I’ll back up. Took my baby for a 4-month well check this week. He weighed in fine. He’s in the 90th percentile for length (btw, both of my kids are going to out-grow me by the 2nd grade. If you knew their dad, you would not be surprised). Anyway, all was well.  Give us the shots and let’s get out of here, right?

But not before the pediatrician started talking to me about using “tough love” to get a baby to sleep in the crib, and sleep through the night, letting him cry it out, etc. Not that I’m fundamentally opposed to the concept. But upon mentioning tough love, the doctor–who knows what i do for a living–proceeded to ask me if i listen to Focus on the Family. No, i replied (i thought rather mildly) i do not. “Really?” she said, surprised. “Are you a Christian pastor?” 

Ah, there it is. The assumption that loving Jesus and loving James Dobson have something–nay, everything–to do with each other.

My first thought was to say, “No, I’m sorry for the confusion. I lead the coven that gathers on South Mountain under every full moon. Wanna see my cape?”  But I just proceeded to say yes, I am in fact the leader of a Christian church, and i still, believe it or not, don’t “focus.” The ensuing conversation was civil enough, wherein she said (more than once) that she “loved hearing my opinions.” We all know what that’s code for.

My opinions were this (and again, i felt they were stated mildly and kindly. I am re-phrasing here for a different audience): That the Dobson corporation creates the kind of homophobic rhetoric that contributes to school bullying, teen suicide, and the fracture of families that find they have a gay child; that divorced folks are made to feel like failures, single mothers deemed an abomination of nature and culture, and if you are a woman who voluntarily works outside the home, just, well, heaven help your poor abandoned children. (I mean, this woman’s a DOCTOR. I thought that last part would at least resonate with her…)

Ultimately, it wasn’t an ugly scene, but i left feeling majorly icked out and toying with the idea of finding a new doctor for my kids. Why? I asked myself. As Jeremy said when i recounted it to him, it’s not as if this woman’s fundamentalist leanings affected her ability to vaccinate my kids, or write them a prescription when they are sick. (BTW, I’m proud to say that my husband had very little knowledge of James Dobson or any of his stuff, but I assured him that he agreed with me on all points).

But there it was… my kids have never been sick. Maybe an occasional cold or 24-hour barfing thing, but that’s it. Nothing for which we needed to seek medical attention. And if we did (still conversing with myself here) ever have a sick child, how vulnerable, scared, worried, etc, were we going to feel? What would we want then in a doctor? Someone we could trust, I decided. And I’m just being honest with myself here. I don’t trust this woman anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, i like knowing that my doctors are people of faith. I like knowing that the kind of ego it must take to make it as a doctor leaves some room for trust in a higher power. But where i got stuck here was–this doctor’s higher power seemed to be not Jesus, but Dr. Dobson.

I know I’m over-simplifying her, and probably her faith too. I’m sure she’s lovely, and I’m sure her faith journey has many other influences than this one that was in my face. However, not only was I deeply offended by the presumption that i must not be a real pastor, or a real Christian–i traced the beginning of this uncomfortable scene back to some parenting advice she gave me, based upon a ministry whose foundations i find utterly backward. If i keep taking my kids there, I will forever be wondering…did she learn this in med school? Or from her morning drive radio program?

Let me also say that I love some people who love Dobson and all that loving him implies. I long ago made peace with the fact that i can have relationships with friends and family members who deeply disagree with me on these fundamental issues. But that’s a different kind of relationship. The patient-doctor relationship has some different boundaries and therefore, in my mind, does not have as much room for grace in this kind of disagreement.  I will not be sitting down to share a meal with my doctor. My kids will not be playing with her kids, I will not be visiting her in the hospital if she’s sick, or going to her children’s weddings, or inviting her to my birthday party. So no, she does not get to “enjoy hearing my opinions,” or help raise my kids, or ask if i’m sure i’m really a Christian.

Maybe that is narrow or short-sighted of me. But the thought of being braced for this conversation and this internal battle every time we go to the doctor just wears me out. And let me tell you, with 2 healthy and growing kids, I don’t need a doctor to tell me that i should eliminate unnecessary stress from my life…

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://looking-closely.blogspot.com Rachel

    Erin, Thanks for sharing. I get what your saying. And I appreciate your struggle to articulate it. I have had similar creep out conversations that just leave me feeling icky, and I have found it difficult to articulate just why. You do a great job giving words to that discomfort and the resulting changed relationship. Thank you. And go with your gut here. You have a good sense about these things; your gut can be trusted.

    By the way, isn’t it great to have a partner who doesn’t carry the same baggage we do? Love that about my sweetie, too.

  • Agnes Gawne

    You should find a new doctor you trust. Trust is really one of the most important parts of health care. Whether it’s for your children or your self you need to have faith in your doctor as well as trust. Many published studies confirm that faith and/or trust in a physician helps with communication and thereby healing and cure. You are right to give validity to your feelings and find a new doctor.

  • Jim Gawne

    When you are searching for a physician, trust is about the most important thing you can look for. If you don’t trust her in some things, how can you trust her in all things? I agree with my sister and with Rachel – time to find another pediatrician

  • http://Www.saltandnectar.wordpress.com Sarah

    I knew I could trust my pediatrician when he revealed himself to be a giant Harry Potter dork. ;)


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