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I don't believe in homeopathy1), but my wife does. Regardless of your personal stance on this, I'd like to know what are good ways to resolve a disagreement on homeopathy?

I know the underlying science is discussed over at Skeptics.SE but I am not asking about the science -- I am asking how resolving the conflict between the parents.

My wife takes after her mother and gives our 2yo son homeopathic stuff when he's ill. I have two problems with that:

  • Homeopathy is not medicine. It has no active ingredients.
    If my son is not really ill but in slight discomfort (e.g. mild coughing), then I let my wife do her thing to avoid unnecessary conflict and let any potential placebo effect work. But if he's ill enough to need actual medicine, then I make sure he gets it. I don't trust placebo to cure actual illnesses.

  • I see that my son cannot tell the difference between homeopathy and real medicine.
    I fear this might cause him to ingest real medicine at some point when we're not looking, because he hasn't understood that it might be dangerous. If I allow him to beg for homeopathy (essentially small sugar pills) and mommy gives in to the begging, then what's to stop him from doing the same with real medicine?

I am particularly worried because our pediatrician prefers homeopathic treatments as a first step and will only ramp up to "real" medicine if the condition gets worse. That kind of thinking is what killed Steve Jobs. I feel that Austria is kind of the Dark Ages of medicine and I'm the only one who's discovered modern science.


1) I know there are million arguments for and against homeopathy. One very public opponent is James Randi, but to me he's just a useful figurehead for the general science-based notion that it's a hoax.

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I've edited the title slightly, to focus on the part of this that is appropriate for this site, rather than a title that I instinctively want to boot over to Skeptics.SE –  deworde Jan 16 '12 at 12:02
    
@deworde: Much appreciated! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 16:23
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I see that my son cannot tell the difference between homeopathy and real medicine. - as that seems to be the case with your wife as well, why would either of them think it not dangerous? If they see no difference, both should be treated equally: no snacking on medicines! –  Konerak Jan 18 '12 at 14:57
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"I am particularly worried because our pediatrician prefers homeopathic treatments" uhh...what? That's a foundation to have their medical license revoked. That's a dangerous pediatrician. –  DA01 Mar 13 '12 at 19:48
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I can only agree with DA01 here - if your physician is actually recommending homeopathy, I'd be hauling tush to a new physician. There should be absolutely NO begging for pills, EVER. You and your wife need to come to an agreement for that fast. That's potentially lethal. –  Darwy Mar 18 '12 at 22:43
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From the perspective of this site (as opposed to Skeptics.SE), it doesn't matter whether the medical treatment in question is Homeopathy or Vaccination or Penicillin.

The issue is that your wife and you have a disagreement over how you medically treat your child.

Someone can correct me if they think they have a contender, but I'm willing to say that there is no more controversial topic than the cross-section of medicine and children, in terms of both the uncertainty and the emotional investment. Nobody really knows 100% what to do, and the consequences of getting it wrong are the stuff of nightmares.


The first thing to be clear about is that You Are Not A Doctor.

You do not have a medical degree. Your information comes from newspapers and internet sites. Yes, you probably know more than most people, but so does your partner.

So, what it comes down to is communication. You have clearly expressed worries and concerns. You need to express them to your partner and see what she says, in a non-confrontational way. Explain that this is something that's actually troubling you, and that you don't feel comfortable with.


I have no idea if you'll be able to convince her to stop doing this, but in this case I'd be hoping to stop treating the homeopathic sweets as medicine, and start treating them as a treat. If your son sees them as just a sweet treat like ice-cream, that will separate them in his mind from pills with actual side-effects. Also, it'll mean he stops seeing them as something medical, and instead just something pleasant you get when sick, like TV in bed, etc.

This is bordering on marital advice, but one thing I did notice is that you've given some very valid reasons for your side, but for your wife's it's just the phrase "takes after her mother". It'd be interesting to update the question with how she sees this issue. It may also be that when your child is sick, she feels very helpless and vulnerable, and giving him something like this helps her. Or she may feel that even if it's nonsense, it's better to do this and have it do nothing than to do nothing and wonder if you could have done something.

CAVEAT: If you do have a medical degree, and your wife doesn't trust your medical advice regarding your child, seek couple's counselling immediately as a preventative measure. There are trust issues there that no website should be touching.

DISCLAIMER: I firmly believe that homeopathy is a very good way for charlatans to sucker the desperate and foolish. However, there is something interesting in the concept of more "holistic care" over throwing pills at a problem.

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Thanks -- some clarifications: (1) "stop treating it as medicine," this is what I'd like to achieve, but my wife calls it medicine and does not want to use "real" medicine - her reasoning for that is something I need to ask her about. (2) "takes after her mother," my wife's mother is a very sweet person but superstitious and somewhat loony to point of following a moon calendar to determine when to water plants, cut toenails, and wash her hair... –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 16:50
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(1) then that's what I'd aim to get across, when talking to your wife. Don't go for "I am right", go for "I am not comfortable with our son treating something like this as interchangeable with medicines". (2) Not. Going. Near. That. Comment. It's a Trap! –  deworde Jan 16 '12 at 17:33
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(2) You're a wise man. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 18:45
    
I know this doesn't help you but for others: I have broken up with someone, partly, because of her views of "western medicine" - I didn't want the mother of my children to ignore the progress humans have made in the last few hundred years. This should be a deal-breaker for anyone who wants children, IMO. –  Alex In Paris Feb 18 at 10:20
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Of course, your ideal solution would be for your wife to see the error of her ways and agree with you that homoeopathy is just expensive water. But then again, your wife would prefer for you to come around to her point of view. Neither is very likely to happen, from what I gather from your story. I assume you've reasoned this six ways from Sunday with her already.

So the next best solution would be a reasonable compromise. What I offer as an example of that, would be to treat homoeopathic remedies as medicine, be it very weak medicine. Sort of a low impact, low yield medicine. On par with an aspirin.

This solves the two problems you stated in your question.

  1. This leaves your wife free to use a homoeopathic remedy for the less serious ailments, while justifying breaking out the 'big guns' if anything serious happens.

  2. This treats both as medicine, not as sweets that can be taken at will. While this elevates homoeopathic remedies to the level of medicine – something you don't agree with – at least it doesn't bring medicine down to something that can be taken freely without any consequences.

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As others have noted, this has little to do with homeopathy and everything to do with how you and your wife relate and resolve differences.

My thoughts:

1/ You give her position no credence. This is not effective. You are effectively mocking your wife, and your position is full of hubris. MEDICAL DOCTORS, who went to medical school, recommend giving homeopathy a try. In the USA, morons are not admitted to medical school. Do Austrian medical schools admin morons? I doubt it. So at the very least, you must concede that there are smart folks who give it credence.

2/ Does it work with your son? If it does, who really cares if science says it shouldn't. If it doesn't, oh well, since the homeopathic remedies are scientifically inert. This is a bad thing to have serious conflict with your wife about since it is essentially without risk.

3/ The "can't tell the difference" and "it is like candy" arguments are straw men. Treat the homeopathic products as medicine from the point of view of limiting access and managing dosage.

4/ Pancreatic cancer killed Steve Jobs. He delayed a surgery to try some alternative (non-homeopathic) treatments, but the consensus is that the impact of that was small. Another straw man ...

5/ Many of the same arguments you make were made about chiropractic treatment, yet no one disputes that, for reasons not always understood, chiropractic treatment can be effective.

Talk to your wife, and listen to her. Treat her position with respect, even though you don't agree.

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You note (correctly) that "this has little to do with homeopathy and everything to do with how you and your wife relate and resolve differences" and then go on to defend homeopathy. I'm considering this to not be an answer. –  SQB Feb 17 at 12:22
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I disagree. The poster is pointing out various places in the OP's post where an argument is not valid (straw man argument: setting up an obviously flawed and unrelated case so as to distract from the actual issue) as to whether homeopathy is not a valid treatment option. By doing this, I read this answer as "here are ways to remove these points from your discussion so the discussion on medicine and treatment options between you and your partner can be more accurate and based on the actual issue." –  Valkyrie Feb 17 at 12:50
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Since the root of the issue seems to be about resolving parenting style conflicts I would look at discussion that.

You can bring up this subject and discuss how you want to handle this sort of thing.

Communication is the key. You need to establish the process you will use when issues of difference of opinion and parenting style arise and agree that you will resolve those conflicts in a fair and clear manner. Issues of parental inconsistency, mis-communication, confusion and competition can cause lots of problems for couples and for their children.

Once you have established how you want to work out these issues, then you can approach the specifics of the homeopathy.

Acknowledge that you don't fell it is appropriate for your child, that reasons why and offer a solution. Never attack the other person for having their opinions and beliefs, but try to understand where they developed them from.

If appropriate, and you both agree that your pediatrician is the right person, ask them to weigh in on the topic.

But you can't do any of that until you establish the ground rules for how to resolve parenting conflicts between you and your partner.

Good luck.

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+1 for "Never attack the other person for having their opinions and beliefs, but try to understand where they developed them from." –  Swati Jan 16 '12 at 19:23
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We have a mantra in my house, "for me". You add it to any utterance that you believe to be a factual statement. "Pizza is the best food... for me". "Chrome is a superior web browser... for me". –  Chris M Jan 18 '12 at 2:51
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To start with, I am neither a skeptic nor a believer regarding homeopathy. My brother is a vet, and he has used it successfully to cure animals. Some very close friends of us have used it for years, on all of their children, reportedly with great results. My wife has tried several times, without any noticeable effect. I know there has been no scienetifically solid proof of it presented yet, OTOH I feel that the nature of it might make it unsuitable for group studies. I keep my opinion open on the subject.

Curing illnesses

From my understanding, homeopathy is claimed to be most suitable for chronic, not very well defined cases, for which traditional western medicine often doesn't have a cure, or even a diagnosis. For acute cases where the child is seriously ill and may get bad repercussions or even die in a short time unless gets treated correctly, IMHO it is indeed better to opt for western medicine. I don't think any serious homeopathic practicioner would advise you not to take antibiotics if your child has e.g. pneumonia.

Giving pills to the child just for the taste

I think this is a mistake. In your wife's opinion, homeopathic pills are medicine(-like) substances, with potential deep effects on the body. Obviously such substances shouldn't be given to the child just because they taste sweet. The same way as noone gives their children painkiller as dessert just because it comes in the form of a pink goo with nice (if artificial) strawberry taste.

Overall, medicine(-like substance) of any kind should be kept out of reach of children, period.

Disagreement of parents

This is a hugely personal issue, which is really difficult to answer properly without knowing either of you in person - especially as you tell close to nothing about your wife's stance and motives. In general, I would try to

  • Focus on practical aspects of the question, like you partly did with the above post.
  • Suppress my personal beliefs/convictions on the subject during discussion with wife, to avoid religious arguments.
  • Try to understand - or rather, feel into - the other side better. Have you discussed with your wife and your mother-in-law why are they proponents of homeopathy? Even if you disagree with the method, you can get closer to the person this way. Obviously your mother-in-law is important to your wife, and your wife is important to you, and I assume you would like to build and strengthen your relationship rather than break it. IMHO no argument is worth winning, if the price to pay is breaking a loving relationship.
  • Accept that there exist questions without a well defined answer - that's a tough one for the rational mind, as it is basically an amazing answer-generating machine. Often we feel uncomfortable facing a question without an answer, so we are tempted to accept (or even generate) answers as definite, just to fill in the void. IMHO all sorts of believers are susceptible to this, just as well as skeptics.
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Half of the answer is not answering the questing but discussing homeopathy and should be removed. –  OliverS Jan 23 '12 at 12:57
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@OliverS, note that over 75% of the OP itself is discussing homeopathy too :-) –  Péter Török Jan 23 '12 at 16:15
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"My brother is a vet, and he has used it successfully to cure animals". No, he hasn't. –  DA01 Mar 13 '12 at 19:50
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Homeopathy is water. Nothing else. It's not a cure for anything (other than perhaps thirst--and, admittedly, dehydration is a common condition). A doctor may give placebos to a patient, and the patient may recover from their condition, but the placebo did not cure them. –  DA01 Mar 14 '12 at 14:46
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There's no such thing as 'homeopathic medicine'. Homeopathy is not medicine. So, yes, all it could have been is coincidence. –  DA01 Mar 14 '12 at 16:13
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