Pediatrician and best-selling author Dr. Meg Meeker offers dads practical suggestions for communicating, listening to, guiding and spending time with their kids in a discussion based on her new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. (Part 2 of 2)
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John Fuller: Dr. Meg Meeker was our guest on our last "Focus on the Family" program and she talked about the importance of fathers.
Dr. Meg Meeker: Children need their fathers engaged in their lives, even if the wives don't think the father's a great husband. That child needs parts of his father, and my job in Hero is to communicate to all men, there is something great that you have that your child wants.
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John: Well, Dr. Meeker is back with us again today. Thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I so enjoyed the discussion last time with Dr. Meeker. She is a dad fan. That comes through loud and clear.
John: That's a good way to put it.
Jim: And I guess, bein' a dad, I kinda like dad fans, don't you?
John: I do. (Laughter) There was a lot of encouragement there.
Jim: We do so much to mess up; it's nice to hear just a little pat on the back. You're doin' well; keep goin'.
John: Yeah, the influence that you have.
Jim: Without a doubt and I think that's the most positive aspect of the discussion last time. Hang in there, dad. Don't give up, even when your kids may be sendin' you signals that you're not doing the right thing. Keep moving forward and don't hide. And that's what I took away from the program yesterday. Don't be intimidated by your teenagers. (Laughing) And that's important for us to remember. Dr. Meg Meeker has written this wonderful new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need and Dr. Meg, welcome back to "Focus."
Meg: Thanks for having me.
Jim: I really enjoyed the discussion last time and we covered feminism. We covered lots of topics. If you, the listener, did not hear the program last time, get the download. Go to the Smartphone app and you can download that and hear the last 30 days of "Focus" programs or you can get a CD or go to your computer and do it that way. Is that right, John? Do I have that down?
John: Uh-hm, we have a lot of different (Laughter) ways you can access these programs. I hope you'll go back and listen.
Jim: Okay. Let's pick up where we left off last time. You were talking very intimately about your father and fathers who blow it and the need for them not to pull back. And even in that area, you described the teenage girl, whose dad doesn't know to hug her anymore, those things. It caught my attention, because Jean and I when we first got married, you know, she struggled with that intimacy just holding hands and hugging.
Jim: And we started to talk about it and her father pulled back at about 12, 13. She remembers it being that her mom had said something to him like, "Honey, your girls are now blossoming. It's not appropriate for you as a father to be physically touching them or hugging them.
Meg: Oh, wow.
Jim: That happens. You didn't describe it last time that way, but that also happens where the dad is asked by the mom not to show that kind of affection to a teenage daughter and the dad backs up.
Meg: Yes, exactly.
Jim: And then the child's left hanging out there. Doesn't dad love me?
Meg: Exactly, and you look at young teenage girls who are sexually active at 14, 15 and 16, and I've seen scads of them unfortunately, and they will say the reason they do it is to have somebody touch them and hug them and it's for a male figure.
And so, really one of the best things that a father can do to help his daughter stay away from sexual activities early is to give her physical affection. And interestingly, there's research that shows the No. 1 way to boost a girl's self-esteem is to have her father show her more physical affection. It isn't to, you know, get her a piano tutor, or help her get her grades up or give her ice skating lessons.
Jim: Although those things are good.
Meg: Those are good.
Meg: But we think of, well, help them learn to do something well and their self-esteem will go up. But interesting[ly], with girls, we know that [it's] physical affection from a dad, that makes them feel better about who they are as a person. And that's telling, particularly when we are talking about the influence and the power that a father has on a child's life,
There you go. There's that authority again, that wow! My dad thinks that I'm lovely enough or wonderful enough or valuable enough for him to come and give me a big hug. I must really be something, because children see their fathers as so enormous.
Jim: Right and I'm sure Jean's dad never knew that scar that he created in her heart.
Meg: [He] never knew. Well, exactly and a lot of fathers wound their kids, not because they have bad intentions, but because they don't know better.
Meg: Or they think that's what they're supposed to do, because their kids during their teen years give them vibes that they don't want their father around. So, the father goes, okay and he leaves and he walks away. And that's exactly the opposite of what you need to do.
And so, a big part of the work that I do again, is to show fathers what their kids need, even throughout adolescence, so they don't get their feelings hurt and they don't over-read their kids.
Meg: They understand. This child is confused and to whatever degree they express discomfort with me, they're expressing discomfort with themselves, not me.
Meg: So, don't take your kids personally, dads.
Jim: Well, and for me, this last year or so, Jean and I had foster kids living with us—5 and 3. And the older one was a girl, which was new for me and for Jean. And I remember one night tucking her into bed and I would pray over the kids and I remember she was in the upper bunk bed, so she kinda could look me eye to eye.
And she was looking through the little wooden grates there and she said, "I love you, Mr. Jim." And I said, "I love you, too and I'll always be here for you." And she took my hand in her hand and started to stroke her little cheek with it.
Jim: And I was kinda [surprised], 'cause I have two boys.
Jim: I mean, you know, we tickle each other before we go to bed, and aarh! Give each other pink bellies.
Jim: But the tenderness of that moment really struck me.
Meg: Well, what an incredible gift to her to understand. Her early exposure in life to male love is you.
Jim: Well, and the appetite.
Meg: Yes, yes.
Jim: It was lovely and it concerned me 'cause I could see her appetite for that affection.
Meg: Yes, the hunger.
Jim: The hunger.
Meg: I need affection and love from a man.
Meg: And I will tell you, if young girls early on in life are hurt by their father or a male figure, they will shut down any type of affection or reaching out to men later in life, and to God, Himself.
Jim: You talk about three questions and we promised last time we wanted to get to that.
Jim: And so, let's cover that. What are the three questions your kids need answered by their father?
Meg: Yeah, I came up with these questions because they really are about growing the heart of your child and the spirit of your child. We're so about, you know, teaching our kids to perform well. And we're pretty good at that.
Jim: We are really all about that.
Meg: Just sign 'em up. Yeah, we're all about the externals, but that's not what makes them feel valuable as a human being. The first question every child needs their father to answer, what do you believe about me, dad? And think about this. That's what my father was answering to me when we talked yesterday on the program about when I didn't get into medical school. And I overheard my father tell a friend that I was going to go. What he communicated to me in 30 seconds is, I believe you have everything it takes to get to where you want to go.
Meg: And that changed my life. That changed the trajectory of my adult work. Every 5-year-old girl or son when they walk into a room, they're reading their father for clues about what he thinks about them.
Does daddy like what I'm coloring? Does he like what I'm talking about? Does he like what I'm wearing? Does he like what I just built? Does he see me? You know, they're looking and searching for clues about what you think about them. And in short, they are, "Dad, what do you believe about the person that I am?" If you come home and you don't even notice me, and I'm sitting in the kitchen and you walk right by me, you believe I'm not worth noticing.
Jim: Or I'm not there.
Meg: Or I'm not there.
Jim: Probably the worst thing.
Meg: You believe I'm invisible. Or if a father on the other end, you know, we're so performance oriented in training our kids to be good performers today and we follow them around to all their athletic games; if the only time we praise them and applaud them is when they're on a soccer field, guess what that child learns to think you believe about him? Is that you believe he's a really great soccer player and it's worth watching him play soccer, but you really don't give him any attention any other time. So, boy, oh boy, that kid's gonna keep playin' soccer.
Jim: Meg, let me me tease this out for you a bit, because of the way men think and father think, I think I qualify. Those things are important to you.
Jim: And you can get lost in that performance area. How does a man dial it back to understand the greater virtues that he needs to pass on to his children?
Meg: Well, think back to when he was a kid. What did he want from his dad? All those things are wonderful. You know, get your kids out playing sports. Help them excel in things, but at the same time say, "When I was 15, if my father would've come in and said, 'Man, oh, man, I am so proud that you are my son, no matter what.' And I'm glad you do all this soccer and I'm glad you have great grades, but you are my son! Do you know what that means to me, Charlie?" or whatever.
To dial it back and say, okay, look at the heart of your child and affirm the heart of your child, that you believe his life is valuable, and God gave him to you as your son for this time in life. Even if you just say
Jim: And I get that, and I think that's in a healthy dynamic and the dad's doing the right thing. Let's role play this a little bit. But what if I said, "Yeah, my 15-year-old, he's got a sharp tongue. He's always mouthin' off. He disrespects me." I'm going through that litany, where some dads live in their relationship with their teenage son or daughter.
And you're saying, and I've heard this clearly last time and this time, dad, you've got the adult brain. You're fully formed (Chuckling) in your brain. You've gotta act adult-like, and you've gotta overcome that and stay engaged, even though you're not feeling the love from that teenager.
Meg: Uh-hm, yeah.
Jim: And I'm just saying, how do you go about starting that mechanism of looking beyond it, going beyond the angst that you're getting from the teenager, the sharp words, the "I don't want to take the trash out" line?
Meg: Sure, yeah.
Jim: How do you get over that, still be a loving father and hopefully, get them movin' (Chuckling) in a good direction?
Meg: Well, you know, here are a couple of things, because a lot of kids end up that way. First of all, the snarkier and nastier your teenager behaves, the more that child is saying to you, he's trying to get attention from you.
Meg: That's why kids do it. So, he's not trying to be mean because he dislikes you as a father. He's really saying, "Please, please, please, please, please will you pay attention to me and spend some time with me?" So, if your child is really mouthing off and they're in a bad place, you need to find some time for that child and to be able to have time with that child and endure him.
Meg: Just endure. Take him camping. You say, "Oh, no, no." Yep. You're a man. You can do it. (Laughter) Get in a canoe, and let him just rail on you if he feels like it, because it will come to an end. What he's saying is, "Please, please, please, dad." You know, "I need more of you," so give him your time, and don't take him personally.
And if you need to pretend he is your neighbor's kid for a couple of hours to endure what he's saying to you, because you're just gonna go crazy, do that if you need to. And then as he starts to simmer down, then you say to him, I am so glad you're my son. He'll say, "What are you talkin' about? What you talkin' about?" "But you know what, you can say anything you want. I am so glad you're my son, 'cause one day you're gonna stop all this."
John: Well, that takes a lot of, as you said, Jim, adult thinking (Laughter) to not feel so disrespected by that.
Meg: Manliness, yes, yes.
John: Because I mean, they're in your face sayin', "Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?"
Jim: Hey, what I would do if I took him canoeing is, after he told me what he thought of me, then I'd splash him big time. (Laughter)
John: I'd dunk him.
Meg: Go ahead.
Jim: I'd take that paddle.
Jim: And I'd be soakin' him saying, "Hey, I love you, but I'm gonna get you all wet."
Meg: Whatever; it'd be fun. That'd be fine, because to him, it's better than being ignored.
Jim: Of course, he'll get me all wet, too.
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
John:Hero is the name of the book by Dr. Meg Meeker, Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. We've got copies of it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call us for the book, to get a CD or download of this program and to make a donation. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Hey, John, can I just make a plug here, because so many people don't understand that mechanism at the Focus online bookstore. When you acquire the book through us, those proceeds go right back into ministry, as opposed to doing it through another online for-profit business. So, if you can get the book, get it through Focus, because those dollars will go to saving babies' lives, helping save a marriage. That's a great way to put that margin back into ministry, rather than into somebody else's pocket.
John: Yeah, your purchase is actually furthering the ministry of Focus on the Family when you get resources at our online store.
Jim: Okay, Meg, you've covered one of the questions, what do you believe about me, which is convicting. I don't know if that convicts you a little bit, John.
John: I'm gonna think differently (Laughter) about my children today.
Jim: Take that moment to tell your kids these things. Another question of the three was, how do you really feel about me?
Meg: Yep, yep. You know, many great parents will tell 'em in my practice, "Oh, I love my kids. I adore my kids." And yet, when I talk to those kids who are usually teenagers and I ask those kids who are struggling—usually the kids who are [suffering] depression, anxiety or they're acting out—I say, "Who in your family loves you?" And they always say this. "Well, my mom does because she has to."
Jim: Right, mom's love is committed.
John: That's what is it.
Meg: Mom's love is nonnegotiable.
Jim: Why is that?
Meg: Because every child feels if your mother doesn't love you, at least your mother, then your life isn't worth living, because it has to start somewhere. Now this is very interesting. But your father's love is negotiable.
Jim: It's the wild card.
Meg: See it's the wild card. Now even if a child has a fabulous father who would never leave, who tells his kids he loves 'em every day, in a child's mind, that child still needs to behave well because they can't risk losing their father's love.
And that's what I think. Child approach their mothers and their fathers very differently. And as I say that, many adults will think back on their own child[hood] and go, "Yeah, I get it. When my dad walked in, I just wasn't sure what he was thinkin' or feelin'. But my mom, I could be mean to my mom because she couldn't go anywhere."
Jim: Yeah and this is an old story and I think Dr. Dobson even used this years ago, where at a prison, a greeting card company took Mother's Day cards for them to fill out and write to their mom. And they had to go back to the warehouse to get more cards because everybody stood in line in that prison to send a note to the mom.
Meg: Send to your mom.
Jim: But then they did it for Father's Day, thinking they'd have the same great success. Not one prisoner wanted to send a note to his father.
Jim: Think of that. Well, that's what you're saying.
Meg: And that's a sad tale of where we are in our culture right now, is that I think fathers feel so marginalized and feel their value is so low in the family that men have just basically left. And my message is, if we don't get our dads back in our homes, if you really want to restore our country, get our dads back one by one by one.
Jim: Boy, that is powerful.
Meg: You know what? Safer neighborhoods, safer schools, put dads back. It's all you need to do. Forget about the police. Put dads back in the inner city and the drug guys are gonna go away.
Jim: Yeah, 'cause there's accountability and authority.
Meg: And authority, but how do you feel about me? So the cry of every child's heart is, "Dad, do you really, really love me?" And kids will go to extremes to find out if dad loves them. I've had girls run off and get pregnant, just to see if dad is still gonna love them. Sons who act horrible, horrible, who are nasty and mean, because they're testing their dads.
What can I do to make you not love me anymore? And if they feel insecure in that love, they're gonna act out and be horrible people. And as I say, the more horrible they act, I look at those teenagers and the worst they act, the more I see inside them this little child curled up in a ball, in a fetal position going, "Please, please, please, please, please tell me that you really love me."
And a father almost has this spell over a child. He can break that spell. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. You can go sit in a closet for the rest of your life or you can act like a jerk the rest of your life. Guess what? You can't shake me. If you go homeless and you get pregnant and you go do this, I'm gonna follow you. Do you know the book, The Runaway Bunny?
Meg: That's what a dad needs to be. You know, a little kid who runs away from his mom, "Well, I'm not gonna be there and you don't love me, and I'm gonna go and I'm gonna plant myself and be a flower in a garden." And the mother says, "Oh, but I'll become a flower right next to you." "Well, then I'm gonna go and be a boat on the ocean and the wind'll come and take me." "Well, then I'll be the sail on the boat." That's what fathers need to do. Chase after your kids and show them you love them no matter what it takes, and say it.
Meg: You know, fathers whose feelings are hurt, who have [a] snarky 17-year-old, who's givin' him a hard time and they're angry all the time, do you know how you could break all that if you constantly go, "I love you anyway."
Meg: I love you anyway.
Jim: Ah, that's so good.
John: So many emotions, though, can cloud, especially a young adult, or an adolescent's thinking. How can they possibly respond with something that a dad can take and use?
Meg: Well, this is what they usually do. Eventually, they'll usually start to cry, because they know you mean business. When a child knows that dad means business in communicating that he really loves them, that's really all you need to do, because they don't need magic from you.
They just want to know that you really want to do it, and you're not gonna go anywhere. That's it. It's so easy. You know, so many times I'll tell teen girls, here's the deal, what you need to understand about your dad. You say your dad doesn't love you. I know your dad loves you, 'cause I know your dad.
Here's the problem. As a man, he's trying to communicate it, but it comes out sideways and you don't see it. (Laughter) So, you need to talk to him. And I will say this to a daughter right in front of her father. So, I will say to her, "Tell him now what he needs to do." And she will look at him with a blank stare and then she'll cry.
Jim: This is in your doctor's office.
Meg: Oh, in my office.
Jim: That's amazing.
Meg: I own my practice.
Meg: Yeah, yeah. See, government can't take it all. They can't pin me down.
Jim: But you're doing so much more than healing a body.
Meg: So much more, because I realized years ago, if I want to help kids, if I help their parent, I don't have to worry about the child. So, whenever I work with a child, I have to have the parents in the room, 'cause my job is to draw them closer, not separate them.
Jim: So, what do you see when you make that comment in your office?
Jim: --in your office? What does the daughter and the father do?
Meg: Tears. she looks at him and he looks at her and they have blank stares and they realized they're crossing wires. But they realize they love each other but they're not gettin' through. And then this crazy grandmother lady said, "What do you need to do?" And they don't know what to do, but they know they want to and that's all they need.
Jim: Wow, that is really good stuff. Your third question was, what are your hopes for me?
Jim: You kinda covered that with your dad's analogy [in] that story.
Meg: I did, yes. What are your hopes? Here is why we need to communicate hope. Teenagers don't think past 23.
Jim: They go out that far? (Laughter)
Meg: Well, I was gonna say, 25.
John: Yeah, past tomorrow. (Laughter)
Jim: I'm thinkin' more like 18.
Meg: Yes, particularly (Laughter) teenage boys and sexual activity.
Meg: They think all the good stuff comes before 25, so they better get it all in then, 'cause once they're married, uuh! It gets bad. And no, but we failed them.
Meg: Okay, so I tell (Chuckling) them otherwise, which makes them cringe, because I'm 50-something, but here's the thing. We need to teach our teenagers, listen, my job is to get you to 25 when all the brain cells and everything have formed and shaped.
Jim: You're finally done.
Meg: And you're finally done and I can be your friend and I can't until then, is to teach you that I'm just getting you ready for all the good stuff. 'Cause the good stuff really comes after 25. And they look at you kind of like they don't know what you're talking about, but you need to give them perspective.
Meg: Case in point, this is how I get kids to be sexually abstinent. I walk into high schools and I say, "If you're 15-years-old, your body is wired to be sexually active until the average lifespan of a man, which is 75, 15 to 75—60 years." And they hoot and holler, and they scream and they yell and they go, "Wow! Where'd this lady [get this]?"
But then I say, "Now I need you to pay attention to what I say, because the next 10 years of your life are critical. If I as your pediatrician, want you to have 50 healthy years—25 to 75." And they go, "Whoa." I say, "So, you pay attention to what you do the next 10 years. I guarantee great sex for 50 years." Got 'em.
Meg: And [I've] got 'em, because I give 'em perspective.
Meg: The good stuff, the great stuff comes a little later and that's why your teenage years in high school and maybe even college are not real great. Everybody tells you the high school years are great and go wild and do this and do this. But the good stuff, job, relationships, you know, everything comes there. So, that's my job is to give you hope that your good job is gonna come when you're in your 30's and your 40's.
Jim: That's a good word; it's so good.
Meg: Oh, you pay your dues when you're in your 20's. So, if you're 25 and you don't know what you want to be, it's okay.
Jim: I've talked to my boys about it in terms of God's wedding night gift.
Meg: Ah, yeah.
Jim: And He's got a special package wrapped up for you in your bride, and you can't open this until your wedding night.
Jim: And you just can't.
Meg: But see a lot of kids who come from a divorced family, their wedding night is, why would I want to do that?
Jim: Absolutely and you know, Meg, we're right at the end.
Meg: Right, runnin' out of time.
Jim: Well, we are and I've got a bazillion things I want to ask you, but I want to speak to the single parent. It could be a mom or a dad.
Jim: There [are] more and more single-parent fathers today.
Jim: But speak to their heart. They're gonna have to carry this load without help.
Jim: And they don't have the other gender present to bounce off of, to emulate those things to the kids, how do they cope with that?
Meg: Here's what every single dad needs to know. God has given you all of the wiring that you need to parent your child really well. My job is to come along and tap a little spark to that wiring. It's there. So, don't believe it's not there. It's there.
Pray. God will help you. You can do a great job. It will take every morsel of strength and masculinity and prayer you have, but you can do it.
Jim: And moms, too.
Meg: And moms, too, absolutely. And moms and single moms, help your children find a good solid, safe male influence—brother, father, pastor, somebody. And just bring that man to life for your child, because particularly boys need to see a visual image in their mind of what a great man looks like. So, bring that man to life. Recognize that you can't do it all by yourself, but that's okay. You can do a good enough job, and that's all your child wants is you to do a good enough job. Don't need to be a great parent. Keep it simple.
Jim: And again, the book, Hero is so chock full of things and I want to quickly point out another area you talked about and that's to focus on the play, not the game where you play with your kids, pray with your kids.
Jim: Be steady, be honest, be firm, stay committed. Meg, God is in all of this that we've talked about.
Meg: All of it.
Jim: We haven't been overt. I want to take just a minute. Be overt about God's role in all of this and what you as a father need to do to spiritually guide your kids, too and point to your heavenly Father.
Meg: Yeah, you need to bring Christ alive to your children. You need to serve alongside your children. And my husband was fabulous about this. He never said to the kids, "I want you to do youth group. I want you to do Bible studies. I want you to go on mission [trips]." He just took 'em.
Jim: Right, didn't ask permission.
Meg: He just took 'em And they all wanted to do mission work when they grew up. So, you lead them; you don't coach them. Day by day by day, you focus on the play. You focus on today.
You know, and if you've got an impossible 16-year-old that you are convinced is gonna end up in jail, it's just today. The work is not done. You've got nine more years with him. Get him to 25. That's when all the brain cells are there and brain cells are such a gift from God (Laughter), just when He puts them in our kids.
So, focus on today. Ask God for grace today. Ask God to give you the electricity to your wiring that you need today. He will guide your speech. He will help your heart. He will help you have the strength to pursue your children and He'll show you how to be their hero. And a lot of times that's just walkin' in front of them.
Meg: That's what heroes do. They walk in front.
Jim: Be a hero and that's the title of your book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. Dr. Meg Meeker, this is terrific for two reasons. One, guys like manuals. (Laughter)
Meg: They do, yeah.
Jim: We want to read the instructions on how to construct it. This is that kind of a book. You can read this as a father and it will give you some wonderful insights. In addition to that, some of us guys like me—I don't read manuals (Laughing) that well; I want to just build it without instructions. That usually means I have a few screws and bolts and nuts left over, (Laughing) but it hits you there, too.
Meg: Yeah, well, any father can be their child's hero, because in their child's eyes, they already are the hero.
John: Well, some great conversation today and get the book, a CD or a download of our conversation for today and last time at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call if we can be of any help to you. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
John: And by the way, you've heard us mention this earlier. Please get resources at our online store and if you can, make a generous donation today to support the work of Focus on the Family. We're here day in, day out, through the website. We have books, resources, magazines, video, of course, this program, all designed to help you in your parenting journey.
And if that resonates with you, if you'd like to support this ministry as we reach your children and they're raising your grandkids, make a generous donation today and we'll send a copy of Dr. Meeker's book to you as our way of saying thank you for joining our support team.
And as always, for inspiration on parenting, please visit our website, www.focusonthefamilycom. On the next "Focus on the Family," you'll learn practical ways about how you can better respond to the vacillating emotions of your teenager.
Pastor Jeramy Clark: She'll grab my arm and whisper in my ear, "You have an adult brain." And I'm like, do I? (Laughter)
End of Excerpt
John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Dr. Meg MeekerView Bio
Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers. "Dr. Meg," as she is popularly known, is the founder of The Strong Parent Project, a unique online learning community to equip and encourage parents. She resides in northern Michigan where she shares a medical practice with her husband, Walter. They have four grown children and four grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Meg by visiting her website, www.megmeekermd.com.