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Play the cards you have

March 14th, 2011

Benjamin Franklin is thought to have said, “If you want to make a friend, let someone do you a favor.”  It’s wise advice that’s often overlooked by parents whose children have mental health needs.

A number of years ago, I was hitting brick wall after brick wall trying to find a child psychiatrist for my son.  The one we’d had was leaving the state, a famous institution turned us down because his need for frequent appointments didn’t fit their scheduling and one of the few with openings told me that the medications he was comfortable prescribing had already been tried, so there was nothing he could offer.  I had explored every lead and followed all the right steps.  Now I was feeling like a failure. 

Many parents reach this point, often more than once.  They are overworked, overstressed and feel defeated. To make matters worse, many of us are also reluctant to ask for help, thinking that parenting a son or daughter is something people do all over the world or have for many generations.  The situation is even worse when your child has significant mental health needs.  One pervasive myth is that people with mental health challenges should be able to snap out of it, get a grip or pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  If they are a child or teen, their parents should be able to get them to do it.  Myths like these have an insidious way of undermining our confidence.

When I hit my wall, I turned to a friend, who was not only parenting a child like mine, but was also an advocate.  “We have to all play the cards we have,” she said. “Some people have a trust fund, or they’re a doctor who knows other doctors. We don’t have that.  But we network, we’ve done favors for others and we can simply ask them to jump in. That’s the card we have to play.”

Gretchen Rubin, author of the NY Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, says that one of the secrets of adulthood is: It’s okay to ask for help. Many families pride themselves on their independence and New Englanders can be the original do-it-yourselfers.   One mother recently told me that she was afraid that asking for help made it seem as if she were unable to take care of her child and would be judged. However, asking for assistance signals your trust and your respect for the other person’s expertise.  We can ask for help, advice or suggestions. 

The best tool we have is ourselves and the greatest advantage we have is the relationships we build.  Most of us do favors for others without expecting any return and freely offer our help to change things in our neighborhood or community.  But we forget that networking goes both ways.  The cards we have to play are those relationships and the network we are part of. 

If someone does you a favor they are investing in you, your family and your success.  Be sure to thank them for it.  Just don’t forget to ask in the first place.

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