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29 January 2008



"and unable to make a difference in the lives of the increasing number of children at risk"

I can see that you cannot, perhaps, exactly know whether you make a difference. My life was immeasurably enriched by three men, father figures really, none of whom probably have any idea how important they were/are to me. On my 40th birthday, I thought of inviting them to my party and thanking them publicly. I didn't. I also wrote posts about two of them on my blog, but have not published them because I was worried about them being identified. So they still don't know. Children are very acute and will take from you what they need.

You may never know who you helped and how: all that matters is that you keep on trying, and leave the rest in the hands of God.



Thank you for taking the time to write these words. I never quite looked at things in this way although I do believe that the way we live our lives can have far reaching benefits for others. ANY adult can make a positive difference in the life of a child. A neighbor, social worker, police officer, priest, teacher, librarian. I'm not ready to give up trying, just sad about those children whose lives will not be touched and who will never get beyond the disasters of their early lives.

One of the greatest regrets I have in my own life is not being able to tell some of the most important people in my life how important they were. Perhaps that's why I write about them.

Tell these father figures in some acceptable way before it is too late to do so. You would be giving them a very precious gift.

Thanks again.


Steve, I enjoying popping into your blog every so often to hear what you're thinking. Practicing here in Michigan, I often forget how challenging the families in Maine are. I was reminded with a "Maine moment", a family that was the anomaly here, but would have been the norm in Maine. An 18 month old and 9 year old brought in by the 24 year old mom (different dads for the kids of course) for evaluation of a pit-bull bite on the face of the younger. The fault, of course, was with the 18 month old because "he's naughty and takes after his namesake". Turns out, this poor toddler is named after his uncle, mom's younger brother, who at age 17 attempted suicide with a shot-gun, failed, and now lives at home in a vegetative state at age 21. Where do you start? With the current issue of the infected bite? The future issue of a dangerous dog no one wants to part with? The developmental issue of a "naughty" 18 month old? Can we even hope this child will see his 18th birthday, and if so, not be a father a few times over or in jail? It was a reminder to me of the hard cases you see on nearly every visit in Maine. All you can do is take a deep breath, be thankful for your blessings, pray for these kids and ask that they see Christ in your attitude and care. Now, if we could only get Medicaid to reimburse for intercession!!


Hi Meg,

I think you have boiled down my concerns into a very representative vignette. It is so frustrating when we are unable to help families break the cycle that keeps repeating itself from generation to generation. These problems are not exclusive to the poor. I see an increasing number of dysfunctional families who are well off financially. It's not about money, ethnic identity or class. It's about people whose kids are raising themselves with few if any worthy role models to emulate.

Perhaps I sound harsh, judgmental or too focused on the failings of others instead of my own. We all make mistakes as parents. What concerns me is that I see too many parents nowadays who lack the one basic attribute essential for parenting: loving their children more than themselves.

There are, of course, many great parents, like you and Margaret, raising great kids, even in trying times. I just wish that all our kids could have the kind of childhood they all deserve. It's a daunting task and government, unfortunately, offers few solutions.


I, too, wish that all our children could have the kind of childhood they deserve, but, you know what, sometimes - against all the odds, those that didn't/don't have what they needed (that love you describe) go on in the next generation to be the parents the most dedicated to giving their own children the childhood those children deserve even though they never knew it themselves. I don't know how that happens or where that sacrificial love comes from, having grown out of nothing - a small miracle - and they still have to carry their own legacy around, but I see lots of examples close to me.

Is Meg's vignette really typical of your practice?



Saying this is "typical" in Maine or any other state would be ignoring the majority of families that are doing a good job raising well adjusted, happy kids. Unfortunately, it happens often enough to give one pause, not to mention, engendering a feeling of helplessness and frustration.

I would agree with you that many children are amazingly resilient and overcome less than optimal childhoods. Many do go on to live productive, even exemplary lives and raise their children with all the love and attention they didn't get. I am not sure what the scientific literature has to say about the subject. Based solely on anecdotal evidence I would venture to say that many are not able to heal the scars inflicted by their childhoods in chaotic, dysfunctional families. Even loving adoptive/foster parents cannot undo the damage inflicted on the psyche at a young age. Many go on to raise their own children in much the same manner that they were raised. This is the cycle I was talking about previously which is so difficult to break. The prevalence of serious psychopathology in parents also does not bode well for future outcomes among their offspring.

I am not despondent about the future, just concerned about how we can turn things around.



I fear you are right - about the long term damage. I just find it so hard to accept (that no change is possible).

I've probably mentioned this book before, and I'm sure you have similar books in the US, but it described some of the people I meet in my work, and it does not end happily: Stuart, A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters. It confirms you view, if you like.

Good review here:

For all that it is depressing, I still like to imagine points along Stuart's path at which intervention could have made a difference.



Thanks for the link. I couldn't agree more with the reviewer. It's interesting to note that he and his brother have had decidedly different outcomes in their lives and they are both the products of the same upbringing.

I share his views of the welfare system. Reading about Stuart I was reminded of a homeless man who was brought into the Emergency Department of a busy hospital where I worked as a staff nurse. He was found living under a bridge in sub zero weather. He was malnourished, dehydrated and hypothermic. I spent a good part of the shift giving him IV fluids, getting him warm and fed. After a number of phonecalls I was able to get him a bed in a local shelter, arranged transportation and thought I had talked him into spending the night there. He changed his mind abruptly, walked out into the frigid night and disappeared.

There is an interesting reality show here in the US called: "intervention." It's all about people with addictions or eating disorders and a concerted attempt by family members and professionals to help them change. It seldom ends with everyone living happily ever after. What always impresses me about the show is that even when people hit rock bottom they are not amenable to change.

That does not relieve the rest of us from doing what we can to help. There is, as you rightly point out, always hope. We have to love them even when they don't love themselves, but I think, in many cases, it needs to be a "tough" love.

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