A Gift of Will: It’s How Our Kids Keep Going


Posted in: Parenting Concerns, You & Your Family

Topics: Child + Adolescent Development, Depression, Relationships

I was talking with a friend lately who’s been dealing with a lot. In addition to managing several mental health issues, life has thrown them some sad and challenging curves including valid concerns about family members and their own livelihood. And as their friend, this conversation was hard for me because there was nothing I could do directly to change the circumstances of their life or their mental health challenges.

What I could do was listen. Listen to what they were feeling and frustrated about, and how they expressed those feelings. And in listening, what I heard as one of the most difficult things for my friend was the feeling that things were never going to change for the better. What I heard was a sense of near defeat, largely because there was no end to the suffering in sight.

It made me reflect on something Dr. Gene Beresin often says: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. On the surface this statement can sound daunting. At the same time it can sound motivating, because almost anyone can run a marathon – even those with no prior experience. Whatever way you view it, running a mental health marathon takes a lot of training and commitment. Running a mental health marathon also takes a lot of will.

Without the will, it’s hard to even start training. When things feel hopeless, where does someone find the will? When things seem impossible to change, where does someone find the motivation to keep going? This is where other people in a person’s life, like caring adults, can make some difference.

My father has said to me before reflecting on challenging experiences from his own life and how they shaped his views of parenting:

“All you can do is provide as many positive experiences as possible along the way, so your kids have something to fall back on later in life, when things get tough.”

I realize now that my father was referring to helping a child to build resilience. I appreciate it because this is something we can actually do.

We won’t always be able to change or fix things for our kids. It’s a tough world, and they are going to go through tough times. But for those we love, we can give them happy moments. We can spend time, and inside jokes, and movies with them. We can share adventures with them. We can smile at them. We can hold them. We can tell them how much we love them. These happy moments have the potential to turn into happy memories, or collectively a feeling of loving encouragement they carry inside them wherever they go, and in the face of whatever life throws their way.

Running a mental health marathon absolutely takes long-term training – therapy, mindfulness, possible medication, making and meeting short-term goals. It also requires maintenance of the skills learned and milestones achieved. You can’t get there without the training. But you also can’t get there without the will.

It’s unfair when someone doesn’t receive the support and opportunities they deserve growing up, as is the case with my friend. But there can be an end in sight to making things better. Resilience is something each of us has the power to help another person build, at any stage of life. We can’t do the work for them. We can’t control their emotions along the way. But we can help to will their way.

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Sara Rattigan

Sara Rattigan, Communications Director

Sara Rattigan, MS is the former communications director for The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, and a public health communicator whose passion has always centered around innovat...

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