Personal Responsibility Act

I am responsible for myself

One patient I will never forget. His story brought tears to my eyes and a proud swelling of my heart. He was unique in so many ways, but his story just made me so proud of him. What he taught me that day is a great lesson for all of us, and one we should pass on to our kids. It even relates to their dental health for life.

This young man was around 24 years old, I believe. He had grown up attending the school of hard knocks. He was an abandoned child and he grew up in the social welfare system. Foster home after foster home was his upbringing.

He hated the lack of commitment in his life, and I mean, by his foster parents. Nobody would adopt him and make that parent-child commitment for life.

So he ended up in the streets quite frequently from the age of 11. With no supervision, he basically raised himself. We all know what that might lead to. Which of us are ready to be a parent at age 11?  Some of us aren’t ready even in our twenties.

He got in a lot of trouble. He often slept in the street somewhere under a cardboard box. Can you imagine the cold nights? Even worse, can you imagine the loneliness of a young boy in that situation? The street noises. The bugs. The danger!

He didn’t attend school nearly as much as he should have. It wasn’t that his foster parents and child welfare types didn’t try. He said they were often chasing him down to try and show him “the right way.”

No surprise, he got into every kind of alcohol and drug he could get his hands on. Eventually, his drug of choice became heroin. That particular drug has a way of helping one forget their life … at least temporarily. It fogs your thinking and makes you do even stupider things than just being a normal teenager.

Counselors and psychologists were also on the list of socially-prescribed helps. As he told me the story, I imagined the altruistic feelings of the adults trying to help this young man. Didn’t matter. He wasn’t having any of it. He rebelled at every turn. No one took FULL responsibility for raising him (by adopting him) so he figured nobody really cared THAT much.

Another hit and he could forget the whole thing.

But here’s where his story becomes AMAZING. Here’s what we need to live by ourselves and teach our children. Think about your own parents guiding you the best they could, over and over, but often it was a comment by one of your friend’s parents that finally clicked in your head. Someone besides your own parents finally helped you understand … and it will likely work that way for your kids too.

After legions of counselors and psychologists throughout his life, at least every time they could “catch him” and bring him in from the streets, he finally found the one that got through.

The breakthrough came because a wise advisor listened to his story, one more time, but somehow figured out the language that would make all the difference. The language that would break the barriers. The language that would break down the high and thick walls this young man had built around his abused heart.

Or maybe it was a case of, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Either way, here’s what the counselor said, and I quote,

So your life sucked. You’re an adult now and you get to decide whether it continues to suck.

At that moment the “Lightbulb of Life” lit up above his drug-blurred head. He told me that for the very first time in his life, in spite of what all the other counselors and psychologists had told him (and there was probably some pretty good advice in there), it dawned on him like a bright sunrise that he had A CHOICE. He could determine his own path in life.

Funny thing was, he, and we and our children, have always had that choice, whether we realized it or owned it or not.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.   ~~ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

So this young man, with the truth now burning in his soul, did the best he could with the set of circumstances he was given. He started first with his drug problem. He knew he couldn’t beat it on his own, so he immediately went and enrolled in a methadone program. He said it wasn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. He beat his number one problem.

Next he tackled his education. Missing all that school meant that he qualified for the label of “dropout.” How to fix it? Get an alternative form of education. Here in the U.S. we call it G.E.D. which has several meanings (Graduate Equivalence Degree or General Education Diploma to name a couple). It meant he went thirsting after knowledge and he found it … and got the certificate to prove it.

He continued to clean up his whole life act because he didn’t want the rest of his life to suck like his childhood did. He was in charge of his own life and somehow that truth had finally lit up his self-imprisoned soul. He was free to choose his own attitude and ACT on it.

When I met him, he was attending a large university getting a higher education with great career plans in front of him. He did this with no full-time parents to love him and nurture him and guide him.  I’m sure the foster parents were wonderful, loving people, but to him it wasn’t the same.

Believe it or not, it’s fairly rare that any 24-year-old will make an appointment and bring themselves to the dentist. It’s even more rare when they do that while they’re a full-time student rather than working. It’s rarest of all when they will do that, follow the wisest advice for their dental care, and then finally go to the desk and pay their own bill without looking for welfare or handouts. This young man has been on my mind periodically ever since I met him … and I can’t even remember his name.

So how does that affect parents like us and how does it relate to dental health for our children? I’ll call it the Personal Responsibility Act.

What I mean by that is that we take personal responsibility for everything in our life, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, and then realize we have both the freedom and the ability to choose our attitude toward them and ACT on those circumstances.

REAL MOM, you’re responsible for the life of your child(ren). I’m only here to give advice about dental health, but personal responsibility is HUGE in this area. Here are some of the comments I’ve heard over the years where parents just resigned themselves to less than ideal:

  • My son is just prone to cavities. I guess we’ll just be seeing you a lot.
  • My daughter LOVES gummy bears and I can’t find anything else that will quiet her down when she gets upset. Sorry about all the cavities.
  • Our whole family just has crooked teeth and dental problems. Oh well.

Alternatives to this might have been:

  • Looks like my son has a cavity problem. Can you teach me about cavities and the ways to prevent them so I can help him?
  • Let me find some better alternatives to quiet her down when she’s upset that won’t wreck my daughter’s teeth.
  • In spite of my family history of dental problems, we live in a time when I can give my kids better health for life. Let’s talk about the options.

Hopefully, we’ll all emember that patient of mine who understood the Personal Responsibility Act. His story sure has been inspiring to me over the years. As parents, let’s ACT on our personal responsibility until our children are old enough to have that “Lightbulb of Life” turn on above their own heads. Their lifelong dental health is in our hands until they graduate to adulthood. Let’s do our part well.

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