Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jennifer Frank, MD: The mom in me

As my husband and I lug four tired kids from the YMCA to our minivan after swimming lessons one bitterly cold evening, I think to myself, “This is hard.” In fact, I frequently have that thought. It is hard getting four kids clean simultaneously. It is hard refereeing the continual arguments and fights that abound in our home. It is hard being a working mom.

But, I often think, it could be so much harder.

I see the difficulty many of my patients have with parenting and raising their children. Often, these are young, single moms trying to raise one, two, or more children on minimum wage salaries while battling their own medical problems or addictions.
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They love their children as fiercely as I love my own, but their struggles are multiple. They can’t easily afford children’s Tylenol. Gas money may be scarce. Trusted childcare can’t be found for the price they can pay. Other family members interfere with their attempts to better themselves and protect their children. They have serious medical problems that physically or psychologically impair their ability to be the type of mom they would like to be.

It is difficult not to judge them for the choices they have made that led them to where they find themselves. When I am tempted to form a critical conclusion, I remind myself that I was raised in a stable home by two loving parents, had numerous educational and extra curricular opportunities, enjoy a healthy marriage, have a supportive spouse, am blessed with four healthy children, and appreciate an exceptional standard of living. If it is hard for me, it must be nearly impossible for someone with more barriers and obstacles.

Too often, I have little to offer to help them in their journey. However, I can try to smooth the way rather than being another obstacle. I can forgive the no-show appointment or showing up 20 minutes late for a 15-minute visit. A few simple words such as “you are doing a great job” can lift spirits. I can fill out that paperwork for the social services agency quickly (even though it was just dropped off). I can try to find an extra bottle of children’s Tylenol and not bristle that they spend needed income on a pack of cigarettes.

In short, I can try to be an advocate for these patients. Taking them where they are, I can try to help them and their children by doing everything in my power to make it less hard for them to be successful. From one mom to another, I can extend a hand and lift them up.

Jennifer Frank, MD, FAAFP, is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and a faculty family physician at the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program in Appleton, Wis. She is a mother of four, whose husband, also a physician, is a stay-at-home dad.

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