I believe that everybody is doing their best with the resources they have at a given moment in time. This is not a belief that I have arrived at easily. It is a belief that I have arrived at over the course of a lifespan helping care for others who have often behaved in ways that baffled me, sometimes endangering themselves and/or others, leading me to feel intense frustration and infuriation at times.
I come from a family of six children, four of whom have struggled with developmental disabilities and/or mental illness all of their lives. My mother was the main caregiver and then her early death left that role to me, at the age of 20, and my sister, 8 years my senior. I have been a surrogate parent to my siblings most of my life and seeing the poor choices they make over and over again and the hardships to themselves and others that result from these choices, has been the hardest part of this role. Watching people I care for and love respond in irrational and sometimes destructive ways is not just heart wrenching but has led me to resent and be angry with them when I have falsely believed that they could have done better. It is only through the realization that at any given moment in time, they, as well as the rest of us, are doing the very best we can with the internal and external resources we have that has allowed me to find peace in that role of caregiver.
In my career as a child psychiatric nurse, I work closely with families of children who have behaviors that are perplexing and frustrating and can often be destructive. Parents commonly have, in addition to their worries and fears for their child, anger or resentments stemming from the belief that their child is in a position to make different choices if they just wanted to. This anger and resentment often makes it difficult for parents to respond toward their child in a supportive way and, as importantly, it often keeps the parents in inner turmoil. In my work with them, not only do I focus on teaching them tools that they can use to help parent their child and provide the child resources that may allow them to make different choices, but I also focus on helping the parents and other family members realize that their child is always doing their very best at a given moment in time. It is through this realization that resentments and anger can shift into acceptance and some peace of mind can be arrived at.
I’ve come to this belief through my experiences with people who have more personal challenges than most of us have but this belief has helped me respond with acceptance to more typical people in the day-to-day struggles we all face. When the store clerk is rude, I remind myself that they are doing their best with the resources they have. I then ask myself if I have any resources to offer them. Inevitably I do. I’ll offer them the small token of a smile or a kind word and that often shifts their resources enough to make their best at their next moment in time something much better.