Special post today exploring the experience of being a mother and a social worker.
As I am only a cat momma, and I believe in only writing what I know, I decided to interview my mother, who has worked at DHS Child Welfare since I was a child.
My main question was this: How do you think being a social worker has affected you as a parent?
For my mom, being a social worker has had upsides and downsides to her own parenting experience.
One of the major difficulties is the emotional demands of the social work profession. One only has so much emotional energy in a day, especially in the child welfare field “with new kids coming into the system every week, the work load can be crushing.” So it leaves mothers who are social workers in the tough place of feeling like they can’t do justice to their job or their work fully.
In child welfare you see so many people that aren’t very self aware, reactive, when they are mad, they punish. They are not bad people, they are parents who were never parented.
While persons who harm children are a very small portion of a population, as a child welfare social worker you are inundated with stories of abuse and neglect. This can skew one’s perspective about the world. For my mom, this caused the tendency to be cautious and over protective. That skewed perspective puts a higher level of anxiety on the parenting experience.
Social work jobs tend to be family oriented. They support workers taking off to go to school activities and be involved with their children.”You appreciate your kids more, you just want to hug them when you get home.”
Social work builds a host of communication skills, child development knowledge, parenting courses, stress management and more. These skills can be beneficial in one’s own personal life and family.
That doesn’t mean that social workers are perfect parents. As my mom explained “it’s still challenging being a parent even when you know the right thing to do. When it is your child you don’t always see things clearly. You have a different reaction. You won’t handle situations objectively like you may with a client. But the difference is you know where to reach out for help, resources.”
My final question was the proverbial ” What would you tell other social workers who are mothers?
“You have to leave work at work, be present for your family. Just leave work undone, you just have to leave it.”
Even though I’m not a mother, I would add one note as one closing this interview.
Have grace for yourself. You are doing justice to your job and your family. Who knows, your kids may grow up to be social workers themselves.
Any mothers out there doing the social work that have a thought to add?
Sharing below a new article of mine published in the New Social Worker Magazine today. Enjoy and check out the rest of the magazine for some great content! Be sure to comment and let me know your thoughts!
Anyone who has met me knows I think a lot about music. I like to play it, create it, and enjoy it. Lyrics from certain songs have had a significant impact on how I see the world and have also helped me to process emotions.
I keep an ear out for songs that have social or emotional value, as well as musical beauty. The song featured below checks all those boxes. Her message to society and those who have experience sexual assault is clear, as well as empathetic. It is a connection point to those who may have experienced assault or walked a friend through such an experience.
As someone who works in the homelessness field, the song is especially poignant for me. You don’t have to work very long in the homelessness field to hear story after story about those assaulted while just trying to find a safe place to sleep each night. That’s why it is on this social worker’s playlist.
The work social workers do could often be summed up this way…working to remind society of those that tend to be forgotten.
Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, said it this way-
“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.”
So we remind them. And, we remind ourselves.
In my undergrad years, I did an year long BSW internship with a home health agency. I worked with their LCSW. One day we got called out to a rural area to meet with a senior who was recovering from heart surgery. The visiting nurse thought a social worker should be involved.
His trailer was pretty dim due to the thick nicotine stains in the windows. We sat on a couch to start the visit and I remember the ash that had built up over time covered every surface. I realized there was soiled laundry piled on the ground.
He was nearly blind. He was a veteran, but unconnected to VA services. That first visit consisted of assessing the various areas of his life while on hold with the VA, whose physical office was a 2 hour drive away.
During that wait time, we found that the only food in the house was a half-eaten box of doughnuts. We found that every month he paid his space rent, bought cigarettes, and then gave the rest of his disability check to his grandson, who had just had a child of his own and was struggling to make ends meet.
Importantly, we found that giving this money to his grandson was the one act that still gave meaning to his life. It was the one reason he still wanted to be alive.
As we drove away , with a splitting headache from the copious amounts of second hand smoke, I wondered how someone could have flown totally under the radar of all the social systems and even the natural supports usually in place. As I continued in the practice of social work, I would learn that for seniors, and many other populations, it is not uncommon to be totally out of sight to mainstream society.
It was also an important lesson in how to connect with the inner purpose that makes someone want to get up in the morning, to let the work flow from there.
It was one of those cases that you never forget. It made me look at my community differently. It made me wonder what the lives behind each door in my neighborhood were really like.
p. s. I would love to hear what case has had a particular impact on you. Drop me a email.
Last year, I visited Mount St. Helens with my dad. You can still see a clear path of the “blast zone” from the giant 1980’s eruption. While recovery is slow, remarkably the area has shown great resilience in rebounding from the cataclysmic event.
In social work, every day we encounter people that have their own personal version of a cataclysmic event.
In my area of practice, this event is usually a slide into homelessness. Among all the tools we have as social workers to assist each client in their own personal recovery effort, use of the Strength’s Perspective is one of the most effective. With that said, I have created a quick pocket resource guide social workers can use to incorporate strengths into their work.
*Side note: I have also used this pocket guide when I worked in medical social work to educate my medical field coworkers about how to work from the Strength’s Perspective with patients.
Link to the file for download below. Hope you find it useful!
I want to highlight this fact: It is possible to end homelessness.
In the meantime, there are people in your community who may die on the street this year. It happens , all the time. That means we have to capitalize on the solutions we know work.
One of the most proven tools to ending long-term homelessness is the Housing First idea-basically an apartment, no strings attached.
60 minutes has a must watch video if you want to understand how this idea works. Here is a clip of the most essential footage.
“We are paying more as tax payers to walk past that person on the street and do nothing than to just give them an apartment.”
I have worked in the homelessness field for about four years. I have seen this idea work and I am convinced that it is the most successful model to end long-term homelessness.
The most surprising part about working in this field was the anger from communtity members I would encounter when I explain this idea. The anger is stemming from the idea that persons in these programs are receiving an apartment that they haven’t earned or somehow don’t deserve. To my constant surprise, I’ve been harrassed and called names for advocating this model.
But at the end of the day, I think about those persons experiencing long-term homelessness that I was with on their move-in day. Many have the same reaction. They stare at the key to their new apartment. They remark how strange it is to have a key and how long it has been since they had something that required a lock, something that belonged to them. Many that do have challenges with mental illness, addiction, or other issues are motivated, sometimes for the first time ever to seek help.
They are motivated because now they have something worth keeping.
P.S. I will be posting ways to support Housing First services and funding in coming days. Keep an eye out!
March is National Social Work Month. Being a social worker is a great life and a career choice I do not regret. And while I do not want to play into the idea that being a social worker means a miserable work/life balance and days full of stress, often without support, there are times when I think we can all relate to the meme below.
So throughout the month of March, let the social workers that inspire you know that someone else is getting that warm feeling too. Send me a message through the Contact page with the first name and email of a social worker you admire. They will receive the following message and attached certificate in celebration of Social work month.
Happy 2018 Social Work Month!
You are receiving this email because someone submitted your name as a social worker that inspires them. In the hurry of your day, take a moment to realize that you work is essential to the community and you are appreciated.
Attached is your certificate of appreciation (because we can’t give you a bonus) to help remind you that your work is valuable and makes an impact.
The Social Worker’s Companion Blog
If you want to submit your own name, I won’t tell ; )
Before I became interested in social work, I was a philosophy major. I was drawn to people who thought deeply about the world and themselves.
I was drawn to social work, not only because it was an active way for me to be a part of making the world closer to the full potential I see, but also because social work is a profession (much like philosophy) that has a value of knowing deeply. In the Code of Ethics, we are held to a standard of knowing our work deeply- the value of competence. But just as important, we are called to know ourselves deeply and continue to examine our motives, bias, reactions, and internal states. Cue Socrates (but hold the hemlock)!
I found a lot of insight through working with my own therapist to understand the root of my anxiety issues (see previous post When Helper’s Need Help) but there is a lot of other ways to engage in self-reflection. As simple as it may sound, one of the most helpful exercises for myself in the past year was the Enneagram personality test. I actually completed the test and discussed it within the context of therapy.
It provided many insights about myself and the relationships that surrounded me, but mostly it acted as a catalyst to take time to examine myself.
Each Enneagram type is attached to a basic fear and basic desire that tend to drive that type. In the interest of being vulnerable, my Enneagram Type is 4, which indicates the following:
Basic Fear: That they have no identity or personal significance
Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create an
Upon reflection, I found this to be very true of myself. This wasn’t just helpful for my personal life, but also caused me to reflect how my personality intersects with social work. For example, if my basic desire is to create an identity for myself of significance, am I attempting to do this through my work? If I am attempting to “create” myself through my work, then how could my focus be on where it really should be- on quality service provision? These are all lines of inquiry that opened after taking time to explore my personality through this outlet.
I was thinking back about my first few weeks officially “doing social work.” Specifically, I was remembering back to the first time I hit THE perimeter-the place when you realize as a helper that you cannot “make it okay” for everyone experiencing suffering that comes into your life.
I was 23. I was halfway through completing my MSW degree at Jane Addams College of Social Work. Of course that meant I was also completing my practicum hours. Working at a grassroots community center on the Westside of the city was a phenomenally eye opening experience. Coming from the culturally homogenous rural area of Eastern Oregon to practicing social work in a minority-majority community in Chicago, I obviously learned a lot of lessons and skills that contributed to a more well rounded practice experience. I also got a lot of practice bumping up against the edge of help I could provide and was left, almost every day, feeling that what I could provide was so inadequate to what I wanted to be able to do.
I wanted to make magic happen for people, and while sometimes magical moments did happen, I had to come to terms with being ok with saying “I did my best today, if nothing more.”
It was in this context, that I experienced one of the major differences between rural and urban poverty. Urban poverty is exposed. It’s in your face. The sheer density of persons means there is literally less space to experience poverty in privacy. For a social worker, rural poverty is actually very difficult for this reason, because to engage with someone you must first find them-out in that secluded encampment or on the riverbank covered in dense brush-but mostly if a person in a rural area doesn’t want to be found by a social services worker, they won’t be. You have to develop eyes to see poverty in a rural community.
Coming from this background, it was jarring to live in Chicago. I felt at times that I was surrounded by suffering- on my walk to work, at work, at my internship,in my neighborhood, going to class, coming home from class…I had to find my perimeter. I had to learn that I couldn’t react to every situation of suffering I encountered. There was just too much.
On my way home from class around 11 one night, I was bundled against a frigid wind waiting at the blue line stop for my “L” train. I began a conversation with a women sitting on the platform. I was 23. She was 22. We were both fairly new to the city and we both talked about our boyfriends, we were similar in a lot of ways-except that she was pregnant. And, she was living under that “L” train platform. Sure, I had a crap apartment-with sporadic heat, no hot water, and some infestation problems (still can’t help but cringe at cockroaches) but our lives were night and day.
Unlike me, she didn’t have friends or family. She didn’t have safety, stability, food, warmth and 1,000 other things she needed. When my train pulled up and I left her there, I felt so low. What was the point of an MSW degree if I couldn’t help Megan?
After that, I always came prepared with something for Megan. Snacks, socks, gloves… we also had a conversation about getting WIC, nearby shelters and getting on the city’s master housing waitlist-the Chicago Central Referral System (CRS). But, it never felt like enough. I had to wrestle with my perimeter every time I saw her. To be honest, I still do most days.
I think the discomfort of hitting up against your perimeter as a helper is both something one has to come to terms with to remain in the social work profession, and it is also a gift. It is a reminder of a vision – what we as a community (whatever community you live in) need to be doing better. In my vision for community, Megan has a safe place to have her baby and live her life to the fullest. I strive for that while learning not to be paralyzed by suffering.
If you have mastered this, you’re already my hero-drop me a line.