How becoming a MOM has made me a better Social Worker!
Happy May—Mother’s day month! Happy Mother’s Day to other mom’s reading this post! Last year around this time I posted this one, about some struggles that happen when you are a mom and social worker. This year, I wanted to reflect on the ways becoming a mom has made me a better social worker!
Now before anyone gets all upset believing I’m saying that you can’t be a good social worker if you aren’t a parent, THAT IS NOT WHAT I’M SAYING. I am reflecting on myself, on my own journey of understanding, and recognizing that often in life until you’ve experienced something for yourself it’s near impossible to really understand it. It’s the same with other major life events, you can certainly feel empathy for others who have gone through a situation that you have not, but your ability to relate is much more likely if you’ve experienced something similar. That being said, everybody’s story is different. Each parent has different strengths and challenges; each child has different strengths and challenges. And each of us social workers have different strengths and challenges.
In reflecting on how becoming a mom changed me as a social worker in a positive way, there are two main areas: how I relate to and understand parents, and how I relate to and understand children.
How I relate to parents:
So thinking about myself before becoming a parent…I had what I thought were reasonable expectations. I understood that parenting can be stressful and difficult. I understood that parents need support. I understood that often parents need education. I was pretty good at listening to parents, asking them about their children, learning from them about their parenting style and their children. I’d like to think most of the parents I worked with found me engaging, a good listener, and helpful to them.
But man, I had no idea. I had no idea how hard parenting truly is. And so as much as I’d like to think I showed empathy, I probably showed about 50% empathy and 50% judgment. As a parent, I now feel a whole lot more empathy when I work with parents. I judge a lot less because I’ve seen myself get a whole lot closer to things I never thought I could be capable of (in a negative sense). Sure, I’ve never crossed “the line”, but I have a whole lot more support in my life than many of the parents I’ve worked with as a social worker.
Becoming a parent changed me right away. My first born…was a crier…from 8 pm on the only way to get him to sleep was through movement. I am a sleeper. After 10 pm it is rare to see me awake. I need 7-8 hours of sleep to be my normal self. And that first born, man, he did not let me sleep. He cried loud during times of the night that I had never been awake during. I consider myself a patient person, but at 3 am my patience is about as thin as air. At least that’s what I learned about myself and is something I would not have learned if I had not become a parent. And made me realize I was only steps away from being a parent that needed formal intervention. If I didn’t have a spouse who would tell me to put that sweet baby down when I was struggling to stay sane, I could have become a “client” (and hurt a child that I love with all my heart). It was truly humbling to me to have struggled so much, especially as a social worker mom. And that experience changed how I approach engaging parents.
How I relate to children:
So I know we learn about child development in school (or at least I believe we did…it’s been a while…) and there are many child development trainings and resources to reference. But to actually experience normal child development via your own child, brings a whole new light to it and makes it easier to figure out if things are on track or not. I find myself doing a mental analysis comparing something I’m hearing about a child x age to what my own child/ren did at x age. And it’s made me realize that some of the things that I’ve historically overlooked or wouldn’t have been worried about, I now know to be outside of the norm. And visa verse, some things I now know and understand to be normal development. Of course one can know these things without having parented, but it’s much easier to actually feel confident in this area now that I am a parent. That knowledge helps guide practice.
In addition, since I work with foster care services and placement, being a parent had really impacted how I think about kids we are placing. Even if I never meet a child, I think about and know how my children would respond. Sometimes that makes it really hard emotionally, but I also think it makes the importance of it real to me. Which helps motivate me to do the best job possible and inspire others to do the same. When I think about my boys…and if god forbid they ever needed someone else to care for them, they would fare SOO much better if they were placed with one another. Yes, they might give whoever their caregiver was a run for their money, but they would still feel a sense of hope and wholeness. It breaks my heart when we can’t do that for every sibling group. Breaks my heart way more now that I see that super clear bond that my kids have with each other. And motivates me to try to figure out ways to do better. It also helps me understand more what kind of information new caregivers (i.e. foster parents or relatives) might need to know about the children they are stepping in to care for. With my own children, I now understand that it’s the “little things” that make them feel safe–the 7-year-old NEEDS a night light; the 5-year-old NEEDS his cuddly “nana”. And if someone can attempt to copy their bedtime routine it would help them so very much. These are things I don’t think I thought about before having children. I knew the importance of trying to help transition a child but didn’t really understand what specifics that might entail nor see the full significance. Now I see it clearly.
I think I could share several more stories, thoughts on how becoming a parent has positively impacted my knowledge and skills as a social worker. Perhaps there are an equal number of ways in which I was a better social worker BEFORE I became a parent. Or perhaps it’s not about being a parent, but about general life experiences–the more you live, and experience, and see the more you realize how we are all connected, how we all really need each other, and how we are only a few events away from being the one seeking help (or being forced into it).
Now the real question is…does being a social worker make me a better mom?!?! Might be worth asking the kids that question. Guessing in some ways, yes, and in some ways, not so much. Smells like another Mother’s Day Post, so stay tuned for next year 🙂