Secret social worker: parenting

Lila Halliday asks who are we to judge parenting?

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Being a parent and juggling a career is a challenge whatever sector you work in and as women continue to make up the majority of primary carers for children and form the majority of the social care workforce, this is a particular issue in social work. It seems that the theme of almost every Christmas movie is a workaholic parent who misses their child’s play, to be met by an angry spouse and a child who is damaged for life. The expectation on parents to be involved in every second of their child’s life is high and in an economy where both parents often have to be working, it’s totally unachievable. The result is guilt… oh so much guilt!

To compound our healthy dose of working parent guilt, us social workers also have to reconcile ourselves to that fact that our job is to assess and pass judgement on other people’s parenting, while we often feel like we are failing as parents ourselves. There’s nothing like spending your morning flying around the house, throwing a sugary cereal bowl at your sleepy child who was up too late watching YouTube and screaming like a maniac for them to brush their effing teeth and get out the bloody door, and then zooming off to work to talk to a parent about how their lack of boundaries and routines is having a negative impact on their children.

There have been so many occasions where I’ve sat in meetings while someone is reeling off all the ways a parent isn’t meeting the needs of their child and thinking: I’ve done that; I don’t always do that for my kids either.

As well as the palpable hypocrisy you also have the fear. Social work opens your eyes to all sorts of horrors and insights into what could happen to your children. You fear that everyone your child comes into contact with is a sex offender. And if, like me, you have a particularly reckless child, when you sit waiting in A&E with your child who has split their head open, drank bleach or impaled themselves on an upturned stool, you’ll play out the moment the doctor calls social care in to remove your child while they investigate this catalogue of incidents.

The point is, there is no us and them. Our parenting will have parallels with the families we work with because we are both parenting children in the same society and it’s tough and no one is perfect. We can’t work under the assumption that there are good parents and bad parents, with no crossover at all. Because what are we doing trying to change people who we see as bad and how do we live with our own parenting if some of our own behaviour is that of the “bad” parent?

As a social worker and parent you will not always be able to revolve your world around your children and you will forget sports day and wince at the thought of your child hopefully scanning the crowd for your face. You will worry about everything because you know what is out there and you will measure your parenting against the families you work with and find unsettling comparisons.

But what you will know is that children need to be loved, they need to be safe and they need a role model. What better role model for a child than a social worker? You work tirelessly to help and save people, to protect children and keep families together. Your child couldn’t be in better hands, even if those are the hands of a parent gripping the steering wheel as they career into the school car park because they’re late for pick up again.

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