It’s all too easy to make an immediate judgement about people and the job they do or the type of parent they are, whether consciously or subconciously. Not many people know that before I became a mum, I was a social worker, employed by a Local Authority. I would like to say I am ‘out and proud’ about it but to be honest, I have had so many negative comments since qualifying at the tender age of 23 I tend to not get into it. Here’s my story…
I wanted to work with people, I am what others call a ‘people person’. Even in my teens I would volunteer to swim with a special needs swim group and at university befriended a child with autism who I used to take out at the weekend.
How did I get here?
I am not sure why and how I ended up ‘training’ to be a social worker. I think I decided it would ‘open the door’ to other opportunities but I was very clear to others at this point that I was actually not going to practice social work. There was such a stigma around it, I felt it even before I qualified and I struggled to admit that this was what I had chosen to do, at aged 21 and just after finishing my first degree.
It was an eye opener. My 2 years including 2 separate work placements, one in a Family Centre working with vulnerable children and adults and one in mental health really opened my eyes to how vulnerable, and distressed people could be. I had to learn to cope with the emotional intensity and unpredictability of the job, fast, it was a bit of the ‘sink or swim’ mentality.
I loved the people, the families who I met and the children who I got down on the floor and played with. It broke my heart though that a lot of the time their parents had so many issues pressuring them and stressing them out in their own lives that they did not know how or even have the capacity to care for their children.
I got really involved in trying to help them, lifting them up, listening to their challenges and how hard things were for them on a day to day basis and giving them a bit of attention so they were able to then, in turn, give a bit of time and energy to their children.
Dealing with the stigma
It wasn’t always easy, at all. The stigma of being a social worker meant that very often families I had been ‘given’ to help did not want me involved. Who wants some ‘busy body’ coming in and poking their nose into your life? I certainly wouldn’t and I can appreciate now how intrusive these families must have felt it.
They were driven to accept my intervention by fear, the traditional fear which people often come out with when you say you have a background in social work.
‘If I don’t do what I am told then you will take my children away from me’
This phrase didn’t just come from the families I worked with, it also came from friends and family members who I knew at the time who had children.
At first I was proud of my professional qualification, I had worked hard to get it, but after a while I stopped being explicit about what I did because I was fed up with the ‘well I’ll need to lock my children up so you don’t take them away from me’ comments.
Question – do you actually KNOW how hard it is to remove a child from their biological parents?
You wouldn’t unless you had been where I stood, with my colleagues and faced the demands on our time, and energy, every single day.
It’s all too easy to bash someone
And don’t we all just love to ‘bash’ a social worker? Every day we would hear comments blaming these nosy parkers and do gooders, We would feel threatened and intimidated and went through most days feeling generally disliked.
It’s no wonder we turned to cake!
Now in any profession there are people who really care about their job, turn up and work their butts off to ‘get it right’ or as right as you can with humans.
But there will be people who don’t give a monkeys, who cut corners where they can and shouldn’t really be doing the job in the first place.
But in social work, when mistakes happen, people love to abuse, belittle and criticise the action of all social workers, we get completely ‘lumped together’ there is no room for individuality when we are exposed to the public world.
So threats of violence, to be killed or just general anger and insults were a daily occurrence for us, especially when the media reported another child death that ‘us social workers’ should have prevented.
No-one wants a child to die, least of all us, who are employed to safeguard a children’s welfare but is it really helpful to have a public flogging of people who are trying to do their best, even if their best would never be good enough in the public’s eyes?
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
I hung on in there though and did my best. I looked after myself as best I could and did my job to the absolute best of my ability.
And then I became a mum.
And the tide started to turn. My perspective on these families and their challenging lives changed as I struggled with the challenges of being a parent myself and how tough it could be at times, especially when you are sleep deprived and not feeling your best.
Add that to having nowhere to live, difficult circumstances and no support and how some of these families kept going I will never know.
But I ‘got it’ so much better and realised that some of these parents, much as they tried to, just did not have the ‘ability’ to care for their children, even if we made everything in their lives better.
And this really affected me.
The drain of trying to fix others
I was starting to get emotionally drained trying to ‘fix’ these families, exposing myself to try and help and then I had nothing left when I got home in the evening to engage and enjoy my own family.
I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Because I couldn’t fix these families, as a lot of them didn’t know or even want our help, they were just going round and round in the system with less and less money and fewer and fewer services to help them.
And no-one, ‘joe public’ believed they deserved the help, they judged and critcised and decided they knew best so you ended up working with people at ‘rock bottom’ doing your best to lift them up.
And I couldn’t do it anymore. It was affecting my ability to be a ‘good parent’, and even my marriage.
And by being a good parent I do not mean giving my children things or taking them places.
I meant actually being emotionally and mentally present for them, listening to them and really enjoying my time with them.
And that is what social work can do to you.
And I couldn’t help any more. I needed to be a mum, I had to accept that.
But I still stand up for the profession and find it really hard to read the social worker slanging matches from ill informed people who don’t know or understand the bigger picture.
Ever stood in a social workers shoes?
Then don’t judge, you have no right to, just as I have no right to judge you or your life.
And this is how the job we do can really affect our day to day life.
I believe I am the mum I am, and run the business I do because of my experience as a social worker. Unlike many, I have seen the reality of life, not the bubble which people can often surround themselves with.
At first I was scared to tell people what I did as I thought they would be put off working with me.
But that is, I realised, rubbish, because when it comes to being a mum, I have pretty much heard, seen and experienced the lowest of the low, the people that really cannot be ‘good enough’ parents no matter how hard they try or how much support you give them.
And that is why I know how awesome you are as a parent, for one single and important reason.
Willing to do whatever it takes
Because you CARE about being a good parent, you CARE about being good enough, and you are willing and able to do whatever it takes.
Honestly, sometimes you care too much, I know I do.
Just being emotionally present for your children, being there, listening and giving them a bit of your time and your space makes you an AWESOME parent.
Because really, that is all it takes.
You feel guilty because you care.
You read these blogs because you care
You ask advice because you care
You know you haven’t got your shit together as a parent, that some days you feel like you are overwhelmed and have completely lost your mojo but I understand how that feels and can work with you to get that back.
I don’t judge because of my experience. And I will never judge you because that is not how we should support each other.
I hear you and I will support you to be the parent you truly want to be, the role model for your children, away from anxiety, away from stress so that you can appreciate the time you have, right now.
You can join my supportive community here or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, even just saying the words “I need to talk”. There are a number of simple and effective ways I can help – and a conversation costs nothing. See my website for more details.
Love Clare x
About Clare Cogan – Creating Calm
Clare Cogan is a Marlow-based practitioner and therapist. Here to offer tailored therapeutic support and advice to ease the anxiety in your life. Know that you or your child do not need to suffer. Reach out.