“How are you?” “Why do you ask…?”

14 09 2010

As a social worker, you learn a lot about your clients. (Or participants, patients, frenemies…whatever we’re calling them this week.) You know about their childhood, their family history, their medical conditions, their friends, religion, favorite TV shows, and, quite often, more about their sexual practices than you care to.

What do they know about you? If Pee-Wee’s Playhouse social work school taught me correctly, nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. They get to know your name, and whether or not you’re licensed. Everything else, they have to pick up for themselves. How old do you look? Are you wearing a wedding ring? If you’ve hit the jackpot and actually have an office, are there pictures of your children?

When they inevitibly ask for more information, you are to give them a careful, smug knowing smile, and ask, “What meaning does that have for you?”

Then duck as they try to punch you. Because damn, is that ever obnoxious.

Some information, you don’t want to give up. I’m on board with that. Do I want to give my volatile clients with anger management issues my home address, along with a schedule indicating the hours that I’ll be there alone? Probably not. (Not again, anyway.) But it’s natural for people to have questions.

Often, people are getting at something with these questions. “Do you have children?” is probably the best example. I look young. Clients know that I went to graduate school, and assume that I didn’t start early in terms of popping out babies.

Because of this, “Do you have kids?” frequently comes out as, “You don’t have kids, do you? How can you tell me how to raise mine?”

How, you ask? I have a Master’s in social work. I’ve studied child development. Not having one’s own children doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have experience with children. Also, one of us is court-mandated to receive parent training, and it isn’t me. Having children doesn’t make you a parenting expert. I bought a skateboard when I was 13. It’s still in my dad’s garage. Does this mean I can compete in the X-Games?

Some people have other motives. When I was interning, and doing home visits with senior citizens, they always wanted to know about me. Not to be nosy (well, to be nosy a little bit) but because they were in their late 80s and I reminded them of their grandkids. They wanted to impart their words of wisdom.

“You’re what, 24? Don’t get married too soon. You finish college. Men hold you back.”
“Buy a house as soon as you can. I’ve been paying rent on this apartment for 40 years, I should own the building.”
“You know, you’re pretty sexy, you should try wearing skirts more.”

OK, that last one was weird.

A lot of people also just want to make conversation. They’re self-conscious constantly talking about themselves, and they ask about me to be polite. Asking whether or not I live in the Bronx might not indicate that they think we’re from different worlds, it might just be them asking if I have a long commute ahead.

I’ve heard plenty of workers try to relate to their clients, particularly with, “Oh, I have kids, I know how it is.” There certainly are shared experiences that can bring us a deeper understanding of what a client is going through. But is parenting, or marriage, or living in a certain borough, really a universal experience? There are so many variables involved in this life that it’s impossible to truly match what someone else is going through.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to training. The X-Games await.

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8 responses

14 09 2010
scenerychewer

Great post. Laugh out loud funny as well as thoughtful.

15 09 2010
socialjerk

Thanks! I do love to make people LoL 🙂

15 09 2010
Lynn

Love it. So true about the fact that having children of your own does not exactly mean you are qualified to parent. I feel like I have seen so much bad parenting that I will be an expert at raising children when the time comes around. Or my kids will be annoyed with me constantly “social working” them. Hmmm…. Good post.

15 09 2010
socialjerk

I have accepted the fact that I will drive my kids crazy and i will horribly over-analyze every decision I make. Oh well. Thanks for reading!

15 09 2010
fos

So true! I also look young (nearly 27) and don’t wear a wedding ring. People make their own assumptions.

I’ve had clients angrily shout at me “YOU DON’T HAVE KIDS HOW CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO PARENT MINE?”

To which I politely reply – “If I had kids it would have absolutely no bearing on how I am telling you how to parent yours.”

In fact, if I did have kids they’d better watch out because I’d kick them from here into the next state for beating on theirs! (I assume the maternal instinct would give me superpowers, given how often “having kids” is suddenly a miraculous insight into the wonderful world of parenting.)

15 09 2010
socialjerk

Ha, it’s true, becoming a parent is magical. If it really was everything these parents say it is, I think we’d be out of a job! One woman always asks how I would handle her daughter if she was my child. One of these days I’m going to say, “for starters, I would not get drunk and smack her.” Thanks for reading!

22 11 2010
Roof Helmet

of course, diamond rings would always be the best type of wedding rings that you can give your wife *;;

22 11 2010
socialjerk

…Beyonce?

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