I spent Saturday, May 21st, the day we all heard would be the end of the world, at my cousin’s baby shower. I thought that I might be hoping for a little rapture action an hour or so in, but it was actually delightful. No gross games involving adults eating baby food or guessing what candy bar has been melted into a diaper (apparently, people do that.) Just a bunch of ladies hanging out, eating too many snacks, and squealing over the tininess of baby clothes every so often.
But then, of course, someone had to harsh my buzz.
“Oh, there’s going to be two babies in the family this summer! That’s going to be good practice for you.”
Naturally, I responded, “Practice? You mean like for football?” I did a little pantomime to get my point across. (Note: SocialJerk does not endorse spiking babies.)
Once I entered my mid-20s, people somehow decided that my uterus and its goings-on were up for discussion. I cannot say that I am tired, hungry, nauseated, or emotional without some helpful soul asking if I could be pregnant. This woman at the shower was a friend of my aunt’s. I did not ask her how menopause was treating her, so I thought it was overstepping a bit for her to tell me that I was planning for babies.
One prize-winner at work brings this up with me regularly. When I explain that I have no plans for children, for a very, very long time (that second “very” is for any family members reading) she will say something charming like, “Well, you never know. It could be a surprise!”
I’m sorry, are you wishing an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy on me? That’s certainly in line with social work values. My responses have gotten progressively more biting. From a simple, “No,” to, “I love my birth control. I tuck it in at night,” to “Surprise pregnancies happen, not surprise babies.” (She had to think about that last one.)
As so often happens, I seem to just be generally ranting. What does this have to do with social work?
Whether or not you have children is of great interest to clients. Just last week a new client asked me about this.
It’s tricky. A lot of times clients ask questions about our personal lives–where we live, how old we are, what we like to do, all of that. I think “do you have kids?” though, is the most loaded question, when one is working with parents. The implication being, if the answer is no, you can’t possibly know anything about raising children.
I usually wriggle around these questions. (Social workers are notoriously slippery, and I am no exception.) Because, really, it’s not relevant. If you want to know about my education or qualifications, you’re certainly entitled to that. If you want to know where I got my awesome new sunglasses, I will tell you, because they were a sweet deal.
But there’s no going back from, “No, I don’t have kids.” I would have to fake a pregnancy like that failed Lindsay Lohan movie no one saw. Including me, obviously. Anyway…
Until you have kids, you can’t understand what it’s like to be a parent. I am willing to acknowledge this. I don’t know what it’s like to have a child, to be completely responsible for another person and have that person consume your every waking thought.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer. I have never gone skydiving, but I understand that you should probably have a parachute and an experienced jumper with you. I’ve never gone scuba diving, but I hear that an oxygen tank is rather helpful.
I spent a good portion of my teenage summers babysitting my four much younger cousins on a farm in New Mexico. I did plenty of babysitting throughout college. I worked in a pre school and an afterschool program for a couple of years after I graduated. I have studied child development and psychology. I also spent the first 17 years of my life (and some would say even more) as a child.
Not only do I have experience with kids, but I can assist with sheep herding if you’re really in a pinch.
It might be easier to get around the “Do you have kids?” question if so many social workers with children were a little quieter about it.
“Oh, I know, my son’s school is very similar.”
“My daughter wanted to date when she was that age, I was the same way as you are.”
“I need to get home to cook dinner for my kids now! Start my second job, hahaha!”
That last one is particularly clever. (A rant for another time: leave jokes to funny people.) “My son,” or “my kids” is generally emphasized almost to the point of shouting. Translation: Hear that? I have kids! We’re both parents! So much in common, you should definitely listen to me.
No, I don’t have children. At the end of the day, I have time to hit up the gym, or watch goofy movies (sometimes, A Goofy Movie) with my roommates. I don’t have to pack lunch or do laundry for anyone but myself.
In a way, I think that’s a pretty good example to set. No, I don’t know exactly what your life with children is like. I wouldn’t know exactly what it was like if I did have children, either. But when I have disclosed a bit of personal information to my teen girls, they like what they hear.
“You live with your friends, miss? And you had popcorn for dinner last night?!”
When you spend your formative years caring for your mother and sisters’ children, the revelation that such a thing is possible can be kind of thrilling. We all have aspects of our personal lives that inform our practice and allow us to help our clients in meaningful ways. Focusing on that, rather than one-upping each other, is probably the way to go.