I realize that I have kind of a strange approach to social work. I’ve never really been accused of being a Pollyanna type, who sees the good in everything. (I think that’s what she did. I could never make it through that damn movie. Yawn.) I wouldn’t say I always look for the sunny side of the street. But I do always see the funny.
I was raised a pretty staunch feminist. As in, I chastised my little league coach for sexism when he moved me to the outfield because “she’ll get hurt,” and put a boy in my place. (I was the only girl on the team, and I stand by my assessment.) So yes, I was a trailblazer. I don’t like the word “hero,” but obviously it’s the only one that applies.
It was always weird to me that the feminist stereotype is that we’re humorless. Almost all of my earliest feminist lessons came from I Love Lucy. Dr. Mom was big on teachable moments, so she would point out how things had changed. Lucy getting an allowance, asking for permission for things, generally being treated like a child. But obviously Lucy was the best. Because she was funny. And she got things out there, in her own way. I remember her asking Ricky to get up with the baby during the night, and Ricky saying that was her job, because she was the mother. “Well, next time I want to be the father.”
Think about it. No one would pick Ricky over Lucy. Isn’t assuming that he would be better than her, just because he’s the man, ridiculous? She was so funny.
Nothing gets people on your side like making them laugh. I discovered this power freshman year of high school. In social work, getting people on your side is kind of important. Especially since you’re often assumed to be some evil combination of incompetent jackass and diabolical genius.
In an early girls group, the members started talking about how annoying their social workers and counselors were.
13 y/o: “Whenever you’re fighting, they pull you out to talk about it. ‘How do you feel about fighting?”
14 y/o: “Ugh, I know! They always wanna know how you feel.”
13 y/o: “Yes! I don’t know, like, it’s not always about how I feel.”
SJ: “I see. So how does that make you feel?”
13 y/o: “Well, it…”
And then hysterical laughter, followed by “Oh, I was about to say!” Things moved on from there, in a really positive direction. Being able to laugh at yourself, especially when you’re with teenagers, is crucial.
Or the time an eleven year old client walked by my desk, on the way back to tween group (yes, they actually called it that) and noticed that we have a Stewie from Family Guy doll on a filing cabinet. You know, like you do when you’re a professional.
Her laugh was so hysterical and genuine, I sill think about it. She brought it up about once a week. “Remember the time we did that Stewie thing?” Hell yeah I do.
I’m a fan of fighting sarcasm with sarcasm. Teenagers are sullen and too cool for school by developmental nature. They’ve evolved to be a pain in the butt. One girl I work with seemed to have taken a class in eye-rolling.
“Mara, I’ll come see you at school tomorrow? Maybe show you and your friends some of my dance moves? OK, sounds good.”
I know I saw the hint of a smile. But my purpose in life was confirmed when her mother told me the next week, “Mara won’t admit it, but she likes you better than the last worker. At least you make her laugh.”
The term you’re looking for is pronounced “boo-yah.”
Or when moms are frustrated when their baby won’t stop crying during a visit. “Come on, kid. Stop being such a baby.”
Working with a social worker is so often awkward and uncomfortable for our clients, at least at first. They don’t see us as peers, or really as people. Empathy, active listening, and being generally pleasant (that last one is super key) go a long way. But nothing tells someone that you care, and lets them know that you’re invested in their comfort, like being a little corny and looking a little silly.