(Back on the soap box again ... I've written about this before ... I'd stop, but it keeps popping up ...)

As a social worker / therapist, it's easy to develop pet peeves.  As in, really easy.  As in, it's probably a good thing to watch those immediate reactions you start having to people - OR - you might lose sight as to what's really important:  empathy / respect / appreciation for the journey most of my clients have been on.  (Most people don't just wake up one day and think, Man, today would be a GREAT day to (fill in the blank) ....)

I'm an in home family therapist for families who are at immediate risk of losing their children to foster care.  When Children's Administration (meaning, CPS, or Child Welfare, or the Department of Children and Family Services, or whatever variation your state has) calls me, things have gotten pretty hairy.  That's a euphemism.  I don't really want to detail right now what kinds of things happen in homes that help facilitate my presence, mostly because when I do that, the back story as to why families are going through the hardships they are gets lost.  Most people are not psychopaths.  Most people do not want to hurt their children.  That might be hard to believe, but people's stories are so widely varied and complex.

I mean, really, really complex.  Do I get frustrated?  Sure.  Do I have to call in new CPS reports?   Sometimes.  Do I still have hope?  Absolutely.  Do some families make it?

Do some families make it?  (Not a typo.  I asked that twice.)

Some families stay together, and people have widely varying definitions of success.  I've had to really, really examine my class issues in defining success and have had to really, really examine how comfortable I am with the concept of minimum sufficient level of care.

Oh, my word.  I digress all over the place.  The job is complex, much like many jobs!, and I find myself re-explaining what I do again and again out of habit.

Back to the point.  I have worked with children and families for 12 years.  Not always as a therapist.  Not always at the Master's level.  But I have a lot of experience with kids.  I've seen a lot of kids heal.  I've seen a lot of kids go through some earth shattering,  heart breaking experiences.  I've been around kids.

I've been around kids who have been physically or sexually abused.  I've helped take injury photos of bruises and I've listened to kids disclose physical torture.  I've advocated for them in court.  I've worked with kids in therapy who have PTSD because they've witnessed family members die in gang shootings. I've detained some of them involuntarily to psych beds for their own safety.  In one season of my life, I was a Detention Officer and I physically restrained them for their own safety.  In that same season, I stayed up all night with them when they had nightmares, wet the bed, needed someone to talk to.    I have chosen a life of public service (long hours, terrible pay, etc) because my heart is wrapped up in kid healing.  This is a choice I have made.

(Loop back to the beginning of the post ...)

So I do not take it well when people tell me, "You'll know when you're a mom" - or - "You don't understand because you don't have children."

I was in a training today on cognitive interventions and REBT when a training participant purposefully ignored a statement I made, turned to my co worker and said, "Well, you know about kids, because you're a mom."

Sweetheart, I have been to more dark places with kids than most moms will ever go.  I do not know what it is like to be a mom, but I know about kids, and what I know is that giving birth does not make you an expert on all things child.  (I didn't say that.  I took a drink of water and doodled on my handout.)

Strangely, none of my clients have ever had a problem with me not having kids.  Some of them, in our closing work together, have stated that they had initial concerns that I would not be able to relate because I do not have my own kids, but that those concerns dissipated quickly.  I have only ever received the cold shoulder from some colleagues (not most), conservative Evangelical moms (not all) and some acquaintances (my good friends are generally supportive).  I do not have to have schizophrenia to treat schizophrenia.  I do not have to be suicidal to treat suicide ideation / depression.  I do not have to have kids to be a good kid / family therapist.

Also, strangely, Shoes and I are having long, complicated discussions about when to start our own family, (if we start our own family), with no clear answers as to when, in part  because I am so busy taking care of other people's children.  (Calm. That's not the only reason the discussions are complicated).

So.  In sum.  My uterus is empty.  It might be empty for a good long while. And me and my empty uterus?  We're still a good family therapist.  I can still jump rope, shoot baskets, make a worry box, and depersonalize an issue like nobody's business.  I haven't stayed up all night with a colicky baby, but I've stayed up all night with a suicidal teenager.  I haven't dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten, but I've worked hours and hours and hours to get a child the special education service he desperately needs.

Not a mom.

Still an advocate for all things child.

Funny how that works.


  1. Anonymous on June 6, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    I've totally been guilty of that sort of thinking with therapists. There are those without children who are not the advocate you are who have not put in the same hours who have the most stupid advise EVER.

    There are those with "regular kids" who have zero clue what the cumulative impact of 24/7 with a special needs child is truly like...and I felt alone, blamed, inadequate etc etc etc. And I felt those words..."you don't have a clue...because"...(fill in the blank). But truly...I would say...the therapists, and majority of teachers and special educators and doctors in my orbit...WERE clueless and DID suck. Once in a while it has to do with who the state insurance will cover, ya know?

    But I so hear your point. It's not fair or nice to pigeonhole people...or make assumptions, or marginalize, or knock down to size just because one is feeling small and vulnerable.

    Gosh but life is messy and complicated enough as it is, isn't it?

    I'm glad you're in the work.

    Let me know...down the road...if after having kids...you ever hear fly out of your mouth...they don't have kids, so they have no idea what this is like. It happens pretty easily. Like when my mother flies out of my mouth and I want to surgically remove her from my genetics :-) The stuff I would never say or do...became stuff I said and did. Or say and do. Shit.

    I used to have the stupidest conversations with special educators and teachers that would want my kid to "learn to be responsible for taking his medication", and that accommodations for his disabilities "weren't fair to the other kids"...I would have to say stuff like "If he had no legs and "got to" ride in a wheelchair to the lunchroom, would that be not fair because the other kids didn't get a ride? His crutches are on the INSIDE...you can't just tell a kid with no legs to grow the hell up and walk...and you can't tell a kid who needs meds for focus/behavior/etc, to remember to take his meds when his dose is due and the focus is gone...or he gets snacks because when his blood sugar drops he gets UGLY...hell...let ALL the kids have healthy snacks and forage...they would ALL do better in class..."

    OK, wait...I lost my shit there for a second. Breathe. I'm good. Yup. *Twitch* Good.

    I guess the only part I would still stick with is the difference between kids that are not your own, and the relentlessness and persistent nature of not every being "off duty". I'm way better with kids that are not mine, that I don't have the same emotional attachment to, and that I can get away from and go home. I found, in the work I did, it was WAY easier (for me...just speaking for me) with clients than it was with my own. (Willow :-)

  2. Andrea on June 6, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    Oh Lisa girl, I hear ya! Those words from people in different situations do sting, and I often fume to myself "if only you had a *clue* what this job entails!" In my honest opinion, anyone who nurtures a child is operating from a mother's heart, whether those children are your own or not. It truly does take a village to raise a child, and in some cases, very special people working together with other very special people towards their own unique successes. Thank heaven for people like you, caring for others the way you do. I hope they understand just a little, how lucky they are...

  3. Lisa on June 6, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    Willow - I so appreciate your comments and thoughts. I always have. I know your heart and your spirit and I just love you. The journey you have been with with your own child has been astounding. Not that the story would be mine to tell, but if somebody asked for a recap, I know for a fact I couldn't give it. All of the warring you have done for him, all of the ways you have stood by him (in the darkest of hours) and all the nights you stayed up with him / for him ... there's no way anybody could know what that's been like for the two of you. You have seen the system and providers at some of its worst, and your points about who insurance will pay for is so very valid. I'm still very much growing as a therapist, and still have so much to learn, but sticking in there in the public sector to provide quality services is part of my own heart and my own mission. I've never maintained / believed / stated that being a mom isn't incredibly difficult, but it's interesting that people infer that when I state how frustrated I am when people make statements such as, "You don't have kids; you couldn't know." My point is that for the majority of my career, I have been discredited by many, many people as not having anything to offer (or having substandard empathy to offer) because I don't have children. That I could never get it. We go through life relating to people all the time who haven't necessarily walked every step in our shoes. That's why I continually bring it back to the point of I don't have to have schizophrenia to relate to people with schizophrenia and I don't have to be suicidal to relate to people who are suicidal. I don't have the first person experience - there's no arguing that - but that doesn't mean that I'm not able to have empathy or that I'm a substandard / ineffective worker. When people start to go there with me, it takes all that I have to stick in there with them, not argue and say, "You're right. I don't know. Please tell me." And I do. Blood boiling a little, but I do. And as I get a little older, I'm even finding that my filter is getting refined a little bit - THANK GOODNESS. I can't even begin to describe the stupid things I've said to colleagues and client families!

    Andrea - thank you for teaching the little ones you do. They are lucky to have your grace, patience and unlimited love. I have no doubt that when your kids leave your classroom, they leave a little more heard and a little more loved.

  4. Anonymous on June 8, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    I repeat...I'm SO glad you are in this work and in the public sector. I know, about the discrediting thing...we've all probably experienced it in many ways...even at the shelter, I remember a certain male employee making flippant comments about "MSW Types".

    You absolutely don't have to be a parent to be effective at what you do and convey empathy and compassion. You may not have been around when the Temperament Program first started...but they guy who was my "worker" was a man without kids. And to this day, I remember him as being one of the most helpful people in a blur of memory about how many were not. Mostly I remember that we would continually go "back to the drawing board". I was supposedly in a 6-8 week program learning my child's temperament. I recall him saying, "as long as you show up, we will continue to work together to discover techniques that may work for you". and "parents are the experts on their own kids" and "one size does not fit all". I'm not sure if I kept going for about 2 years or if it was longer. Kiddo was 4 when we started and on meds by 5. I SO appreciated this man's respect and awe for what was happening and his humble approach to just walk with me...for however long the journey took.

    I even had the opportunity to meet with Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (pretty much founders of Temperament). They were advanced in age when I met with them...he nodded off during our meeting and she made some statement like "some kids are just bad apples". OK...so I got more help from the minions of temperament than the gurus :-)

    Love you and the work you do and your commitment and your heart and your spirit.


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