My blog quiets down during the school year because I can’t write about my job. I have to find other topics. The problem is that I’m generally consumed by my job from August to June. I’m quiet because I’m morally and legally obligated to stay quiet. And I’m exhausted — mentally exhausted, the worst kind of exhaustion. I’m just tired enough tonight to throw caution to the wind and speak of the thing that must not be spoken of.
A big part of my job, especially at the beginning of the school year, is about helping parents who just can’t get organized. It’s truly that simple. They let things slide, they don’t think ahead, they just don’t think things through. I find this client to be the most exhausting to work with. I’m not good at hand holding adults. I’m better at telling folks to (wo)man up. Give me a crying 6th grader any day. You have a point to progress from with a crying 6th grader.
I am an ardent believer in the social work principle of self determination. Self determination means that, ultimately, everyone has the right to live their own life. You want to live in constant chaos because planning ahead seems like too much work? Fine by me. Actually, not fine by me, because you are going to end up in my office, daggone it. And when you end up in my office, I’m going to lay out a plan for you. I’ll ask if you are on board. I’ll encourage you. Then I’ll make like a momma bird and kick you out of my
office nest to fly free. It gets disheartening when you think you have someone set on the right path and you find out that they didn’t follow a word of your direction. That’s right, direction. I don’t give advice. You want advice, call Dear Abby.
The bad thing about self determination is that it’s like leading a horse to water. You stand back and think, “Well, are you going to drink or not?” When the horse just stands there, you nudge him in the hindquarters whispering, “Drink the water, drink the water!” Sometimes the horse drinks, sometimes the horse wanders off to the pasture and returns a few days later still thirsty. You lead the horse back to the water. This time you say a little more loudly, “I’m not coming back to this stream, DRINK THE WATER.” Sometimes the horse drinks, sometimes you think that you need a drink as you watch them walk away.
I do break the rules sometimes. If I’ve been working with a client for a while (read: years), I take liberty with the familiarity. I will put that client in my car, take them where I think they need to be, put paperwork in front of them, point to the place where they need to sign and then stare at them until they submit to my will. Sometimes you gotta get the hamster off of the wheel.
You are probably imagining me as one of the (poorly represented) social workers on Law & Order. The writers of Law & Order hate social workers. Their social workers are gruff, uncaring, sarcastic. I can lay on the sarcasm with my co-workers, but I try to spare my clients. Being sarcastic with a person in crisis is like farting into the wind. You won’t be heard.
In truth, I’m a nice person. I want my clients to live good lives. And I carry their stories and worries with me. Outwardly, I’m direct. Inside, I agonize over every detail. Every year I’m getting better at separating myself, but I’m not there yet. The blog, the 5Ks, the freelance writing were all purposefully put in place to build a life outside of social work. I just need to drink the water.