‘Mum, please stop using your social worker voice’: how my job affects my parenting

I love that my children’s favourite musician is a left-wing protest singer, rather than One Direction, writes Rhian Taylor

'I love that my children’s favourite musician is a protest singer-songwriter, rather than One Direction' Picture: REX/PictureGroup

by Rhian Taylor

I was always going to be an annoying parent. The signs started early. When my daughter was new-born she was given a pink t-shirt with the logo, ‘Little girls are born to shop’.

I took it back to Mothercare. The saleswoman asked me why I was returning it. “Is there anything wrong with the product?” she asked. I think she was expecting a comment on size or fit. “I don’t know where to start,” I said with real distress, “there are so many things wrong with it”.

My daughters have the dubious pleasure of not one, but two, parents who are social workers and our jobs have definitely impacted our parenting journey over the past 12 years.

Values without preaching

Our jobs have fundamentally informed our own value bases and there’s no doubt we hoped this would have some impact on the values our children developed. We wanted them to be aware of things like poverty and discrimination and the huge challenges around mental illness and physical disability that many people have to live with.

But how do you do convey values without becoming preachy and irritating and without immersing your children into what is, quite frankly, a sometimes unpleasant world?

Well, I have done my share of preachy and irritating but I have also found some other more effective ways to introduce ideas. One way is TV. It has been great to sit with my daughters to watch and discuss  documentaries about other children’s lives.

Some of these programmes have been on really meaty subjects – child poverty, child refugees, the challenges facing children with disabilities. I admit there are times I’ve questioned whether the topics are too difficult or distressing for my children to be made aware of some situations but ultimately these are circumstances many children actually have to live with on a day-to-day basis.

Music and books

Another great source of political education for our children has been music. They still cringe with horror at most of my music choices but they have taken to one or two singer songwriters whose lyrics have prompted really good political awareness and questioning. I cannot help but be disproportionately proud that my children’s favourite musician is a left-wing, gay, protest singer-songwriter, rather than One Direction.

Stories are always a great way to convey ideas too. My children learned about looked-after-children and the care system through Jacqueline Wilson books. In fact, there seems to be a Jacqueline Wilson book about every issue. The other day I thought it was time to explain domestic violence, but was promptly told they’d known about this for years from a Jacqueline Wilson story.

Stress of the job

Perhaps a more difficult issue of being parents who are social workers is the issue of stress. We want to portray social work as a positive job, yet we are  bound to give a different impression if we come home every night stressed and negative. When my daughter was three or four we were trying to explain to her what my partner’s job with people with mental health problems involved.

“Daddy works with people who are sad”, I explained.

“When I grow up I want to work with people who are happy”, she responded.

There are many days when I can really relate to the straightforward logic of that response.

On her 11th birthday I asked my oldest daughter what she would like me to do more or less of now she was 11. After a few minutes she replied, “I would like you to be less deep, and stop using your social worker voice”.

It seems I am at that point in parenting when less is more, and I need to let go of attempts to exert influence. Even as I write this I observe my own ridiculous over-sincerity. My children are individuals and need to develop their own opinions.

Yet values are important and I have some pretty serious doubts over those imparted by our prevailing culture. So I hope we can keep some dialogue open, and the early input will have encouraged the ability to question norms and created an awareness of other people’s experiences.

My daughter’s current favourite  t-shirt has the slogan ‘Born to be wild’. It seems that little girls may not be ‘born to shop’ after all.

How has social work impacted your parenting? Let us know in the comment section below. Would you like to write for Community Care? Email us with your article ideas here.

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3 Responses to ‘Mum, please stop using your social worker voice’: how my job affects my parenting

  1. Andrew December 16, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Just stop apologising. Parents who espouse other views e.g. immigrants and poor people are worthless, have no problems telling this to their children – so the those of us who believe in the value of everyone should be just as brazen about instilling those values into our children.

  2. Jim Greer December 16, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    My values were pretty the opposite of my mother’s (a single parent)- from an early age. I got most of my interest in social issues from the American comics I was reading as I grew up. At that time comics were developing a following on College campuses and there were regularly stories about the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament and gender equality. For example, Captain America had a black partner who shared the masthead – the Falcon- whose secret identity was a social worker.
    Popular culture is not always bad and if the values of your family and your immediate social environment are bad then they can be a life saver.
    I haven’t got any kids but if I did I would want them to make their own choices, form their own opinions and find their own path. It is their world and it will have its own problems and its own solutions and they won’t necessarily be the ones that were right for me or my generation. We certainly got a lot of things wrong.
    I think the role of parents, and the state for that matter, is to give people the skills to think critically and independently.

  3. Jill Palmer December 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    I realised how much my work with adults with disabilities was affecting my parenting when my son was small and was given a game. It was noughts and crosses with white and black sheep. He turned one of the sheep over and two of its feet were very chipped. He was about to be upset, when I heard myself say “that’s a disabled sheep, and it’s still allowed to play” (we have several people with disabilities in our family too). He stopped being upset and played happily with the game until he grew too old for it.