From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Back in the Saddle Again

Our son being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes had forced Charles and me to make some decisions and to reprioritize our lives. We decided that I would homeschool Wesley to allow us all the opportunity to adjust to the new demands of having a child with diabetes. Wesley and I spent his junior high school years together learning English, math, social studies, and science. As Wesley became ready for public high school, it was time for me to reenter the work force.

It was amazing how much the field of social work had changed in the three years I stayed home. I thought I had a pretty impressive resume. I had worked in residential services, foster care, and adoptions. I was shocked to discover that nobody wanted to hire a stay-at-home mom. Whenever I interviewed for a job and was asked about what I had been doing for the last three years, a stonelike expression would come over the interviewer’s face, followed closely by, “I see you were homeschooling your child.” The message was clear. Why hire a thirty-something stay-at-home mom with credentials and experience when they could hire a twenty-something, fresh out of school, with the same credentials?

The process of reentering the workforce became a daunting challenge. Interviews became the enemy. Frustrated, I applied for a job working with an adult population, although I had no previous experience working with adults. To my surprise I was not asked to go on a second interview; instead a few days after the initial interview, I was offered the position. Not only was I going back to work, but I was going to be a unit manager of a state-run facility that provided quality care for persons with mental disabilities.

I was given the task of supervising a staff of twelve, who made it quite clear that they did not want a new supervisor. Every time I requested that something be done, I was told, “Our old supervisor didn’t do it that way—she did it this way.” Thirty days into the job, I asked myself what stupidity had possessed me to take a job for which I had little experience. My office hours spilled over into my family time as my staff looked for any excuse to call or page me during my off hours. I was not a working mother; I was a frantic mother hanging on to my job by my chipped fingernails.

Fed up with the intrusion into my life, I prepared a letter of resignation. Before I had the opportunity to deliver it, we were sitting around the dinner table when I asked Wesley about his day in school. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders before saying, “It’s been difficult to adjust to being back in school. Some of the kids think I’m weird because I have to go to the office every day before lunch.” He was quiet for a second as Charles and I exchanged glances. Then he did the unthinkable, and stated, “It’s a good thing that you and Dad always tell me never to give up. I will make friends; it will be all right.”

At that moment I became the student. My son had used my own words to jump-start me into acting like the professional I was prior to being a stay-at-home mom. Part of the problem was how I saw myself since reentering the workforce. So many of those I had interviewed with had dismissed me because I had opted to become a stay-at-home mother. Their opinions of my abilities had somehow become mine. It took a reality check for me to realize that being a stay-at-home mom is one of the most important jobs there is. I had not stopped working while I had been at home with my son; I had just changed my office location.

Armed with this truth, the following day at our weekly staff meeting, my staff met their new supervisor for the first time. If I could run a home, homeschool a child, and support another child who was in a year-round school, all while preparing meals, shopping, and keeping the house clean, I could most certainly run a unit. We discussed my policies for running the unit as well as my expectations for the staff, including a review of my expectations for calls to my home after 5:00 PM and on weekends when I was not on call. Any call that took me away from time with my family needed to constitute an emergency that would affect the health, safety, or welfare of those in our care.

The tides of change started that day and continued over the next year and a half. I did what I knew how to do best: listen, set limits, and empower others. Being a social worker is about effecting change in a positive manner that would otherwise not occur without some kind of outside influence. My staff and I learned to respect one another, and we learned how to work together as a team. When I resigned after two years to accept a job with the State Survey Agency, a party was held in my honor. My supervisor remarked, “I’ve never seen an entire building come together in such a positive manner to say good-bye to someone who has only been here a few years.” Amid tears and well wishes, I had the opportunity to watch my staff, who had all grown so much, express their thoughts.

As I sat in my new office days later, the telephone rang. I had to suppress a smile at the familiar voice. My old staff exclaimed, “I told the new supervisor that she could not do that, because that is not how you did things!”

Bernetta Thorne-Williams

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