Saturday, August 6, 2011

Social Work: Where Workplace Violence is the Norm, Not the Exception

In Major League Baseball, fights such as last night's bench clearing brawl between the Giants and the Phillies are not the norm. Contrarily, workplace violence is a risk faced by social workers on a daily basis.

Since entering the work force a little over a year ago, I've been bitten/chased by dogs, exposed to a multitude of diseases, threatened with physical harm, assigned to unsafe neighborhoods, and called to deal with aggressive individuals. I know that as I continue my career as a medical and home health social worker, I'll inevitably encounter many more risky situations. While I try to be aware of my surroundings and take precautionary measures (such as keeping pepper spray in my purse during home health visits), there are those scary moments when I find myself thinking, "Please don't hurt me!"

Here are a few things I've done in an attempt to minimize my risk at work:
-Carry pepper spray with me during home visits
-Inform friends and family when I'm going to be doing a home visit, and asking them to call me after a set amount of time
-If possible, position myself in an area near a door so I can escape if necessary
-Ensure that Cody Gray situations are stabilized before attempting to see the patient

Another thing I might do that someone recommended is purchase a white lab coat with "Social Worker" embroidered on it to use for my home health job. Since individuals associate white lab coats with the medical profession, outsiders will likely be less suspicious when I pull up for a visit. In fact, I've heard stories of social workers in white lab coats that have had gang members protect their cars during house appointments with family members.

How do other social workers out there minimize risk during home visits? What tips/recommendations do you follow when it comes to keeping safe on the job? I'd certainly like to hear your input!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Signed Up For a Twitter Account!

I finally decided to sign up for a twitter account! I thought it would be a great way to keep everyone updated on my latest posts and other happenings! Please feel free to add me here: Follow me on Twitter!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tiger Mom: Revisited

Lately, I've been reading the blog of Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, Amy Chua's daughter. Not only is Sophia obviously intelligent and hard working, but to my surprise also appears to be creative, witty, personable, and well-rounded. She also seems to have a great relationship with her mother, and is genuinely thankful for the way she was raised.

In several interviews following the release of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", Amy Chua stated that her book was meant to be a satire. After reading Sophia's blog, I'm more inclined to believe that Amy Chua exaggerated parts of her book and that she really wasn't that strict at all (relative to how I was raised). To compare, when I was Sophia's age I was not allowed to have a job, have a boyfriend, wear clothes that stylish (or even shave my legs), have my grades drop from from an A+ to A, and not major in anything but pre-med. Additionally, I have yet to read about Sophia or her sister Lulu receiving physical punishment for poor performances or disagreeing with their parents. It really seems that Amy Chua did allow her daughters some liberty in their lives.

While reading Sophia's blog, one entry of interest was when she discussed her trip to China. Here, Sophia talked about how many Chinese readers viewed the "comic list of 'things [she and sister Lulu] were never allowed to do' as the new 10 Commandments". Furthermore, she described the Chinese translation of her mother's book as "totally literal and devoid of humor". In fact, author Amy Chua had to correct the misconception that she was some sort of education expert, telling her daughter, "How am I supposed to defend a position? I don't have a position! This is just my life!" and later defending the merits of the American education system.

Sophia and her mother seemed surprised at the Chinese reaction to "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". However, I knew that this was going to happen from the moment I read the initial Wall Street Journal article. From the beginning, my biggest criticism of Amy Chua's book (in addition to the flashbacks I've experienced from reading about it) has been that despite its comedic nature, many parents will miss the humor and use it as a parenting guide. As illustrated by Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, it seems as if a number of parents now view Amy Chua as a parenting expert and her book a "how to" guide on how to raise academically successful children.

As someone still recovering from the strict Tiger Parenting described in the most extreme parts of "Battle Hymn", it saddens me to think about the children that will be subject to this type of parent style as a result of this book. While no one can deny that Tiger Parenting produces individuals like Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, what happens to those that, for whatever reason, cannot meet their parents' high expectations? Is success at all costs really worth the potential consequences? I can only hope that most parents that read "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" see it as the biographical satire it's meant to be.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Moving Out: A Debate of Values

Yesterday, I received a call from one of my jobs asking me if I wanted to try working at a few more hospitals. I happily agreed, as this would definitely give me more working hours and an opportunity to check out other facilities. Also, these hospitals are far enough away from my home that I would be "forced" to move. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that things work out so I can put the apartment search into high gear and have my own place by next month.

While my mom is pleased at the idea of me working at more hospitals - especially ones with more name recognition - she is not pleased with the idea that I will probably be moving soon. In a conversation we had earlier, my mom reiterated that children who move out after college are ungrateful to their parents for not staying. My mom complained that she hasn't had a chance to "enjoy my company" since I've only been at home for a year. She stated that if I had siblings, I'd still be living at home paying for their college tuition.

I suppose I should try to cut my mom some slack, as her perspective is based on a set of personal beliefs she terms "Filipino values" (which of course varies from Filipino to Filipino). My mom came from a family that obligates older children to return after college to help the parents and younger children financially. Since children are not allowed to work while in school/university, this is a way to repay the parents for their financial sacrifices. Typically, children live at home until they get married, or longer if the spouses become parts of the household.

As someone who grew up exposed to a different set of values, I view moving out after college as a sign that parents have raised successful children who no longer need to rely on them. Adult children can still help their parents financially and emotionally if necessary, and certainly do not need to live at home to do so. Parents are not going to be around forever, hence I feel it's necessary that adult children grow their own wings and learn to take care of themselves. If my mom views financial independence and non-reliance on the parents as such a bad thing, then why put so much pressure on me to overachieve? My mom (along with many of her friends/family members) certainly doesn't see things this way, and I question whether we'll ever come to a compromise when it comes to this issue.

Many of my friends and co-workers have children whom they can't wait to kick out of the house. Most of these children do not have a means to survive without their parents, with some not even trying to get jobs because they feel their parents will support them indefinitely. My problem is the complete opposite. I can only hope that I can eventually get my parents to interpret my leaving as a sign that they have done their part as parents, not a slap in the face by an ungrateful daughter.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Moving Out Woes

As you all know, I've been in the process of apartment hunting so I can move out of my parents' house. It's been a rather stressful process, and has resulted in numerous arguments with my parents these past few weeks.

To break it down, here are my main arguments for moving out:
1) Driving an hour each way to get to work is tiring, and by the end of the day I often get sleepy behind the wheel. Living closer to my jobs will give me a shorter commute and more time to work on side projects. Also, living somewhere near public transportation will allow me to take advantage of my job's commuter check program, saving even more on costs. Currently, I pay over $300 a month in gasoline.
2) I'm in my late 20s, have a job, and can afford to move out. It's time.
3) I personally find it embarrassing being a boomerang kid. Part of the reason I got a masters degree was to be able to sustain myself enough such that I can live on my own.
4) Social work burnout as a result of living at home.

My parents' arguments for staying at home are as follows:
1) Living at home will allow me to save money. While I've tried to pay my parents money for rent, they've refused. Hence I am saving a good amount of money on rent, food, and utilities.
2) My parents believe that renting an apartment is simply throwing away my money. They want me to live at home until I can buy a house (and not a condo).
3) My parents are concerns about my choice to work multiple per diem jobs instead of one full time job. They don't seem to comprehend that I picked this non-traditional job schedule due to its flexibility, and that things won't change for a few years.
4) In my parents' country, kids live at home until marriage. They tell me that if I'm going to get married in the next 5 years, I might as well live at home until then. In 5 years, I'll be in my early 30s.
*By the way, I have a boyfriend of two years. Living with him before marriage is not an option because it will get me disowned by my parents and make me the Hester Prynne of my family.
5) My parents feel that if I rent a room in a house, I might as well stay at home with them. They also worry that having roommates will put me in physical danger.
6) I can apparently do what I want living at home (not true), so why leave?.
7) My parents view the concept of kids moving out as "abandoning their parents". "Next, they'll throw us in a nursing home to die."

I am thankful that my parents are allowing me to live at home, unlike a lot of people I know out there. However, now that I am able to sustain myself, I find it frustrating and disempowering that they do not want me to leave. My parents view autonomy negatively, and tell me stories about friends' kids who have jobs and are able to pay for things like weddings and houses without parental help as if it's a bad thing. While I understand the fears associated with me leaving, my parents' attempts to keep me at home is making me want to break away even more.

It seems as if the more my parents and I discuss moving out, the more nervous I feel. They do make good points about saving money by living at home. In fact, I currently have enough money in the bank to sustain myself for probably a year if necessary. If I were to live at home for another year or two, I could definitely afford the 20% down on a house. However, I'm not sure if buying is worth it if you stay for less than 5 years, as who knows where I'll be then.

I think I know what my choice will be when it comes to moving out. I'll just have to continue reminding myself that in this situation, having money is not equating to happiness. While moving out will not necessarily mean freedom, it's certainly a step in that direction.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You have got to be kidding me...

According to an article posted on the NASW blog, actor Charlie Sheen is involved in a new project where he plays a social worker with anger management issues. The profession is already often misrepresented and poorly portrayed in the media. Having Charlie Sheen play a scriptwriter's portrayal of a "social worker" can only mean more bad publicity for our profession.

What sets social work apart from other jobs such as politicians, soldiers, doctors, and nurses is that the public has a general idea of what these professions do. When it comes to social work, our profession is often associated with child welfare. Hence, social workers are typically seen in antagonistic "baby snatcher" roles on TV and film. While Charlie Sheen won't be playing a child welfare social worker on his new show, I'm still skeptical he will provide a remotely respectable imitation of the profession.

Furthermore, many dramas and films use medical, political, and military consultants to review scripts (i.e. House, The West Wing, and Battle: Los Angeles). I have yet to hear of a social worker consultant that works for Hollywood to ensure our profession is portrayed correctly. Until this happens, expect to continue seeing very telescopic interpretations of how social work in roles written and edited by non-social workers.

I doubt I'll watch Charlie Sheen's new show, but I'm sure I'll probably have to defend social work at some point as a result. It's the least I can do to help combat the nonsense perpetuated by popular media.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Other Professions View Social Work

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom about how the RN case managers at one of my jobs often have to stay several hours after their shift making reports to different insurance companies. My mom, a bedside nurse of over 20 years, scoffed at the idea of RN case managers having stressful jobs and stated, "All they do is talk and sit in front of a computer all day. Their job is so easy." In the past, my mom has made similar comments about social work, stating that all we do is "talk to people", while people like her have to clean bodily fluids and give medication. Hence, my mom feels that MSW salaries are fair when compared to Associates and Bachelor's degrees in nursing.

I feel that despite being a nurse for so long, my mom still lacks understanding of what social workers and RN case managers do in a hospital setting. While I do try to educate her, my mom frequently reminds me that I am a "rookie" and that she has been in the field for 20 years. Out or respect for her work experience - and my sanity - I try not to engage in extended debates with her when she brings up the subject.

However, these conversations with my mom make me wonder about how other medical professions view social work. I know that my RN case manager co-workers value the services we provide, with some even advocating for social worker salary raises because we do the same discharging planning work as they do. But what about bedside nurses, therapists, pharmacists, doctors, and others who don't see what we're doing all day? I realize that there will always be "rivalries" between different professions, but shouldn't we acknowledge the unique contributions of each job in providing care instead of making diminishing statements about one other? I'd definitely like to see my mom work in case management one day and see if she still finds it "easy" afterwards.

In other news, I'm still working on finding a place to live. Haven't found an ideal place yet, but I'm keeping my hopes up!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

San Francisco Pride

Happy Monday! Here goes another week!

Yesterday was the annual SF Pride Parade. While I didn't attend the parade, I saw parts of it as I was walking towards the bus stop to go to another event. When I came back to Downtown San Francisco later that evening, clean-up crews were sweeping the sidewalks and taking down street barriers.

As I continued wandering San Francisco's Union Square area, I couldn't help but notice how the place was decorated. Above me, rainbow flags flew from windows, light posts, and flag poles. Different stores had unique signs and displays commemorating the weekend (which I doubt would be found anywhere else, except maybe New York). For instance, The Body Shop had a window display where its soaps were arranged according to the colors of the rainbow. Another store, Lush, had a sign in front of its store which read, "Support the Respect for Marriage Act". Inside the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center, there were Pride Weekend displays in front of stores like Nordstrom.

It was amazing to see this support towards the LGBT population. While I'm sure there are other places that are just as accepting, I have yet to hear of another city rally around this community as much as San Francisco. I mean, even the SF Giants baseball team has contributed by releasing its own "It Gets Better" commercial against LGBT bullying. The Bay Area is really a special place because of its diversity and tolerance, and I can't help but think of how lucky I am to be living here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thank You, Jeanne Philips!

While browsing one of my favorite social worker blogs, I ran across a post praising Jeanna Philips, also known as "Dear Abby", for defending the social work profession in her daily advice column. The text of the original article can be found here: Dear Abby

I can definitely relate to the "Melanie" discussed in the Dear Abby letter. As discussed in a previous post, I've been subject to many negative remarks from strangers, acquaintances, and even family members since graduating with my MSW. Reading something like today's Dear Abby column reminds me that there are people out there who actually appreciate the social work profession. Thank you, Jeanne Philips, for brightening my day!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Hello, and sorry for the lack of updates these past few months! I'll try to do a better job in keeping this blog updated. Thank you to those of you who have left kind and supportive comments!

Since my last post, things have picked up in the job market. While on vacation last April, I received several phone calls from companies to which I had submitted applications months ago. I guess they never threw away my résumé. Upon coming back from vacation, I interviewed for several positions and got two job offers! On top of that, my current job decided to hire me as a permanent employee! Just shows that persistence and patient do pay off in the long run.

Now, I'm juggling three per diem jobs. While this may sound crazy, it actually works for my current lifestyle. The beauty of per diem work is the flexibility you have in setting your own schedule. At this point I'm not ready to settle into a 9-6pm position that will only allow me 10 vacation days a year. I don't mind sacrificing salary for some free time to travel and work on side projects (like this blog). Of course, things will probably change once I decide to settle down, start a family, and whatnot.

Unfortunately, I haven't had much free time these past two months since I've been working full time hours to fill in for people on vacation. Since it's summertime, I anticipate that things will stay this way the next few months. I don't mind, as I prefer to vacation in the fall and winter. It's also good money that I'll use to cover rent during the months I'm not working 5 days a week.

Speaking of rent, I've spent my free time hunting for apartments. While living at home is the ultimate way to save money, I feel that it's time for me to move into my own place. So far I haven't had much luck, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping I can find something in the next month or two. I'll probably post updates about my finds on my other blog.

Well, I guess I'll leave it at that! I'll try not to wait 2.5 months until my next update!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Catch Me... I'm in Love!

While my mom was reading a Filipino newspaper last night, she found out that a nearby theater was playing a movie starring her favorite Filipino singer. Almost instantly, I was in the car with my parents on the way to watch "Catch Me... I'm in Love".

In the United States, singer/actress Sarah Geronimo is essentially unknown. However, she is likely one of the most popular celebrities in the Philippines, rivaling boxer Manny Pacquiao and overshadowing Charice Pempengo. I suppose the best way to describe Sarah Geronimo is that she has a voice comparable to Celine Dion with a multi-generation fan base as rabid as Justin Bieber's. When my folks an I got to the theater, the line to buy tickets essentially stretched around the building.

The experience of watching a Filipino movie can be as entertaining as the film itself. People get really into the movie, howling with laughter at certain scenes and screaming like fangirls during more romantic parts. I suppose I haven't been to enough midnight screenings, but I've never experienced as much enthusiasm from an audience while watching non-Filipino films.

As for the movie itself, I found it surprisingly enjoying. The best part of "Catch Me... I'm in Love" was Sarah Geronimo's role, which was a social worker for an NGO. For part of the movie, she had to take the self-centered and unsympathetic son of the Philippine president (played by Gerald Anderson) to a farm village in an isolated part of the Philippines. It was heartwarming to watch her portray the social work profession with such warmth and love, and see how the children and residents were so gracious in return. Perhaps the best line in the film was the response when the President's son stated that the children simply wanted money from her. Sarah's character replied that for the children wanted more than that, as time and companionship were equally important to them. As the movie progressed, seeing this kindness towards the less fortunate changed the President's son for the better.

Social work is an often unfamiliar and misunderstood profession to many. In my family, social work is often associated with simply being a discharge planner in a hospital. To see social work portrayed so positively by the Philippines' biggest star makes me ecstatic. Hopefully this will be a first step in bringing increased respect and recognition to the services provided by social workers in that nation. Thank you, Philippine film makers. Perhaps the United States can follow suit...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Social Work Burnout Happens In Different Ways

While having a discussion with my mom today, she said the following: "Chinese people don't want to be social workers because there is no prestige in the profession. They all want to be doctors." Instead of arguing the many things wrong with her statement, I opted to remain silent as I've had this conversation with her thousands of times before to no avail.

What sets me apart from many of my social work friends is that the majority of my stress does not come from work. It comes from having to come home at the end of the day and hear about how I am "less than" because I do not have a more "prestigious" job. Furthermore, coming home from work is like going to a second job. Since my mom is a nurse, she spends dinner time railing about her latest problem patient (like I don't encounter lots of them at work) and lecturing me about what I should be doing at work as a medical social worker. She tells me that nursing is significantly harder than anything a social worker has to do, hence making social workers deserving of a salary half that of a nurse. Unfortunately, my family takes a militant "no secrets" approach which prevents me from setting boundaries at home. Hence, I go to work to escape the stress associated from being at home.

There are three reasons I continue to live at home. The first is to save money. The second is that I have yet to find a stable full time/part time job that will allow me to move out without draining my savings. The third is the cultural belief within my family that unmarried adult children who move out are ungrateful and abandoning their parents. To cope with this situation, I involve myself in extracurricular activities and surround myself with supportive friends. I am also on the hunt for jobs that are not within commuting distance from my house.

In the next few weeks, I will revamp my resume and cover letter and re-intensify my job search in hopes that I can move out before my one year anniversary of graduating with my MSW. Social work jobs right now are pretty tight, and a medical social work position is even more difficult to obtain. As living at home is beginning to result in medical social work burnout, I am open to jobs in different settings such as college campuses.

For the immediate future, my main goals are to find a job and move out. I also want to go on a nice vacation with the money I've saved from living at home. I'll definitely keep everyone updated on my exploits. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 11, 2011

8.9 Japan Earthquake

I've spent this evening watching news coverage of the earthquake in Japan and texting family in nearby countries to get to higher ground. Events like these are absolutely horrifying and a stern reminder that natural disasters can strike without warning.

While listening to the news, I decided that I needed to have an emergency kit in my room. Grabbing a backpack from my closet, I stuffed it with clothes, first aid tools, a flashlight, batteries, and a bottle of Gatorade. I don't really have much at home, so I might invest in a real disaster kit sometime soon. Since I live in an earthquake prone area, it's probably wise to have basic necessities in a bag so I could just grab it and go.

Apparently the entire West Cost is on tsunami alert. My hope is that this is only a safety precaution. Be safe, everyone!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Social Work Month!

This March we celebrate Social Work Month, dedicated to increasing the knowledge and awareness of the social work profession nationwide. While social workers are commonly stereotyped as child protective service workers, this profession is much more than that. In fact, social workers work with a diverse population of individuals, representing various cultures, socio-economic groups, and age ranges. Social workers can also be found in a number of settings from schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations, corporations, to various government agencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 640,000 social workers in the United States.

Social workers perform a number of vital tasks. According to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), social workers comprise the largest group of mental health services providers in the United States, outnumbering psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined. The Departments of Veterans Affairs employs over 6,000 social workers to provide counseling, substance abuse treatment, post-combat readjustment assistance, and other services to veterans and family members. Additionally, over 40 percent of American Red Cross volunteers are social workers. When it comes to the country's most vulnerable populations, social workers are always there to assist and empower.

Becoming a social worker typically requires an advanced degree and extensive work experience. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Social Workers, about 79 percent of practicing social workers have master's of social work (MSW) degrees. Many entry level social work degrees require an MSW, with opportunities to move up if one becomes licensed. To become licensed in California, a person with an MSW much complete a minimum of 3,200 supervised work hours, 104 weeks of supervision, and 57 hours of continuing education, in addition to passing two state licensing exams. One might think that social workers are compensated well for their credentials, but this is simply not the case. While social workers could work higher paying and less stressful jobs elsewhere, many choose to stay in the field because of their passion for improving the lives of the sick, poor, and disenfranchised.

The theme for this year's Social Work Month is "Social Workers Change Futures". Indeed, social workers work to improve society by creating positive change among its most susceptible members. This month, please thank your friendly social worker for the selfless and benevolent services they provide on a daily basis.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Giving Tree

Earlier this evening, my boyfriend (who is close to finishing his last quarter of graduate school) mentioned that he felt like the old man pictured on the last page of The Giving Tree. Not being able to recall this book from my childhood, I went ahead an looked up the Wikipedia article. The plot description nearly brought me to tears. Watching the following video all but pushed me over the edge:

In fact, I could only watch portions of it because seeing the story unfold through animation was just so depressing.

I suppose what saddened me most about this story were the sacrifices made by both the tree and the boy. In order to make the boy happy, the tree gradually allowed parts of her to be removed to be sold or constructed into a house and boat. The tree gave freely, while the boy simply took and took in return. Ultimately, only the tree's stump was left.

The boy, on the other hand, sacrificed his carefree childhood spent with the tree to fulfill "adult" tasks such as working, making profit, and accumulating and maintaining assets (such as the house). Despite this, he still found life unsatisfying and used the tree's trunk in an attempt to escape. In the end, the boy, now an old man with simpler needs, found comfort sitting on top of what was left of his lifelong friend.

I suppose The Giving Tree tells two stories here. One is about unconditional self-sacrifice due to love. The other is a lament for a simple and carefree childhood lost to the adult world of endless responsibilities. Both stories resonate pretty equally with me. Having been with my boyfriend for almost two years, I know I would probably make the same sacrifices the tree made for the boy in a heartbeat. Now that I'm done with school and work, I sometimes long for those childhood days that seemed free from care and worry. With the work I do with the elderly in the hospital, I can't help but sometimes feel like I'm aging at an accelerated rate.

Before going to bed, my boyfriend told me that rereading The Giving Tree helped him put things into perspective. Indeed, this story has given me new insight into the meaning of unconditional personal sacrifice and reminded me of the joys of a carefree life. These are definitely important lessons I intend to incorporate into my own daily living in an attempt to decelerate my self-perceived aging!

I'm not scheduled to work tomorrow. Perhaps I'll look for something cheery to do during the day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Look

I spent the majority of today messing around with Blogger's different templates. As much as I enjoyed the polka dots, I feel that the new templates give my blogs a cleaner and fresher look. Maybe someday I'll learn CSS and design something really awesome involving polka dots.

I have work tomorrow, so that means I should probably go to bed early instead of playing around with my blogs. In the meantime, check out my latest article on my Cheap Social Worker blog, which gives advice on balancing becoming a social worker career with addressing financial wants and needs. Have a great evening everyone!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yet another new beginning...

Hello, and welcome to Adventures of a (not so) Cheap Social Worker! Here, you'll find me talking about my life as a social worker, ranging from daily happenings to discussions pertaining to relevant social work issues to other random topics. I have a wide variety of interests and hobbies in addition to what I do for a living, so expect anything and everything on this blog!

This blog is an off-shoot from my main site, (not so) Cheap Social Worker. Since I wanted to limit the scope of that site to money saving matters, this blog was created and all non-pertinent articles were moved here. Don't forget to check out my other blog and read about my adventures in making the most out of my social worker salary!

I am pretty excited about this site and will make it a goal to post regular updates. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to have more material soon!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bad Publicity Yet Again

I stopped by the website tonight, only to find this video on the front page:

As much as I like Anderson Cooper and AC360, I found this entire video to be rather unsettling. Right from the beginning this report seemed to have a biased, condemnatory tone towards the medical staff caring for the baby and child protective services as a whole. While the parents may have felt that a great injustice was committed against them, I think that the hospital staff was completely appropriate in the manner they responded to this suspected shaken baby case. What surprises me, though, is the fact that the other child was actually placed in foster care for two weeks. Typically, removals are usually done only as a last resort and if a child is suspected of being in immediate danger. It's hard to say whether child protective services was justified in removing the second child, and I feel that there's more to this case than what was shown in the news report.

What bothers me most about this video is negative portrayal of social workers as individuals who take babies away on a whim. Social workers already have to deal with the "baby snatcher" stereotype, and news reports like the one on AC360 only seem to perpetuate this misconception. To me, it's safe to say that social workers provide more help than harm to people on a daily basis. Is it so hard for the media to run a story that isn't an abasement of our profession?

Social work receives bad publicity from the news media yet again. I suppose this shouldn't be news at all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflections from a Wounded Tiger Child

About a week ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article called "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" containing excepts of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". If you haven't read it yet, then please stop reading this post and read the article before proceeding. Needless to say, her authoritarian parenting methods, attack of "Western" parenting styles, and overall use of dichotomous and overly simplistic comparisons of Western vs. "Chinese" culture have resulted in much uproar and debate from people representing differing cultures and parenting styles. A number of responses have popped up online, easily accessible with a simple Google search.

I realize this article was published almost two weeks ago, but I suppose the reason it's taken me this long to respond is because of my initial reaction upon reading it for the first time. Let's just say I was left so distraught that I was essentially incapacitated for the rest of the weekend. While I've read controversial and infuriating pieces of literature in the past, the last thing I expected was to have such a strong emotional response from something published in the Wall Street Journal. After spending a good amount of time perusing blogs, talking to my friends (who are tired of hearing about this subject), talking to my mother (who didn't help things at the time), and doing some self-reflection, I think I've calmed to the point where I can now discuss the subject of "Tiger Mothering" without resorting to vitriol.

The subject of my masters thesis was the relationship between perceived parental pressure and the onset of mental illness among college aged students. Initially, my plan was to discuss the potential harms of "Tiger Mothering" using studies from my literature review. I had also plan to discuss the fallacious "Western vs. Chinese" ideas perpetuated by Amy Chua's article and book. However, I know these subjects have been discussed ad nauseum on other blogs and news sites. Hence, I think a more effective use of this space would be to discuss my personal experiences with Asian parents who employed some "Tiger Mother" tactics. When it comes to my parents I always have a lot say, but to prevent this post from turning into a novel I'll try to keep the scope focused on their parenting style in relation to Amy Chua's methods.

Upon personal reflection, there are some big differences between my parents and Amy Chua. Unlike Amy Chua's children I was allowed to go on occasion playdates, choose my own extracurricular activities, be in a school play, watch TV, play video games, and play flute and percussion (in addition to piano). However, like Amy Chua's children I was not allowed to attend sleepovers or get grades less than an A. Additionally, having my grades drop from an A+ to an A was an issue of contention with my mother, who nearly confronted one of my teachers at one point. Regarding class ranks, the junior high school and high school I attended didn't have any, and I was fortunate enough to be valedictorian of my elementary school class. However, I knew being the best was important to my parents. Similar to Amy Chua, I was reprimanded when I only received 2nd place in an 8th grade spelling bee contest. During freshman year of high school, I was grounded for telling my parents that they shouldn't expect me to be valedictorian (before I found out my school didn't have one).

It's hard to say whether parental pressure put me at an advantage in life. In many ways, I feel the pressure ultimately left me at a disadvantage. From elementary through high school, I got straight As due to the utter fear of being punished if I brought home a B. My classmates and friends never understood why I was so against getting a B, and I was often bullied for my perfectionist tendencies. I suppose many of my teachers didn't understand either, with one teacher nicknaming me "Ms. Perfect" and another telling me to tell my parents to "get a life" (nearly resulting in a confrontation with my mom later that day). However, in an urban school district with a lot of problem students, most teachers appreciated my passive and overachieving nature. Such an attitude kept me out of trouble, brought straight As, and eventually earned me some respect among my peers. Similarly, a submissive and obedient attitude was the easiest way to avoid criticism at home, though the most minute slight would nevertheless result in hours of verbal lashing and unfounded accusations of slacking off, drug use, and/or sexual behavior. I suppose this pressure to please everyone paid off with my acceptance into one of the top public universities in the nation. However, the need to satisfy everyone at the expense of my needs would result in a litany of problems to come.

When it came time to go to college, I was essentially told by my parents that I had to go to medical school or "go to hell". By that time, going to medical school was something I did not want to do. I recall one night when I broke down and pleaded with them to let me study something else, but they would not budge. While they viewed becoming a doctor as a way to achieve wealth and prestige in life, I saw it as a lifetime enslaved to something for which I had no passion. In fact, I knew by then that my passion was in music. Little did my parents know about the amount of time I spent playing music, as I practiced in private due to their tendency to yell at me if I made too many mistakes or played something "useless" like warm-up scales. My parents essentially disallowed the notion of studying music in college, and I can't help but wonder if Amy Chua will react the same way if her prodigious children consider music as a major when they reach college.

Needless to say, my grades suffered greatly as an undergraduate. I had no passion for the subject I was studying and essentially had no hope for any happiness in my future. Furthermore, I turned into a problem student due to my poor test scores and began to receive insults from my peers concerning my academic performance. When I complained to my parents about how much I hated what I was studying, they merely screamed at me to further bury myself in my studies so I enjoy it. College life was miserable, though this misery was masked by the euphoria I experienced from playing in my university's marching band.

Unfortunately, this joy was short lived as this extracurricular activity brought a new slew of challenges. While I took an active part in my college marching band, I ultimately was never given an opportunity to have a leadership role in the group. Each time I applied, I was denied, with fellow bandmembers stating that it was due to my lack of self-confidence and leadership ability. More blunt members stated that my passivity and push-over demeanor made me socially awkward and unlikable. Personality traits that worked for me in high school no longer worked for me in my college social relationships. In fact, when I being in constant contact with the same band members opened the door to dating, I was repeated passed up for females who exuded more confidence in themselves. Eventually, I got fed up I forced myself to become more assertive and resistant to the relationship setbacks, put-downs, and bullying. Unfortunately, this was unfamiliar emotional territory for me, and ultimately resulted in me angrily throwing a glass of water in someone's face for making a friendly joke about my instrument. Needless to say, I often wonder how things would have turned out differently if I was allowed me more time to explore social relationships and even date in high school. Moreover, I can't help but think that things would have been different if my parents used a parenting style that promoted confidence, courage, and resilience instead of obedience, acquiescence, and fear.

Two years into college my parents finally realized how unhappy I had become and relented on their desire to have me go to medical school. While I ultimately went on to graduate school and completed my Master of Social Work program with honors, I know that deep inside my parents are disappointed that I did not fulfill their dream of me becoming a doctor. While I still have no desire to become a doctor today, the idea that I have shamed my family by something inferior in their eyes is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It is also something I will have to face on a daily basis if I choose to stay in a field of social work that requires constant interaction with doctors.

That's not to say that I don't feel gratitude towards my parents. I am forever thankful to my parents because of their sacrifices while I growing up and their financial (and eventually emotional support) while I was in college. I know that without them, I would not be where I am today. Concurrently, I strongly feel that the way I was raised played a major factor in my decision to become a social worker.

Following graduate school, I moved back home with my parents to save money while I looked for a more permanent job/vegetated after 17 years of school. Things have definitely been different compared to when I lived with my parents while growing up. Nowadays, I get away with leaving the house to see friends and debating my parents when I feel they're wrong on an issue. However, there are old habits I still can't change, such as my avoidance of the piano when my parents are home.

I've read a number of great responses online from Asian-Americans negatively affected by their "Tiger Parents" rearing. I know that college is over, but to say that the way I was parented doesn't affect me today would be downright dishonest. While I like my profession, I often wonder if I would be happier as a musician or band director (their salaries are similar to that of a social worker anyway). My close friends continue to express concern regarding my lack of self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Despite having a decent number of friends and acquaintances, I feel that my social skills pale when it comes to meeting new people, carrying discussions, and avoiding social awkwardness. When it comes to my own profession, I still feel insecure because my family does not deem it as lucrative or prestigious than if I had become a doctor or lawyer. My own boyfriend is an engineer, and while he has repeatedly stated that he supports my profession, I still can't help but wonder if he and his parents also view me as inferior because I am a social worker and not something "better". Every day is a new battle against myself and my past, and while I've made plenty of progress in attempting to reclaim my life, I anticipate it may take a while to finally overcome the hold my parents have on me from their "Tiger Parenting" tendencies.

Well, that's my story, which turned out a lot longer than I anticipated. It's amazing how a simple book except can trigger years worth of memories and repressed emotions. That's not to say that I'm entirely against Amy Chua and the message she attempts to send in her book. I will acknowledge that she makes some good points about the "softness" of some parents in existence today, resulting in some lazy, spoiled, and entitled children. Additionally, I will give her credit for reforming her authoritarian ways by the end of her book following the rebellion of her 13 year old daughter. It seems that the Wall Street Journal article did misrepresent her book as a whole, but the resulting controversy probably did her a favor by boosting her sales. As for me, I never plan on buying or reading her book. As interesting of a read as it might be, I'd rather spend my free time not reliving these painful aspects of my childhood. If a Wall Street Journal article can put me in such a state of distress, then I fear what "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" might do to this already wounded "Tiger Child".