Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

Every Child is my Baby.

To say motherhood changes you is a huge cliché, but it’s also true. I think of my life before Baby B as “B.C.—Before Children.” It’s a whole different world now. B.C., I promised myself I would never tell boring stories about my daughter. And yet the other day, I was telling my BFF that I was glad it was getting chilly outside because Baby B got to wear her new beret. I can’t help it; everything about my baby is interesting to me (and she looked smashing in her beret, by the way). Clearly, there are major physical changes in motherhood as well (my kingdom to fit back into pre-preggers jeans!). But there is another change that I didn’t really anticipate, and that is my mindset about parenting.

To be honest, B.C., I always felt a little like a fraud dolling out parenting advice as a school psychologist, without being a parent myself. I was a fairly knowledgeable “fraud,” to be fair. I held parent nights where I’d give sound tips for parenting. I’d freely advise parents in meetings what to do. I even did an interview for Parents Magazine. I reasoned that my advice was actually superior to advice of a school psychologist with a child, because mine was completely objective. I never made my advice for kids about what worked for me or for my own child. I gave just the facts and research. So in this way, maybe not having kids was an asset in my job (not to mention the fact that B.C., I had waaaaay more energy and time to give to my job).*

Now that I’m a parent, I am very aware that there is a danger that I will project my personal parenting experience onto other parents. At one of my schools, there was a support staff member who had a child with ADHD and eeeeeeevery child she saw she thought had ADHD. She saw ADHD lurking under every rock, so to speak. She always recommended the same things that she did for her child to every family. I could have predicted what was coming out of her mouth before she said it at every meeting, because it was always really about her child. Worse yet, she was always recommending unproven, unresearched treatments. She meant well, but she didn’t understand the importance of keeping the focus on the child we were all talking about. Sure, you might have some personal experience in parenting that could be useful, but you gotta keep it in check.

Even in my pregnancy, I knew that being a mother would change my outlook on my job. When I was taking developmental histories, I had a renewed excitement for learning about the pregnancy and early years of the children I was working with. I found myself wanting to know more and more (“Um, tell me again about how you got your child to be a good sleeper?”). I was filing away experiences parents had with possible future scenarios I might encounter. And I thought I could detect that parents were a bit more open about sharing. Maybe my giant belly gave me some street cred?

Now that I have Baby B, I definitely see the world differently, as a psychologist. When I see a child with autism wring his hands, they become my daughter’s hands, and I wonder what its like for the parent to see their child this way. When a parent tells me their child is being teased, I flash to what it would be like to have Baby B to come home and cry because she was teased. Every child is now my baby, on some level. And I know I have more empathy and understanding with parents because we have shared the experience of looking down at a little darling all your own and wanting the absolute best for him or her.

I realize this may come off as me saying that psychologists without kids can’t fully understand the business of parenting. If someone had said that to me before I had kids, I would have been annoyed at him or her. It’s like someone smirking and patting you on the head and saying, “you’ll understand when you’re older.” That’s not what I’m saying; I think I was a fab psychologist before I had kids, I just think I may become a better psychologist now that I’m a mother.**

And since I am loving my new role as a mom and psychologist with parenting street cred, I am on a kick to get all my 30-something educator friends to have babies too. A few weeks ago, I brought Baby B to my Elementary School and told a teacher colleague she should get a baby because they’re so awesome (showing Exhibit B, wearing baby leg warmers and beret). My colleague mused that she was worried she wouldn’t have enough love and energy for both her students and children. Au contraire!*** Having a kid makes your love for students deeper. In my mind, every child is now someone’s baby. Sure, that “baby” may be getting in trouble or making bad decisions, but it makes you more empathetic toward the parents, who are often doing their best with the tools they have.

As a psychologist, I always intellectually understood a parent’s love for a child, but now I can feel it too. It’s an amazing, indescribable feeling. And I truly believe that the experience of motherhood will continue to make me a better psychologist. Now if we can just do something about fitting back into those pre-pregnancy jeans…

*Why do people say, “not to mention…” and then go ahead and mention it? Discuss amongst yourselves.
**Toot! Toot! What’s that? My own horn.
***That is what Baby B said in her head, while wearing beret.

Sharing is caring!

Comments on Every Child is my Baby.

  1. Julia says:

    Okay, so in my currently-pregnant mind, the question begs to be asked: What tips did parents give on getting their children to be good sleepers? I was NOT a good sleeper as an infant and toddler, and I'm concerned that my payback will arrive with my baby!

  2. Rebecca says:

    @Julia: lol…I was a horrible sleeper as a baby too, I was sure it was payback time! Baby B has been sleeping through the night since 3 months. I think I just lucked out, but it may be my exquisite parenting. 😉 I read a few books on sleep to get a few different perspectives. Then I threw them out and went with my instincts. For the first 3 months, we did an "anything that works to get her to sleep" approach, and then, we did a little cry it out around 4 months. I would recommend the book "Happiest Baby on the Block" which is all about how to soothe a baby. It was easy to read during pregnancy, whereas the sleep books freaked me out!

    I could talk about sleep and babies all day… 😉

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well, you may not have meant for anyone without children to feel as if you're saying psychologists without kids can’t fully understand the business of parenting, and that it's not possible to be the best school psychologist a person can possibly be without actually being a parent, but…you kinda did. 🙁

    I'm studying to make the career change to become a school psychologist right now. I'm serious about wanting to switch paths and go onto a course in which I have, possibly, the opportunity to improve lives. But I have no children of my own–largely through circumstance–and I am past the age where having any is a possibility. Are you telling me that when I do finally become a school psychologist, I can be a good one, but I'll never be quite as good a one as you can be, because I'll never understand any way other than intellectually what it's like to be a parent who wants the best for her child?

    To be honest, I think I get it, even without having kids of my own. For one thing, I was a kid once. I remember what it was like in school. I remember the challenges and the struggles and what they felt like. And I clearly remember what it felt like to see other kids deal with what they had to deal with…and it's a large part of my motivation for seeking to enter this line of work. To try to smooth the path for future generations, so they will have it easier than my classmates and I did.

    I'm sure you must be so proud of your baby and so thrilled to be a mother. That's wonderful. But to be honest, this time you did come across to me, as a childless person, as yet another one of those smug people who tells others that they just can't possibly really understand what life is all about, or what's really important in it, unless they have children of their own. Which makes me feel kind of sorry for the 30-somethings you're preaching that gospel of baby-awesomeness to right now. Yes, maybe they still can become moms…but do they all WANT to? Is it really the best thing for all of them to do?

    True, the notion that a school psychologist who becomes a parent has "less love and energy" for the kids at school is one that isn't worth worrying over. If that's all that's holding someone back, it's silly. But I honestly and truly believe that while some of us have a great deal to give other people's kids, it doesn't mean we all have to have kids ourselves. For some of us, maybe it's a way to try to help the kids who are already here, instead of feeling that we need to make more.

    I hope this is coming across the right way. In case you were wondering, I'm not coming to this career out of any sense of frustrated motherhood, nor from the angle that I possess some kind of emotional remove that will actually make me better at helping kids than their parents. I'm just saying that it's a little disappointing to learn that school psychology is yet another area in which it appears I'm going to come up against the "Oh, you can learn it from books, but you don't REALLY get it until you become a mom yourself" attitude when it comes to children. So far, none of my professors has exhibited that attitude or looked at me oddly for being an older woman without kids who claims to want to enter this profession, and it's been a relief to me because I was afraid I would. ("You want to become a school psychologist? Why? You don't have any kids yourself. I didn't even know you LIKED kids!")

    Believe me, I'm not trying to rain on your parade at all. I'm sure motherhood will lend a fresh perspective to every aspect of your work. It's just that I wouldn't be trying to enter this field if my goal wasn't to be the best at it that I can possibly be. And I fiercely want to believe that that's possible for me despite the fact that motherhood, for me, is not going to happen, and that I don't feel particularly regretful about it.

  4. Julia says:

    Thank you! I'll have to pick up that book – perhaps there's hope after all for a relatively normal sleep schedule in the coming years 🙂

  5. Rebecca says:

    @Anonymous: Yeah, I see your point. I debated about even posting this one at all, for the fear it would come off as smug. I just wanted to share my own personal experience–that motherhood has enhanced my life and my career in unexpected ways. This is not to say its the "right" way or that childless school psychologists cannot be amazing professionals or find new perspectives based on their different experiences.

    I should also note that I'm not randomly approaching women in their 30s and telling them to have kids! I am talking about my friends who are considering it already. I think that there are so many negative messages about being a new mom (oh, you'll never get sleep again, good luck going on a vacation ever again, it will ruin your marriage–all things people told me when I was pregnant) that I choose to share the wonderful moments as well.

    I wish you luck in school psychology. You don't have to be a parent to be a good one. For me, I found more meaning in my job after the experience, but my experience is not a prescription for everyone.

    Also, I respect the way you disagreed with me. I sometimes get hurtful comments from anonymous readers, who say things they probably wouldn't say to someone in person.

  6. Anonymous: I am a school psychologist who became a parent a couple years after working as an S.P. I was like Rebecca in finding that parenthood did change my perspective at work. That may have improved my work performance in some ways, but I also found that in others it did not. For example, when my kids were preschool age, I had a really hard time being patient with the preschoolers I was testing–it was too much preschoolness for me! 🙂 Now that my kids are older, I am back to being a patient evaluator for the young set.

    There is no such thing as a perfect person, or a perfect S.P. So, while MAYBE being a parent can improve SOME people's job performance, it does not mean that they are better than those without children. (I have met a few S.P.'s who are parents but are not great S.P.'s.) Everyone has different skill sets, so even if there was a particular area that parents might do better in (which I really do doubt) there would be other areas in which you would excel. Like anything, we can make statements that generalize but we can't make generalizations.

  7. Lindsay says:

    I am wondering what you did/said when the support staff member would give out advice that was not exactly accurate or research-based at meetings. I work with a special ed teacher who gives psychological advice to parents and makes generalized comments about psychological disorders that I would never say. I am new to the district and don't feel comfortable speaking up yet, but it makes me cringe when she a) gives advice from a field that she has little education in, and b) makes parents think that their child has a fixed condition and cannot change their behavior. Anyone have any advice?

  8. Amy C says:

    I think what Dr. B. was saying is just the difference between empathy and understanding. I may understand the struggles parents of students with disabilities face based on years of talking to them and working with their kids, but I cannot empathize with them as someone who has done it first hand. That's not to say my advice is any less valuable, but that it might be challenged for the same reason cancer patients challenge oncologists, widows challenge those grieving for them, and soldiers challenge civilians. When we are in need, upset, exhausted, frustrated, etc., SOMETIMES what we need most is not the person that has the answers, but a person who has been on the journey.

    The same goes for parenting. I may know what has worked in the research, in helping families, and in helping my friends with their kids, but that doesn't mean I can claim to know that it works because I've tried it. I don't think the intent was to imply that she wasn't as good of a SP before baby B came along, but rather Baby B made her view her job from a different perspective. There's more objectivity in providing advice based on what we KNOW, but there's also a value in providing advice based on what we've EXPERIENCED subjectively. Each is valuable, but not equal. Seeing students as students allows us to take a step back and think objectively, but I imagine the downside in the wonderfulness Dr. B. spoke of is that parents often do view every kid from the lens of "my" child which might be more emotionally draining but for that very reason also make them work that much harder.

    I don't have children yet but when I do I will have been a SP for longer than I will have been a parent. Being a SP won't necessarily make me a better parent and being a parent won't necessarily make one a better SP. But the fact remains that whatever we do in our private lives affects our professional lives. And vice versa. Hopefully the two blend seamlessly and we allow each of our "lives" to continually teach one another which will result in the continually improvement we should not only hope for, but expect.

  9. Jeune Fille says:

    I love this post, and it really resonated with me although i'm not a school psych. one of the things that has most surprised me is how much i've internalized the plight of all children since having my own. i can't deal with stories of things happening to kids anymore, so if i were a school psych, i'd probably have to quit because i'd empathize too much and feel super sad all the time. i still work in education, and i think my irrational fear of bad things happening to children is partly what fuels my desire to change public education. but i don't know if i could be as close to it as all of you heroes on the front line. thank you for what you do. on behalf of me and my daughter.

  10. Christi says:

    I've had a parent tell me I couldn't really understand kids since I didn't have my own yet. Ouch. But, I get the comments about perspective and empathy. Being responsible for your own little person has to change everything.

    In other news, I tagged you on my blog today as I blogger I've been admiring for a while now. =)


  11. Mo says:

    As a mom of three, I often find myself bringing up my children when talking to parents in an attempt to connect with them and to sort of humanize myself as well. I always feel like parents come into a room full of "experts" and get told what to do. I am still learning so much about being a parent (my oldest is 11), that I feel like a fraud doling out advice that I struggle with using in my own home. Being a parent really guides the interventions I recommend to parents and helps me empathize with the struggles of sticking with said interventions on the home front.

    I love being a school psychologist and a parent and I'm so excited to see you enjoying the experience as well.

  12. Saria says:

    I just wanted to chime in as a young, childless 20-something about to enter a School Psychology PhD program. I think you were very mindful of your wording of this post and clearly you strived for sensitivity.

    What I love most about this post, however, are the positive things you have to say about becoming a mother as a working professional. Our society has this notion that professional work and motherhood are mutually exclusive entities. I want children in my future (4+ years), and I too receive a LOT of negativity regarding motherhood:

    "Why the added stress? Wait as long as you can before having kids."

    "I thought you were an ambitious young woman. Children will really setback your career."

    "You're complaining now? Wait until you have kids and your marriage sucks and you're tired from work and you have to go home to a bunch of needy children."

    You've really inspired me to follow my dreams of school psychology in the past, so it is WONDERFUL to hear you say great things about becoming a parent as a professional!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Maybe what needs to be said here is that it's possible for even childless people to have empathy, because despite being childless, they too may know or have known what it's like to be responsible for a little person? Even if it's not a little person who's flesh of their flesh?

    The message I feel coming across is still "you can't really know what it feels like to be responsible for a child unless you are a parent." Or "You can intellectually understand it, but you will never understand it with your heart."

    It could also be said that not being a parent has an advantage in that you will never be tempted to assume that other children are like your own.

  14. Shurl says:

    Hello, My 2 cents: I am a career changer (sort of as I worked as a counselor at schools and now will be studying school psyc.) I have a 2 year old son. I was mortified when I sat in one of my research classes and saw most students on Twitter, FB, etc. instead of engaging in the material. I felt like standing up and saying, "I shudder with fear at the thought of my son crossing paths with any of you during his school career." When I drop my son off at his part-time Montessori program, I want to hug all the kids and say, "Please love and care for each other, you little angels!" Contrary to some attitudes, I actually like other people's kids and I want my kids to demonstrate compassion and cooperation just as the other kids should with my son. I left the original school psyc program I joined and will hopefully be starting a new one this fall. During introductions in class, I will say I have a son and that I hope my classmates won't make me fear for my son or the other little ones they'll encounter in their careers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *