No, not this guy
I want to do a little thought experiment with you.
Step 1. Imagine your very best friend. Try to get them in your mind. For shorthand purposes, as I don’t know the name of the best friend of each and every one of you, I’m going to call this notional best friend Janice. Imagine that friend, get them firmly in your head. I’m also going to assume that out of 100, you’re going to score this friend 80 or above – so it’s someone you like a lot, and someone you can count on. (On this friendship scale, Bert and Ernie, or Joey and Chandler are 100, Ant and Dec high nineties.)
Step 2. Imagine that you feel like you might have put a little bit of weight on. Not a lot, just a bit. Christmas, orange matchmakers, a bit too cold for running. So you say this to Janice, and you also say “I want you to help me lose weight. I know I’ve got no willpower, but with your help, I can do it.” Janice kindly agrees.
Step 3. Janice suggests that you give up some of the things that you like. It’s not ideal, but you know it is for your own good, so you agree. Janice says “I know you’re weak-willed, so I think maybe I should pop in on a Tuesday, make sure you’re not eating that bad stuff, and sticking to salads and quinoa and whatnot.” You agree.
Step 4. Janice pops round every Tuesday. She watches what you eat, asks you about what you ate yesterday, maybe what you’re going to eat tomorrow. She says “Maybe I should just check in your cupboards, while I’m here. Make sure there’s no jaffa cakes in there.”
Step 5. You get home on a Thursday. There’s a note from Janice pushed through your letter-box. “Called round – disappointed you weren’t in. Decided it would be best if you didn’t always know which day I was going to come check up on you.”
How much, out of 100 are you scoring Janice on the friendship stakes now? Remember, this is your best friend, and you did ASK her to help you lose weight. And you do WANT to lose weight. Still, though…
Step 6. Janice calls round on a Monday. She has some weighing scales and a measuring tape.
Step 7. Janice says that really, to find out why you’re fat, she wants to talk about what you used to eat when you were young, find out what the patterns were then.
Step 8. Janice wants to check your phone, make sure you haven’t been dialling for pizza or takeaways. She asks if you’ve got an itemised bill she can look at.
Step 9. Janice suggests that you join a group, weightwatchers to help you with your problem.
How are you feeling about Janice now? Are you contemplating making a voodoo doll of her out of macaroni and pesto?
Step 10. You ask her to stop. You don’t want this any more. You regret ever involving her. You’re happy as you are. Janice says “I’m not going to stop, not until you’re slim enough”. You ask her what “slim enough” means, and she says “I’ll tell you when you’re slim enough”
If you’re not hating Janice with a burning passion now, then hello Dalai Lama, it is a real honour to have you read my blog. Thank you. And “Free Tibet!”
I’m sure you’ve clocked what this piece is really about. But let’s see it through.
Now imagine that Janice ISN’T your best friend, who you scored 80 out of 100. She’s a complete stranger.
Now imagine that you DIDN’T ASK her for help, she came along uninvited.
Now imagine that you don’t even want to lose weight, you were already pretty happy with how you were.
Finally, imagine that we’re not talking about weight at all, we’re talking about how you parent your children.
How do you feel about Janice now? Worse, or better?
It is pretty hard to imagine, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of it, what it must be like to have a social worker come into your home. It hasn’t happened to me, so I can’t really capture it. I suspect it hasn’t happened to 75% of social workers. So this heavy-handed metaphor is a way of capturing it.
All of us disliked Janice really early on in that chain of events, even though she started as our best friend and she was doing us a favour. We all wished her bodily harm by about step 8. (Not you, obviously Mr Lama)
I’m not saying that social workers shouldn’t visit homes – sometimes it is necessary, and important to safeguard children. But we should always try to think about what it is like being on the other side of that doorstep, how it must feel, and to respect that. Because even when it is your best friend doing this sort of stuff, at your request, and when you wanted them there, it makes you bristle and get irritated.
What we ask of parents, even when it’s necessary, is no small thing. It sometimes helps to pull back perspective and remember that.