The Inconvenience of 9-5
Posted by idontwanttomiss
As I was driving home today from work I thought to myself “I can’t believe that my job is to walk alongside people that I am honored to know.” I walked alongside “Beth” a lot this week, to the point that some may think I could be overstepping “professional boundaries.” I thought about it a lot… not wanting to make our relationship confusing to her. However over many years of walking alongside her in her journey of healing our boundaries with each other are clear. My title is that of a social worker but in her words “you know me better than my mother.” She is my client yet I am the constant in her life and I often been seen as guardian, protector, and surrogate parent. When the child agency that takes custody in the state stepped out of her life the agency I work for, and our relationship, remained. She has wanted me to be her parent, though has never gone so far as ask me to adopt her. There is no possible way to walk alongside someone for nearly 11 years, moving from adolescence to adulthood, having deep conversations, allowing them to see the hurt, rebelling at times, laughing with them, swearing at them, discussing God, contemplating life, considering death, and be able to keep a relationship uncomplicated. I’m all about talking it out though, and quite honestly Beth and I are “good.” Our relationship has transcended the client/professional relationship yet that is what it is.
Beth asked me the other day why I keep working with her. I reminded her that she’d had some pretty significant troubles and life changes in the past year (that’s how it was justified to the higher-ups). The reality of why I continue to work with her is that our relationship offers stability for her, I really love this kid, not just working with her but the person she is (like I love my nieces, nephews, and the youth group kids I’ve mentored.). It feels to be that it would be an injustice to “terminate” (what social workers call ending a working relationship) because it’s not convenient or the paperwork gets confusing. How do you “terminate” as a surrogate parent? She still needs help from my agency, and I expect she will for much of her lifetime, but she doesn’t neatly fit on my caseload easily and I expect it would be frowned upon to see her outside of work time. My fear often is the agency I work for will make me terminate with her and I don’t know how I would explain that to her quite yet. It is not what I meant to blog about… time is the topic of the day, however this is related.
Boundaries and limits that Beth and I have with each other occasionally transcend an imposed time of 9-5pm. Why am I talking about 9-5? In my office those are the hours that I am supposed to work. Sometimes I work a little earlier or later (8am to 6pm is the limit that has been given). However people’s lives, circumstances and crises do not always fit neatly into the hours of that are set out. It actually doesn’t bother me… it’s not that I want a chaotic and unpredictable schedule each day/week but occasional disruptions don’t usually unravel me and I’m at a stage in life now that I can handle disruptions without impacting a family of my own. The truth is of course my own life has disruptions beyond the hours of 9-5 so how can I really expect anyone else’s to be different. A super early morning to get to a school meeting, a hard conversation that lasts well after 6pm, lunch, (which we are required to take on our timesheets) is often spent with a client or worked thorugh, earlier this week an ER visit late into the night, and Thursday a drive home from the hospital which landed me at home late again. The late nights were Beth’s… and in this situation there was not someone else that went to stay with her. I’m not saying the other people/agencies in her life were wrong not to go… it’s complicated and we all have limits. This week I was willing to bend my normal limits and walk alongside of her in a crisis outside of 9-5. I want to be the person that asks the questions first of what is needed, who/what can meet the need, and if I can be the solution – be willing step up. If it’s outside of the hours of 9-5pm it’s not about a pat on the back, overtime, or trying to get out of work on another day and time. This time is my choice and the late nights are the exception. It’s been years probably since I worked past the 9-5/8-6 hours for Beth. I dont’ think I’ve ever met with a client on the weekend, that is a personal limit that I believe helps us both, however I have made an occasional call of condolencense over the loss of loved one on a weekend, or given a reminder call for an early Monday meeting.
The challenge is this… if some co-workers and higher-ups knew about my occasional late night I’m not they would understand why I would ever need to do this. Couldn’t someone else be found? Isn’t there another resource? I was informed my time sheet is never to reflect hours outside of 8-6pm, yet I have also been told my timesheet should accurately reflect the hours I work. The young adults I care about sometimes have needs that don’t fit neatly into my planned schedule. Each situation is unique and I know the importance of limits and boundaries yet I feel I also know when to question them. This week I found myself feeling more frustrated that I had to figure out what to write on my timesheet then I was with eating quickly at my desk and getting home at midnight one night. The second late night could possibly have been resolved with a cab ride costing a couple of hundred dollars, paid for by a hospital’s social work dollars. However I had the time. The trip with Beth yielded a conversation initiated by her about values, what she is hoping for in life, and what relationships are concerning to her. I don’t want to miss meaningful conversations to convenience. I don’t want to miss out on walking alongside people I am called to serve, even when it’s occasionally not conveniently between 9-5pm.