I’m not “mum”

I’m not “mum”

“You must be mum.”

Four words that put you nicely in a box and out of the way, even when you are present in a meeting.  That introduction says so much – you know you are simply there to be tolerated, to tick off a requirement and that you are expected to sit in the box marked ‘mum’ and ‘behave’.

For a disclaimer, please the last paragraph, but in the meantime, how do you respond?  “I am Peters’s mum, My name is Phillipa – and you are?” is the one I used last time around.

I don’t know any parent that doesn’t hate this approach at times.  It can feel dehumanising and I think it sometimes serves a powerful purpose for the rest of the people in the room.  It can be used to state very clearly the hierarchy of those present.  Everyone else is a human, a person with a name and everything….. They have a profession, an identity as an individual and a role outside of the home.  You don’t.  You are ‘mum’ and if you are anything else as well, then that could be a problem so they may make sure you are just the generic ‘mum’.

I have been to many meetings in school that were called with a purpose of putting me in a box, nailing the lid shut and taping over any ventilation holes.  Meetings that were allegedly to ‘chat about my concerns,’ but that in reality were designed as an ambush, with as many as 7 education staff drafted in from school and ‘County’ who were available ‘at the last minute’ to make me stop telling them all about Peter’s difficulties.

I was incredibly naive and the penny didn’t drop until Peter was in a mental health hospital with apparent symptoms of ‘school related trauma’ at age 9.  Until then I resolutely believed that they wanted to understand, but just couldn’t…

After Peter’s admission, the really big meetings started.  Peter had had no additional support in school until now, but now he was in hospital a long way from home, and the Consultant Team had said that he needed a specialist residential school and couldn’t be discharged home until one was found…. implied and implicit, of course, is ‘until one is funded‘.

Oh dear, maybe they should have listened before, you know, when ‘mum’ was trying to explain the problems.  Anyway, I digress.  

So back to the big meetings.  I learned that they were done twice, firstly, one with all the professionals would be held, and then they would be held again, with all the same people, but with the rehearsed ‘party line’ to be shared with ‘mum’.  Exhausted and in a state of disbelief I rocked up at the Local Authority (LA) offices for my first experience of one of these.  I  was on my own, as usual, and faced professionals from health (1 helpful person), social care (3 people) and education (4 people).  The clinical psychologist and I were having a conversation when the others arrived and settled themselves – and this was when the penny dropped…. those from social care and education thought I was a colleague – I looked like one of them and they assumed I was.

I saw the shock on their faces when they realised I was ‘mum’ and THEN I realised.  All the time that we are put in a box marked ‘not one of us’ they are immune to any fear that one day it might happen to them.  Written all over their faces, if you look closely, is “It can’t happen to me because ‘those mums are different’.”  

I had come to this meeting at the LA offices dressed as I would have done for any big meeting at work.  Not ‘interview smart’ you understand, but ‘board meeting smart’.  And I looked like I could be one of them.  The look on their faces as they realised that someone like them was ‘mum’ was priceless.  Yes, people, it could happen to you, your children, your family members, too.

At this meeting, the way I dressed was an accident.  I only dressed that way to help me to feel confident and assertive.  From then on I did it on purpose and enjoyed the fallout.  My favourite was at another LA run meeting…

At this one there were some Heavy Duty LA staff there to persuade me that Peter didn’t really need what the hospital team said he did.  There was also the clinical psychologist, the outreach mental health nurse, and an outreach mental health support worker.  The latter was fabulous and was dressed for her job – which was to quickly build rapport with distressed young people.  She wore a denim jacket, had blue nail polish and a very casual friendly look.  She looked different to everyone else who was dressed more formally (especially me!!).  We all sat down, the LA boss looked the support worker straight in the face and said: “You must be ‘mum'”.

I would pay a lot of money for the CCTV of that moment.  Overall it is a meeting that I remember and giggle.  The LA manager spouted “We have many children with the profile of Peter in day school” “Really” I replied, “Then there will be lots who have required admission to a Tier 4 inpatient unit age 9.”  And then I went around the room and asked each one to tell me, in their entire career, how many children they had cared for that required this level of support……. As you can imagine there weren’t many.  I have a hunch that the CAMHS professionals in the room quite enjoyed this part of the meeting.  Later the Social Worker was insisting (because of her manager) that I should have support from an Early Help professional that knew nothing about ASD and I replied “It’s like swapping the psychiatrist for a dermatologist” I said, “I have nothing against dermatologists but we don’t need one”.  The nurses later told me they had to force themselves to write some notes to stop themselves from laughing at the look on the SEN Manager’s face.  Sadly I missed it.

So here is the disclaimer.  Firstly, in a medical emergency ‘mum’ is just fine.  Secondly, I recognise that not everyone that has fallen into the habit of using the shortcut ‘mum’ from ‘Peter’s mum’ uses it to wield control, but please can you just say “You must be Peter’s mum” and even better, add “sorry I can’t recall your name”….

To the remainder, please remember that one day our roles may be reversed.  Rest assured that I will never treat you the way you have treated me, I couldn’t, but others might.  The organisational culture that you are fostering and enabling now will still be there unless to start to make changes.

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33 thoughts on “I’m not “mum”

  1. Excellent article, well written and nail on the head.
    As I read this – I found myself being the author – been there, done that.
    I recognised earlier on that how I dressed could wrong foot the ‘professionals’
    My educational and working professional background really threw them when I ‘let slip’ that I hadn’t just read the relevant sections I was quoting (as I was told – just reading excerpts out of context is not helpful – mum!!! cue lots of condescending nods and stares) -I actually KNEW the working expectations…

    I have introduced myself as ”x’s mum – *name* and firmly insisted on being called my name – not ‘mum’ as some professionals like to say throughout the meeting…

    This article really resonated with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phillipa, this is a great post. It really resonates with me. It has some similarities with a blog I published last week. If you have time to read it, I: d love your feedback. ‘Don’t call me mum’ http://www.synergy- now.com/ blog/

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  3. So true, well written! It was a shock when I left 16 years in one of the most senior female positions in the City to find that (frankly) quite junior and not very impressive SEN bods now saw me as just ‘mum’. I found though that I was so clearly unabashed by meetings with them, compared to the meetings I had been used to, that they soon got the picture. Still v galling. Can be used to your advantage though.

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  4. This is so true. I started off assuming that when I was invited to a meeting to ‘ discuss my concerns about my child’ that that is what we were going to do. I soon learned that what they actually meant was a meeting to defend their actions ( or lack thereof ) and inform me of their decisions.
    What worries me though, is that those of us who have had parallel experiences to the author and have used the confidence gained from our own professional background to challenge being put in the ‘mum’ box are the lucky ones. What happens to the children of ‘mums’ who have little experience of putting forward their opinions,

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Resonates with me too, sadly. I use all kinds of tricks. Saying “I’ll take the minutes shall I and agreed action points shall I?” to carrying around a clearly annotated special needs support code of practice, to dropping into the conversation what I do early on, referring to a work thing etc. Been put in a box too often…

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  6. I thought it was just me who’s been ambushed at school meetings. I arranged a meeting with one teacher to discuss a legitimate concern I had and was met by four members of school staff. I guess it legitimised my concerns! Thank you for your empowering article.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If I introduce anyone I try to introduce them by name first. So this is Chris, he’s my husband, that’s Jaxon he’s my son, because they are their own person before they “belong” to me if that makes sense! I got so fed up of being introduced as Chris’s Wife or Jaxon’s Mummy.

    Jaxon is almost 3 and because he’s not hitting his developmental targets we’re working our way round various specialists. Some get it and I’m in the “Mum spends 99% of her time with him so she knows what he’s like” and others don’t and I’m the paranoid first-time mum again. Sometimes the mum box is helpful other times it’s really not.

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  8. Brilliant blog.
    If you email me, I’ll send some badges I had made up for the little “Don’t call me Mum” campaign I started.
    I’m in discussion with companies about how they can show they respect parents as partners. I also talk about the ‘Don’t call me Mum’ initiative when I’m training professionals about communicating with families like mine.

    I’ve got some work to do on the website as I feel I can express the heart of the initiative better. Have shared your brilliant article on my blog etc – thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Slightly different but I have sat in meetings so many times and interjected when parents (who are no doubt totally overwhelmed by the number of professionals and their fancy job titles) introduce themselves as “I’m just the mum/dad”! No, you are the most important person here!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I love this post! It is so true …

    I have sat in meetings, wrote notes, checked at the end of the meeting they they all agreed the action points, and checked where to send my version of the minutes… all as a mum – OMG that woke them up… to the extent the next school was warned I was coming and to take me seriously … and to be honest it was a breathe of fresh air!

    I also took to taking a big chunky foolscape folder with copies of all my meetings – so if they brought anything up I could refer to it … I had more paperwork than they did!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have brought along a lined notepad and pen to meetings, just so I could take notes to ask any questions when it was ‘my turn’ to speak and seen the highly suspicious looks at the papers and pad in my hand. Clearly these meetings are where they don’t want to be challenged or caught out.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Excellent post. Last year I raised a formal complaint at school. Being an HR professional worked to my advantage. I left emotion to the side and focused on evidence . The Chair of Governors was totally wrong footed.

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  12. So many families are blended so many parents have different names.
    I’d rather professionals concerned themselves with the child than offending someone’s sensibilities.
    You are there in the role of MUM just as the senco is there in the role of Senco would they be offended if someone said “and what does the senco think?”

    What does the physio think
    What does mum think
    What do salt think

    It’s the same thing

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    1. If there was the balance that you are suggesting in terms of the value of each person’s input then perhaps that would make a difference. Sadly it is not my experience though 😦

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  13. Great article, certainly reminds me of some of the hassle we went through especially before our son had his diagnosis – paranoid parents being the main theme. We didn’t get that with our second one though we did have a fab obstetrician which helped. Schools have been a mixed bag, primary was wonderful, secondary has been less so. I’ve found a good legal knowledge (IPSEA is brilliant), a readiness to put things in writing, and a calm and non emotional response helps, but easier said than done sometimes.

    It should be completely irrelevant but I also think being a man sometimes means I am treated in a different way as well. Or maybe it’s just my imagination, but I hear so much crap that some women in the same position as me who I know have to deal with that I know no one would ever say to me.

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  14. Hiya ive found they are like this in virtually every meeting. I found myself in a similar meeting recently that was because of my daughter age 8 (Quick history: she has been sexually abused & different areas have different procedures when it comes to professional help before a court case. In this particular area its simply there is none as it could interfere with evidence which ive learnt to repeat without the look of shock on my face. Theyve cancelled he trial 7 times Anyway long story short she tried hanging herself hence the meeting) i walked in late cos i had to take kids to school & couldnt get across 2 towns to the big city centre in 10 mins. As they all start theres the social worker, met her once, the gp very supportive , the leader of the meeting. The school headteacher who had previously agreed she needed help & school nurse didnt know they still had those but what i found particular funny was the police officer in attendance i was assured she was there to help the leader understand the procedures during that type of case. As they meeting got under way the leader asked the police officer why my daughter hadnt had any kind of support in 2 & half years. I let my comment out of my mouth without realising everyone else had heard which was what bullshit anlm i going to hear this time. Immediately i hear well “mum” is obviously & blatantly lying. Shes obviously refused the help! My jaw hit the floor & i said excuse me but i think u need to get your head out of your ass & im sorry if you dont appreciate my language or tone but do any of you actually do your research? The leader asked me what i meant & i said well basically ts a waste of time me being here. As you’re all making opinions but only 2 of ypu have met my daughter & you keep telling me children dont lie. But yet shes told school & gp shes had no support. Yes id moved 200 miles away from where it all happened & that was because i was being refused help. This police officer kept saying thats not procedure & you need to put your daughter 1st. At which point i said lets just carry on as i know im right & can prove it that last comment didnt seem to sit well with her. As the leader was summoning up what he was expecting to be done by our next meeting he turned to me & for the 1st time in the meeting i was called by my name not mum. He asked me to check with the police force dealing with my daughters case to check why procedures wasnt followed? I stood up & said no i dont see why i should prove something i already can for me to come next time & be told im lying again let the nice lady with the police title do it. He said ok i want that done in 7 days & reported straight to me. With that i left. Ive since had a letter from the police force that was dealing with my daughters case sayimg different areas have different procedures & they are sorry that their actions led to my daughters attempted suicide. Now that a fellow colleague has brought this to light there will be changes made.
    Lets just say im looking forward to the next meeting because if theres no apology willingly given i will demand 1.

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  15. Great, insightful post that beautifully illustrates the experience of power as it is utilised by education and healthcare professionals… i have shared with nursing students for their reflection

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That was just fabulous! Two of my three boys have Aspergers and my daughter has more moderate autism with an ID as well. I have also been in situations where I have felt treated differently because I was “mum”. I’m tertiary educated, with a Master’s degree and three undergrad degrees. Of course, no-one knows this. And it shouldn’t matter – a baby comes out of the birth canal, not your brain!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent, I am a primary school teacher and the Welfare Officer from the secondary school my son is on roll at spouts complete rubbish in meetings which all those sat round the table – medical needs teacher, physio, OT, School nurse, independent support believe or choose not to question. She quotes the Teaching Unions, I am a member of the same union that over 50 of the staff at the school are.
    The Physio, OT and independent supporter know I am a teacher and why I am challenger her on every point.
    Interestingly my son has all his forth coming GCSEs moved to the afternoon, extra time and rest breaks which she has told every meeting including the network meeting at a London Hospital it cannot be done!

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  18. Thank you so much for this 🙂 My favourite meeting is when I mentioned my Psychology degree, and the OT said “Well, things have changed a great deal since you did your degree”, (I’m an older mom), to which I responded “In 2 years? Really?” A blissful, timeless moment of silence and confused looks followed while the “professionals” tried to integrate this new piece of info into their “mom” box, which of course they couldn’t, and the meeting moved on as if that particular moment hadn’t happened. No matter how many times you feed them new information, they never manage to integrate it. Worrying, really.

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  19. A really interesting and insightful blog post, and very touching. I see this from both sides of the table, as I’m a parent of a child with SEN, who attends a specialist unit and I also work as an educational psychologist. One thing that really hits home to me is how much language matters. It’s not just what we use to communicate information, language is what we use to communicate our power and privilege, and for those of us who have that power it’s a quick and easy way to flex it. It can so easily be the armour we put on to avoid a difficult question or to stop an awkward conversation from going any further. It’s what we use to include or exclude, and as you so eloquently describe, it’s what we use to ‘other’ those with whom and about whom we feel anxious or uncomfortable. I’m not bothered about being called ‘mum’ when the school receptionist calls out to the school admin assistant ‘can you fetch littleboogle, his mum’s here for his dentist appointment’, because the sentiments behind her actions are ones of helpfulness and efficiency. I’m deeply bothered about when professional uses it in a way that intends to disempower, patronise and devalue what I have to say. As it happens, I don’t tend to go for the ‘actually my name is Dr Boogle and I’m a professional too you know’ response. I’d like to say that it’s because I’m above that sort of power ping pong. But actually, it’s because that professional has got me at a vulnerable time, talking about the thing in the world I find it hardest to talk about, no matter how many letters I’ve got after my name. What I need at that time from the others in the room is an encouraging smile, and engaged look and perhaps to ask ‘tell us what you think Dr Boogle, after all you are an expert here too, because you are his mum’.

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    1. Thank you – everything you say rings true – especially at the end. Ping pong is best played on a table with little bats and balls most definitely! An OMG a teaspoon of compassion would go a very very long way. Especially when your (now 10 year old) son is 150 miles away in hospital and your 7 yr old has PTSD and the meeting you are in right now is all key to bringing him home. If you are able to comment on Who’s who it would be fabulous to get your feedback ? Thank you for taking the time to comment it is very much appreciated 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m a foster carer and have lost count of the times I have been introduced as just that. Also I have been even on occasion been told during discussions as it is for “professionals” only!

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  21. I’ve had 18 years of being treated this way not just about my child’s issues in schools and so on but even about my own.

    I live in Finland, which is NOT the paradise it always claims itself to be. I could go on but I won’t. I shall be writing about it soon, though.

    This whole thing of seeing through roles or diagnoses (yep – my GP has been doing that to me!) is a way of trying to justify ignoring someone’s input. It’s a way of outgrouping. It’s a way of disparaging that allows for a downward social comparison. And every professional who does it knows that it is unethical, because it biases the situation against the person the situation is ostensibly set up to help.

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