One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when my kids were very little: “No one will advocate on behalf of your child like you can. But don’t be a jerk about it.”
Sage words of wisdom.
I kept this in mind a lot as I went through two different state’s special services programs for my daughter ensuring she received the therapies she needed both at home and at school. It was easy to justify my assertiveness, questions and at times, demands (see How I Got my Momfidence).
To really succeed, she needed the right teachers, the right classroom dynamics, and the right therapies. I stayed on top of everything like a hawk and was relentless in ensuring she received the services that were allocated to her. Yes, I was a little obsessive-crazy about it, but I always tried to do it with a smile.
Fortunately, I think most people are extremely understanding when you have extenuating circumstances that apply to your child. But sometimes you just want the best for your kid regardless of what the circumstances are.
Take teachers. We all know that in each grade there are the coveted teachers, and the ones that are just okay. Most schools have a policy against requesting a specific teacher, but you can fill out this little form that allows you to write about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, which is code for trying to match it up to the teacher you want. For example, “I need a teacher who will make my little Mary follow the rules but with a loving, encouraging hand.” This sort of statement would correlate with a teacher who is stern, yet warm and fuzzy.
A good friend of mine — who also happens to be a teacher — disagrees with me on this every year. Her perspective is that the system should work on behalf of your child, and it is good for kids to have all different sorts of teachers. I always say that’s a load of proverbial crap (we really are good friends!).
In this case, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and I have always been over the moon with our teachers. She has felt just so-so about most of them. We’re both comfortable with our choices, but I’m the one that has to walk into school each time wondering if I’m labeled as “that mom”. The annoying mom that is constantly in their faces asking for more with the hope that there is always another parent more annoying than I am.
And while I think you should always advocate for your child when it comes to their education, what happens when it rolls over to other things, such as sports teams, extracurricular activities, or even making friends? When do you step in and when do you let it ride?
We had an interesting experience recently when one of our daughters tried out for a team. We thought she did great, but obviously we know we are biased. She initially was placed on the second team, which does not play as strong of competition as the first. Our daughter was fine with it, but we had doubts.
After discussing it, and because we are new to this area and organization, we sent an e-mail to the director asking if he could explain the difference between the two teams so we could have a better idea of what her experience would be like the coming year. Honestly, that was all we asked.
Within an hour, she was moved up to the first team (which had an open spot). Can you say awkward? I feel quite certain that most of the parents believed she earned her spot on that team, but I’m also pretty sure some of the parents felt like we got her moved because we cried sour grapes. We’ll probably never know what went on behind the scenes, and now we have to feel confident in the fact that advocating was in her best interest.
I think advocating is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. For example, a few years back the school district we were in was re-districting the elementary schools. A set of parents banned together and caused a ruckus at a few of the school board meetings to ensure that their neighborhood would not be affected. Because all of the elementary schools in our district were quite good, I could not quite understand the distress considering most of the students impacted would be going to school with their neighborhood friends, but the parents were adamant that they remain at their chosen school. And guess what? They won.
Unfortunately, I think too many times as parents we realize that by stepping in and speaking up, you do get the benefit of something better for your son or daughter. But at what cost?
At the end of the day, I do believe the following about advocating for your children:
+ The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Making your opinion and desires known will at the minimum ensure you have a leg to stand on if a situation goes awry, and sometimes you may even get what you asked for.
+ Sometimes even the best [teachers, coaches, therapists, parents] just need to know you’re paying attention. Since I just moved, I tried to give our new teachers some time to get to know my kids. The girls settled in great, but I was disappointed that some issues we had discussed up front weren’t addressed a few months into the burn. After setting up a few meetings and discussing it, I was thrilled to see the changes that were made and how great the teachers responded. I could have remained bitter and disappointed, but instead we’re ending the year extremely satisfied with their progress.
+ Respect is better than threats. I’ve found that when I’m unhappy with a situation, it’s always better to go into a discussion that first identifies where the other person is coming from. No one wants to be bullied, and normally everyone wants to work in the best interest of your child.
+ Be realistic. Advocating is doing what’s in the best interest of your child, not getting your child out of sticky situations. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to get your child’s grade changed if they didn’t study for a test or turn in an assignment. And I don’t think it’s in their best interest if they don’t own up to mistakes they may have made.
+ Pick and choose your battles. There are some things I am relentless about, such as the girls’ education; others, I try to ride it out and realize that maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, which is much more difficult for me than it sounds. When I get myself all riled up about something minor, that’s when I call up a good friend to get some perspective and try desperately to sleep on it.
That being said, in our house we live by the “will I regret this next year knowing I could have changed the outcome if I spoke up” rule. If we think something will truly bother us a year from now, we at least have a discussion about it.
+ Sometimes no means no. In the case of my daughter and her try out, we had already decided that she would play on the second team regardless of the director’s response. And recently we decided not to “appeal” a placement decision on behalf of one of our daughter’s based on advice from her teacher, which was extremely disappointing to our kid. Learning to accept rejection is an important life lesson, and although I always want my kid to have the best, it’s also important for them to understand that they don’t always get what they want.
What kind of mom are you? Do you constantly advocate or sit back and see how it will turn out? Are you scared that you are “that annoying mom” or do you believe in speaking up without hesitation? Let me know in the comments below!
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