Some of the best advice I ever received as a mom came from my own mother when I was pregnant with my first child. I was lamenting my fears and desires as I faced motherhood and she looked me straight in the eye and told me, “Jenelle, this is your body and your baby. It’s your job to advocate for yourself and her. In everything, you are the advocate. As her mom, you will know her better than anyone else. You will hire people and pay people to provide their services for you and for her. That makes you the boss. Always listen to your gut.”
I’ve kept that with me for nearly 14 years now. It has been a key piece in coming to terms with Caleb’s death and the inevitable guilt that comes with the death of a child. I’ve finally gotten to the point where, most days, I can hold my head high and say I did everything I possibly could that night.
We so often think of teaching, guiding, and protecting our children. I believe we need to more openly talk about advocating for them, too. There are so many ways we can and need to advocate as parents.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not one of those fight every battle for them kind of moms (no offense if you are, to each his own). I believe one of the best ways I can prepare my kids for life and the challenges they will face is to give them the tools they need to solve their own problems. Let’s face it, we can’t be on the playground for every recess. I want them to bring me their concerns, heartache, trials, and triumphs. You just won’t find me leaping to the phone or computer to fire off my two cents about how unfair something was. Life isn’t fair. My kiddos know that all too well.
However, I do get involved when it seems necessary and appropriate. My oldest has had some anxiety issues, especially since Caleb’s death. The transition to junior high this year was difficult for her, as she thrives on routine and stability. The class periods, changing classrooms/teachers, and crowded halls were overwhelming her. She kept finding herself late to class as she struggled to navigate the crowds and get to her locker in the 4 minutes allowed for passing. Three tardies would then lead to detention, which didn’t sit well with my perfectionist. Her school doesn’t allow backpacks to be used during the school day and she would often find herself carrying supplies for 5 or more class periods, which occasionally got knocked out of her hands. In short, she was a bit of a mess and starting to hate school. Yes, my social, academically inclined daughter was dreading school everyday and the less than favorable attitude was coming home, too.
I could see this all unfolding and, after chatting with her, found a simple solution that turned things around. I simply called her school counselor, explained the situation, and asked if she could be allowed to carry her backpack during the day. I was thrilled to hear a resounding yes, as the counselor had been struggling to think of a way to help her. A was so relieved and that small thing has made all the difference for her!
As we advocate for our children, we have an obligation and responsibility to be as educated as we possibly can. I am a firm believer in a parent’s instinct, especially a mother’s instinct (sorry dads, that’s what I have first hand experience with). My kids have a saying. It goes something like this, “Always listen to mom. Every time you don’t listen to mom, something bad happens!”.
The boys will be wrestling and I tell them to stop. They don’t listen and within minutes, sometimes seconds, someone is crying.
Didn’t listen to my motto of “No wheels under your feet without a helmet on your head and shoes on your feet.”? They come to me seeking band-aids and ice packs.
I tell them they’re being too rowdy on the trampoline and someone is going to get hurt, so they need to calm down or get off. Then, tears from the injured, as they continue to be rowdy and I make them get off.
Close your bedroom door! Didn’t do it? I’m sorry your Rapunzel Barbie now has no legs, arms, or face because Dottie thought she was a chew toy.
Oh, I could go on and on with good, bad, and ugly stories.
Then, there’s the times outside the home we need to step in, to advocate for what we know to be right. I was certain my second oldest had a hearing problem when he was two, for a number of reasons. I went round and round trying to get him a referral to an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT). I kept hearing things like, “He has a talkative older sister who always talks for him, his speech will catch up.” and “It’s just a little speech impediment, he’ll grown out of it.” and “Don’t let the excessive ear wax concern you, his eardrums look fine!”. After more than a year of this, my instincts, my gut just couldn’t let it go. I called the ENT’s office myself. Nope, no appointment without a referral.
So, I called their office every hour for the rest of the day. That is, until the receptionist finally said she’d schedule me and call over for the referral. She said if she couldn’t get it, insurance wouldn’t pay. Well, I think she didn’t want to have to deal with me anymore because she got the referral! Long story less long, he had 40% soft tonal hearing loss in both ears. Four procedures and nearly 8 years later and he’s passed his hearing test for the last several years!
Parents! We need to pay attention, educate ourselves, advocate, be assertive, ask questions, and listen to our instincts. We have a duty and an obligation to our children and ourselves to do these things. We cannot stand passively by and expect the world to make the best choices for our children. We need to be their voice for what they do and don’t need, especially when they are young. Sometimes, that voice will need to be heard by others. At other times, that voice will be what our children need to hear so they can learn and grow. We need to practice with the smaller situations so we can find our voice and be ready for the bigger ones. As we do this, we need to continue to teach them and help them find their own voice.
You never know when making that voice heard could be the difference between life and death, happiness and despair, success and failure, hearing or deafness! Being heard doesn’t always mean we will be listened to, but at least we will know that we did everything we could. Isn’t that what every good parent wants? To do everything they can to raise happy, healthy, kind, and well adjusted contributing members of society? We can raise a generation prepared for life, ready to stand on their own two feet, who know how to advocate for themselves and others.