In A Dozen Invisible Pieces, I wrote a lot about the need, and balancing the willingness, of a parent to assume the role of “Advocate” for their child(ren). If nothing else, this is what makes parenting a continually evolving process.
Let’s face it: being another person’s advocate usually requires putting yourself on the line; physically, emotionally, professionally or socially. And sometimes in all manners simultaneously. And that’s a hard thing to do.
I dare say, I’ve had my fare share of playing Advocate for my children in the past five + years, and I think I’m starting to get pretty good at it. Much to the chagrin of those I am pushing up against, that is.
Early on, my parental advocacy career took on the shape of talking doctors into taking seriously our infant daughter’s extreme form of colic, our one-year-old son’s chronic diarrhea, and repeated amniotic fluid leaks I experienced during two out of my three pregnancies. Weighing my reputation as a level-headed, well informed parent against revealing the desperation and frustration I experienced during each of these times in our family’s life, I grew accustomed to hardening my exterior and preparing my core, for the tough uphill battle of getting an “authority figure” to listen to (and take seriously) my concerns.
Fast forward a few years: now our eldest child is in kindergarten. It has been a busy, exhausting, exciting four weeks since she began school. While she seems to clearly love her teacher, several of her classmates, eating lunch in the lunchroom, making weekly trips to the school library, and attending music and gym class, my experience with the transition into having a child in kindergarten for the first time has been a tad bit rocky.
Anyone who has, or had, or is about to have a kindergarten-aged child, can appreciate the following statement: kids this age aren’t exactly great at relaying what went on in their day at school.
Try as I might, getting our daughter to expound on her daily school adventures feels only slightly less difficult than yanking out an impacted molar with a pair of tweezers. But here’s the kicker: While many parents I know who have children in the other three kindergarten classes at our daughter’s school, have been receiving weekly newsletters, phone calls, classroom itineraries and invitations to volunteer in the classroom, our kindergarten teacher has been pretty darned close to silent.
And for a couple weeks, I remained silent too. I figured it would just take a little time for the teacher–new to the school and district–to get settled into the swing of things. But I continued to notice that those other parents and teachers seem to have a good thing going in terms of bidirectional communication, while twenty-one sets of parents in our class are floundering our way through discerning what is happening in our children’s’ lives eight hours a day, five days a week.
As my conversations about this quandary have largely taken place between myself and other moms, I have come to be reminded of a general female characteristic that I’ve always secretly hated (whether I recognized it in myself, or in others). As women, we love to talk, gossip, bitch and moan about issues and topics that rub us the wrong way…but very few of us are willing to take the steps to proactively address the things we like to complain about.
As I seem to be in a phase of my life right now in which I am willing to be the voice of dissent that calls for attention, change, consideration, or the like, I became the one willing to address what has been a communal concern amongst many in our daughter’s greater classroom community.
In the past two weeks, I’ve had two telephone calls with my daughter’s teacher. I’ve spoken with the principal once, and the “Parent-School Liaison” from a local nonprofit organization as well. I have been polite but not passive. I have been constructive but not wishy-washy. I have explained, in all of these conversations, that my concerns stem from the fact that I want to know how to better communicate with our daughter when she comes home from school–to have the tools (like knowing the daily classroom schedule) to ask the right questions that will help her share with me about her day. I want to show our daughter that I am so interested in her life and work at school, that I am willing to devote time, through volunteerism, in her classroom.
This really isn’t about spying on my daughter at school or being able to “sneak into the classroom” to satisfy my own discomfort in being away from her all day. I’m really not in that place at all. I just want to be an involved parent during this transition in our daughter’s life.
Interestingly, as I shared my telephone conversations with some of those other concerned parents, they all applauded and encouraged my efforts, and have commented on how great it is that we’ve now collectively received a classroom schedule from the teacher. But what I don’t get is, as passionate as they all have equally been about the concerns described above, why didn’t anyone else summon the courage to address the quandary head-on? In truth, it really wasn’t all that hard. It wasn’t unpleasant. The teacher, principal, Liaison and I all had very lovely conversations that were mutually respectful and revolving around improving my ability as a parent to engage in and be excited about my daughter’s first year off to elementary school.
Why, as women, are we so often unwilling to put ourselves out there in such a way that declares, “I am not afraid to speak up on behalf of my child(ren)…even if it makes me a little uncomfortable to do so?”
At the ripe old age of thirty-five, I seem to be becoming a self-proclaimed activist for cultural change in one form or another. And you know what? I, for one, don’t really mind it.