Mommy Advocate 101

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.

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6 Comments

Filed under From One Mother to Another, Kids, Living

6 responses to “Mommy Advocate 101

  1. Those who are slightly reluctant, yet ultimately don’t mind; well they’re the best leaders.

  2. I really admire you. I am learning how to be more pro-active thanks to my husband, and I can see that you too can be an example for me of how to address issues and get things done!

    As you say, I hope that no one considers this “spying”, because I think we as parents have every right to know exactly down to the letter what is going on with our young children at all times. This is why I homeschool for the younger grades, precisely because I feel like I need to be deeply involved. If I did send my kids to school at this age, you can bet I’d be “spying” like crazy, and anyone who had a problem with it would make my alarm bells go off!

    I also don’t think it is particularly surprising that you were the only parent who spoke up. People tend to hand over everything to “the authorities,” whether out of laziness, lack of confidence in their rights or abilities, or whatever each individual’s excuse might be. I am often guilty of this. You are a remarkable person to take this initiative, and your bravery is valuable not only for the service you provided to the parents who now know what is going on in their child’s classroom, but also for the inspiration/example you provide to people who might come to change their passive ways (yours truly included!)

    Thank you!

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Elena.

    I have to tell you–although I often wonder if my inherent level of patience could handle this–I often contemplate the idea of homeschooling.

    On top of the issues raised in this post, we are just now getting over the whole lice thing ***shudder***, and now I’ve discovered the stomach flu is whisking it’s way through our community. I have to wonder–do homeschooled kids get sick less often than public school kids, simply by a matter of less exposure?

    Hhhhmmm…

  4. Hi – I’m new to your blog. I stumbled upon it via a google search. I started my own parenting blog and I’m trying to reach out to other parent ‘thinkers’.

    Anyway, it is fascinating how people fail to communicate what they’re thinking…and that happens on a daily basis. There is most certainly an art to speaking your mind and NOT being obnoxious or whiny or uneffective or rude. It sounds like you hit the mark. I’m guess here, but I think it may be because you were direct and respectful. It seems to be the magic blend of communication perfection – sort of like chocolate and peanut butter.

    Kudos to you and your brave honesty.

    p.s. my blog is http://parentingsuperstor.blogspot.com It doesn’t sell anything…just advice and stories and life. Hope you stop by.

  5. K.M. ~

    Welcome to this blog, and thanks for your thoughtful words. I think you hit the mark re: using a direct, respectful approach in addressing concerns with others. And yes – chocolate and peanut butter…elements of a true addiction of mine!

    I’ll definitely check out your blog. Thanks for the invite!

  6. Cheryl Peterson

    Perhaps you should home school. Since you are not working it seems a possible solution to your need to control every aspect of your childs day.

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