Learn how to advocate for your kids when they can't speak up for themselves, be it in the classroom, on the field, or in your own family.
After the panic and dramatic birth of our 27-week-old twins was over and we were getting settled into our new temporary homes in the NICU with our tiny boys, our primary nurse taught us one of the strongest lessons on parenting. She said that you have to be your child’s advocate because nobody else will do it better than you. I’ll repeat it. You have to be your child’s advocate because nobody else will do it better than you. She was right! I didn’t know at that moment how right she would be. My boys are now 10 years old and I still hear her saying those words. Thank you, Nurse Minnie.
What does being an advocate for your kids mean?
It means speaking up when it’s not your child’s job to do so. Some may say that if you speak up too much you’re a helicopter parent. I say…who cares?! As long as my boys are my parenting responsibility, I will be their advocate and protect them and hover if I have to. That’s my job. If I’m not their advocate, no one else will be, and I can’t or shouldn’t expect anyone else to be.
You know your child better than anyone else. You sense when they need lifting up or an extra hand to help boost them. It’s my job to advocate for what is best for them and in the process to teach them that it’s okay to speak up and that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes. It’s okay to let people know when they’ve hurt your feelings.
I believe all the things the parenting experts say: that children should learn responsibility, and to speak up for themselves when appropriate, do chores, and all the rest. But there are certain situations or conversations that children shouldn’t have to have with a grown-up. When an adult is doing a bad job of adulting around your child, sometimes it takes another adult to handle the situation. That’s where we step in to make sure that our children are shown the same respect that we teach them to have for everyone else. If we allow a grown-up to be disrespectful to them or not follow through with what they say, and we make excuses for that grown-up, what lesson are we teaching our children? That it’s okay for an adult to act that way? Nope.
Being an advocate to get fair treatment, not special treatment
Being an advocate doesn’t mean being pushy or making crazy requests. It means showing up and making sure that our children don’t get their spirits crushed and are treated fairly. Not special, just fair. That they don’t feel worthless or that they did something wrong when they didn’t. It means showing them how to act responsibly and rationally in a situation to make sure they feel taken care of. It means showing them that someone is looking out for them.
My child doesn’t have to be the best at anything, but if you try to crush his spirit, I will be all over you like a mama bear. Kids will try a lot of things in their primary years. They’ll try sports and music and how to play the recorder and poetry because that’s what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to try as many things as they want and give it their all and see what fits. Guess what? They will learn math and science and how to read. I promise they will. They don’t need to know how to do algebra by the age of 8. If they do, then yay for them, but realistically, they all get there. They need to try things and fail and succeed and have moments where they do something that makes them feel special.
Speaking up when your child can't
Once in a while, you may encounter a teacher or a coach that has their own agenda that is crushing your child’s spirit. And now your child hates math or baseball or the recorder and they think that they will never be good at it because that teacher or coach wasn’t great at their job of nurturing growth in a child. It is okay to speak up for your child and help them be heard to those coaches or teachers or doctors or any other grown-up your child encounters that is in a position of authority. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up. It’s okay to have a rational conversation with that adult and to try to find ways that you can work together to make sure things change. Not all teachers and coaches are open to change, unfortunately, so sometimes bigger decisions have to be made.
Personally, I hate when I’m put in the position where I need to have those conversations with a grown-up on behalf of my child. I hate being “that” parent. But if your child is being singled out, or excluded, or made to feel “less than”, then the way I see it, I have to step up and be their advocate. Why? Because nobody is better at that job!
I wasn’t nominated for Parent of the Year again this year, darn it, and I surely make my share of mistakes. But if it at some point in the future either of my kids can say, “Do you remember that time Mom stood up for me?” that will make me smile.
Patricia Agos is a mom of 10-year old twin boys who were born at 27 weeks gestation and spent 104 days in the NICU. She works as a public relations professional for the commercial real estate industry through her company KT Public Relations. Originally from Illinois, she and her family live in Los Angeles.