My child was traumatized by her swimming coach after a small incident, and she was so hesitant to go to the next class even when I tried talking to her about it, she seemed unwilling to bend her determination to miss the next class. Yet, when I ‘pushed’ her a little, she didn’t seem to object as much as I thought she would…..so I sent her to her swimming class…….she looked at me as we were getting ready to leave the house with those ‘mom, please save me, don’t make me do this’ eyes. I shook it off and told myself not to think too much of it, but the drive to the class was eerily quiet, and I tried to break the silence by starting a light-hearted conversation about something trivial……she wasn’t interested in talking. Then when we arrived at the carpark, I opened her door while she unbuckled herself from the car seat and again, she gave me those ‘mom, please save me, don’t make me do this’ eyes…….I started to feel bad……I questioned if this was the right thing to do, if this was really necessary and if there was a better way, but then I snapped myself out of it and told myself that she would ‘get over it’, and that she would be okay as soon as she realized how stupid and small her fears were………
So, swallowing my feelings, I marched her into the swimming area, trying to be upbeat even though I was feeling rather rotten inside. We saw her swimming coach and I handed her bag over to him while the rest of the students were already there waiting to plunge into the pool…..and, again, she gave me those ‘mom, please save me, don’t make me do this’ eyes. This time I got annoyed……..I was annoyed by her ‘causing’ me to doubt myself…..I was annoyed by the cocktail of guilty feelings inside me, and I decided in a split second to get really annoyed with her, “just pull yourself together and get over it”, I snapped at her. She gazed at me, worried, said okay and gave me a hug…….and I felt instantly better. She told me she loved me and she bravely walked towards her coach who was waiting to get started. Then she looked back at me once more……and this time, she gave me the ‘I’m so disappointed with you’ eyes…..it was haunting, it made me stop in my tracks, and it made me realize that I had failed miserably to advocate for her! What had I done?
This is one of the many stories that I hear from my clients, they are all gut wrenching and heartbreaking, at best. Even I have a few of these stories to tell, both about my boys and from my own childhood……stories where my children felt betrayed because I had failed to advocate for them…….but before we go on, what does it mean to be an ‘advocate’ for our children? And why is it so important?
Imagine that you were summoned to court to defend yourself against some accusations…….and you hired a lawyer, or an advocate, to defend and stand up for you. At some point in time, you would realize that the advocate is more well-versed in the BIG SCARY WORLD of law and justice, and how things are meant to work in that particular field, so they have the advantage of knowing how to represent you well. You might also realize that if you hired a good advocate, that you don’t have to worry so much, because they have your back and won’t give up without a good fight.
Now, imagine if we are our children’s advocate……..in that we know their needs and their struggles…….and we are there to stand up for them when the adult world becomes too scary and intimidating to them…….and we have their backs, to make sure that others don’t push them around, because we are there to protect them from this BIG SCARY WORLD of adults that we know too well. Now, imagine if we are our children’s advocate, and they trust that we will never let them feel like they are on their own and left to fend for themselves…….and they know that we will never give up on them, even it if means we have to fight for them.
I’m not going to lie; I used to fail miserably at being a good advocate for my children 🙁 This is really ironic because I didn’t have any problem being a fierce advocate for the students in my class. I knew exactly when I needed to speak up for them in class, and when I needed to speak to their parents, when I sensed that their home environment was not supportive to their developmental needs, and I was always vigilant to look out for any signs of abuse…….but, when it came to my own boys, everything became clouded! Maybe it’s true what they say that, ‘teachers make the worst teachers to their own children’, because many of my teaching colleagues seemed to have the same problem.
Then, one day, something my colleague said hit me really hard. She said, ‘you seem to be really good with everyone else’s children but your own’. Yikes! No teacher wants to be told that……no teacher wants to hear that…….but, quite frankly, this was exactly the thing that I needed to hear, because it was a serious wake up call for me 🙁 I can still remember the sinking feeling I got in my stomach when I heard it…….it felt like I had been hit by a truck……I was upset with my colleague for saying something so insensitive, and I was ashamed of myself for not seeing this sooner, and I was angry with myself for allowing this to happen to MY BOYS!
But, then again, after giving it a lot of thought……I am grateful to my colleague for having the guts to stand up for my boys, even though she risked our friendship for it, I am happy that I realized this sooner, rather than later, and I was afraid of what was to come……..as always, change is hard and scary…….and that means that I had to put a plan in motion that required a change of mind set, a re-examination of my assumptions, and I had to grow nerves of steel to make some tough choices that were ahead of me……because this is what would be required if I wanted to learn to be a good advocate for my boys.
Fast forward 6 years, the journey to being an advocate for my boys was harder than I had expected……I had to make some big decisions, and I had to work my butt off to do them. Firstly, I had to stand up for them when they faced people who belittled them and threatened them, and I had to fight for them so that they could grow in an environment that was developmentally appropriate for them, and that met the needs of their emotional growth. This meant that I had to make some significant changes to their home and school environment, which were highly toxic stress environments.
Then, I had to face all the repercussions that come with standing up for them……in came the consequences of change…..resistance!
I can’t deny that there were times when it all felt too overwhelming……..I can’t deny the fact that I had a lot of self-doubts when the resistance I came up against was far more than I could bear……and I can’t deny that there were times I nearly gave up (note the word ‘times’)…..it was hard…..it still is!
Lastly, my biggest struggle was getting my boys to trust me again. You see? After so many years of feeling betrayed because of my inability to stand up and advocate for them, it will naturally take time for me to win their trust again so that they will be able to understand that I will be there for them no matter what. Winning their trust is more than just keeping promises and being on time and ‘talking the talk’…….it’s about making the tough decision to step in and to speak up for them at times when they don’t have a voice…….it’s about fighting for their rights (especially since we come from a culture that belittles children), it’s about being sensitive to their cues, so that we can properly interpret when they need us to step in for them and, most importantly, it’s about teaching them to say ‘no’ and to stand up for themselves.
It’s been a long journey, and one that I’ve invested almost half a decade in trying to prefect…….I’m happy to announce that I’m FAR FROM PERFECT…….but I am getting incredibly good at it…….and I’m really proud of myself for having boys who, now, trust me more than ever!
The battle is not over, however, it’s far from over, but we are working at being a united family who advocates for each other……..thinking about this just made me smile……it makes me feel fulfilled and purposeful as a parent, and this journey to being an advocate for my children has taken me to places that I never thought I’d go, and brought me to the best version of myself. I’m full of gratitude! And I hope that, for all of you who are reading this and who may be feeling defeated or frustrated about all the challenges that come with being advocates for your children, I hope that one day, you too can experience this parenting fulfilment and purpose that I have right now……it’s an AMAZING place to be……knowing that you have done everything humanly possible to advocate for your children and that they trust you wholeheartedly to have their backs when the time comes.
Let me leave you with 3 quotes:
“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much” (Marian Wright Edelman). This one speaks for itself.
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…’’ (Matthew 7:12). I have learned to advocate for myself and for my boys and now, they are learning to advocate for themselves and for me 🙂
“Being deeply loved by someone gives us strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage” (Lao Tzu). When learning to advocate for your children starts to get overwhelming, look your children in the eyes ……and find that courage!