The Question of Advocating
I remember the day well. It was my oldest daughter’s 7th birthday. She had (regretfully) chosen McDonalds for her birthday dinner. Ah, well. At least we’d save money. Upon arriving, a rather outspoken child ran up to Charlotte, 2, and grabbed her hand.
“She doesn’t need any socks, come on. Sit down. Take your shoes off.”
I laughed at her self-assuredness. I smiled gently and told her that, yes, she did in fact need to put her socks on.
The darling little leader-in-training “helped” me with Char’s socks and shoes and then pulled her off to go play. Charlotte seemed to like the attention. I found a seat and helped my hubby with drinks. When I turned around, the child had my rather large-for-her-age toddler in a piggy-back ride.
“Hey there, let’s not do that, OK?”
To which she responded a cheeky, “It’s OK. I’m four, so….,” with a flip of the hand.
I no longer thought this child cute.
“It’s not OK, actually. I don’t let my 7-year-old do that to her so please put her down.” Small smile from me.
Now, I’m no stranger to redirecting other people’s children. It’s literally my job, as an assistant principal. But I softened my redirection with the word “let’s” when I first said something. My voice and my smile and my mannerisms were all polite.
I’d like to say I worried about the child’s self-esteem. And I probably was, a little. My redirects at work begin soft, with smiles and warnings. I allow children to save face and save the stern talks for more serious subjects.
But what I really worried about, I truly think, is offended both child and parent. Did I put the feelings of those people in front of my own kid? How shameful if I did.
But then? Then I saw that fierce little pumpkin pulling Charlotte’s arm and steering her in a direction she didn’t want to go. Char was no longer enjoying the attention.
And Charlotte is not a delicate little flower. She isn’t quiet. She speaks her sassy little mind.
So she was sharing with her new “friend” that she did not, in fact, want to be treated like a baby.
I was super proud of her. And super annoyed with the little girl.
So I walked over and squatted down next to the children.
“Sweetheart, please don’t force her to do what she doesn’t want to do. She may only be two, but she’s a person. She has her own ideas of what to play.”
The kid stared at me, wide-eyed. She let go of a thankful Charlotte, who high-tailed it out of there.
I’ve always felt a struggle with this…this standing up for my child. This being an advocate for them.
I’m caught between two feelings. I don’t want my kids hyper-sensitive and I want them to fight their own battles. And I also want them to feel like I always have their backs.
If a teacher does something I disagree with, how do I handle that?
If a relative demands a hug, how do I handle that?
If there is a bully at a play place, how do I handle that?
If someone says an offhand comment about one of my kids, how do I handle that?
The way I handle these things will be how my children handle it in the future, when they are old enough to go solo. And if I over-handle it, they may never learn to do it themselves.
It’s a balancing act I can’t quite figure out.
If I scream or yell. If I call names or complain. If I talk behind the person’s back. If I make a scene. If I bring it to social media. If I stay silent and sulk. If I place blame or make excuses.
If I am heard but have hurt, or if I’m not heard and hurt myself; this will teach my kids to react in the same way.
If I step in too soon, I’ve taken a learning opportunity from them.
If I step in too late, I’ve allowed my child to suffer where suffering needn’t be.
When parents come in my office, they are many times upset. They may be upset about a school policy, a bullying situation, or a consequence I have handed out. To defuse the situation and to bring us all back into focus I’ll remind us both, “I understand. You are doing your job as a parent. You are advocating for your child.”
But to what end?
That, I won’t know. Do I fail my child when I don’t speak up. Do I fail her when I do?