Are You Advocating or Annoying?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when my kids were very little: “No one will advocate on behalf of your child like you can. But don’t be a jerk about it.”

Sage words of wisdom.

I kept this in mind a lot as I went through two different state’s special services programs for my daughter ensuring she received the therapies she needed both at home and at school. It was easy to justify my assertiveness, questions and at times, demands.

To really succeed, she needed the right teachers, the right classroom dynamics, and the right therapies. I stayed on top of everything like a hawk and was relentless in ensuring she received the services that were allocated to her. Yes, I was a little obsessive-crazy about it, but I always tried to do it with a smile.

Fortunately, I think most people are extremely understanding when you have extenuating circumstances that apply to your child. But sometimes you just want the best for your kid regardless of what the circumstances are.

Take teachers. We all know that in each grade there are the coveted teachers, and the ones that are just okay. Most schools have a policy against requesting a specific teacher, but you can fill out this little form that allows you to write about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, which is code for trying to match it up to the teacher you want. For example, “I need a teacher who will make my little Mary follow the rules but with a loving, encouraging hand.” This sort of statement would correlate with a teacher who is stern, yet warm and fuzzy.

A good friend of mine — who also happens to be a teacher — disagrees with me on this every year. Her perspective is that the system should work on behalf of your child, and it is good for kids to have all different sorts of teachers. I always say that’s a load of proverbial crap (we really are good friends!).

In this case, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and I have always been over the moon with our teachers. She has felt just so-so about most of them. We’re both comfortable with our choices, but I’m the one that has to walk into school each time wondering if I’m labeled as “that mom”. The annoying mom that is constantly in their faces asking for more with the hope that there is always another parent more annoying than I am.

And while I think you should always advocate for your child when it comes to their education, what happens when it rolls over to other things, such as sports teams, extracurricular activities, or even making friends? When do you step in and when do you let it ride?

We had an interesting experience recently when one of our daughters tried out for a team. We thought she did great, but obviously we know we are biased.  She initially was placed on the second team, which does not play as strong of competition as the first. Our daughter was fine with it, but we had doubts.

After discussing it, and because we are new to this area and organization, we sent an e-mail to the director asking if he could explain the difference between the two teams so we could have a better idea of what her experience would be like the coming year. Honestly, that was all we asked.

Within an hour, she was moved up to the first team (which had an open spot). Can you say awkward? I feel quite certain that most of the parents believed she earned her spot on that team, but I’m also pretty sure some of the parents felt like we got her moved because we cried sour grapes. We’ll probably never know what went on behind the scenes, and now we have to feel confident in the fact that advocating was in her best interest.

I think advocating is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. For example, a few years back the school district we were in was re-districting the elementary schools. A set of parents banned together and caused a ruckus at a few of the school board meetings to ensure that their neighborhood would not be affected. Because all of the elementary schools in our district were quite good, I could not quite understand the distress considering most of the students impacted would be going to school with their neighborhood friends, but the parents were adamant that they remain at their chosen school. And guess what? They won.

Unfortunately, I think too many times as parents we realize that by stepping in and speaking up, you do get the benefit of something better for your son or daughter. But at what cost?

At the end of the day, I do believe the following about advocating for your children:

+ The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Making your opinion and desires known will at the minimum ensure you have a leg to stand on if a situation goes awry, and sometimes you may even get what you asked for.

+ Sometimes even the best [teachers, coaches, therapists, parents] just need to know you’re paying attention. Since I just moved, I tried to give our new teachers some time to get to know my kids. The girls settled in great, but I was disappointed that some issues we had discussed up front weren’t addressed a few months into the burn. After setting up a few meetings and discussing it, I was thrilled to see the changes that were made and how great the teachers responded. I could have remained bitter and disappointed, but instead we’re ending the year extremely satisfied with their progress.

+ Respect is better than threats. I’ve found that when I’m unhappy with a situation, it’s always better to go into a discussion that first identifies where the other person is coming from. No one wants to be bullied, and normally everyone wants to work in the best interest of your child.

Photo by Jon Collier

Photo by Jon Collier

 

+ Be realistic. Advocating is doing what’s in the best interest of your child, not getting your child out of sticky situations. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to get your child’s grade changed if they didn’t study for a test or turn in an assignment. And I don’t think it’s in their best interest if they don’t own up to mistakes they may have made.

+ Pick and choose your battles.  There are some things I am relentless about, such as the girls’ education; others, I try to ride it out and realize that maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, which is much more difficult for me than it sounds. When I get myself all riled up about something minor, that’s when I call up a good friend to get some perspective and try desperately to sleep on it.

That being said, in our house we live by the “will I regret this next year knowing I could have changed the outcome if I spoke up” rule. If we think something will truly bother us a year from now, we at least have a discussion about it.

Sometimes no means no.  In the case of my daughter and her try out, we had already decided that she would play on the second team regardless of the director’s response. And recently we decided not to “appeal” a placement decision on behalf of one of our daughter’s based on advice from her teacher, which was extremely disappointing to our kid. Learning to accept rejection is an important life lesson, and although I always want my kid to have the best, it’s also important for them to understand that they don’t always get what they want.

What kind of mom are you? Do you constantly advocate or sit back and see how it will turn out? Are you scared that you are “that annoying mom” or do you believe in speaking up without hesitation? Let me know in the comments below!

Free Yourself Friday — Snack Guilt

One of the best things about blogging is meeting other bloggers, particularly when you find one that is as twisted as you are due to similar life experiences. Today my new friend Leigh from Eat Clean, Live Dirty is guest posting about one of my favorite topics: snacks at activities. I encourage you to read her post and visit her site because she is, well, hilarious and informative. I’m only a little guilty of being jealous of her, but we’ll save that for another post. Enjoy, and don’t forget, it’s Friday so time to free yourself of any parenting guilt!

Spring has sprung. The flowers are in bloom. And Little League is in full gear all across this great land. You know, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

I can handle games and practices three times a week. I can put a smile on my face while getting soaking wet cheering on my son’s baseball team (I live in Portland, after all). I can even have dinner prepared and on the table at 4:45 in order to make the 5:30 games (most days). Early Bird Special!

 

What gives me the most angst about baseball season (or any other organized sporting activity in which my kids participate) are the snacks. The gosh. darn. snacks. Apple pie, Little Debbie style.

My four-year-old twins (2 of my 3 Dirties) played basketball for the first time this winter. I was thrilled they were finally old enough to join a sports team after sitting on the sidelines watching their older brother for years. To my surprise, they ho-hummingly participated. And they were WAY more excited about getting a bag of Goldfish crackers and a Capri Sun post-game than making a basket. Snacks were all the talk on the bench and spurred a race to the goody trough post-game. I had obviously failed them as a basketball mom. I write a blog on clean eating, after all.

When did snacks become such a focal point? A calorie trophy? Compensation for merely showing up? A necessary part of the game plan?

It pains me to see how this is playing out on tracks and soccer fields across America. And it creates guilt. Do I sit back and allow my children foods we discourage at home – at (even before) the dinner hour? Foods that are sugar-laden with Red Dye #40. Or do I put my foot down and take a stand for something I whole-heartedly disagree with – and deny my children a bit of happiness while looking like a total ass? After all, it’s not much fun being THAT parent.

Don’t get me wrong, while working on my own Eat Clean agenda I tried to toe the line. I raised my hand to organize snacks for our fall soccer team last year. I sent out an email that was short and sweet (so I thought): “A healthy snack (minimally processed and nut-free) is encouraged. Fresh fruit is always a good option. Drinks are not necessary since kids will have their water bottles. Thank you in advance!”

Um…yeah. It apparently took [soccer] balls and was not well received. I was told I sounded “bitchy” and “like a Snack Nazi.” Of course, people didn’t heed my suggestions. I believe cupcakes with whipped frosting and flavored juice boxes were the all-season low (not only did we have a soccer game, it was the kid’s birthday that week). Of course! Who doesn’t want a large helping of partially hydrogenated oil for dinner left over from a Charles Cheese Extravaganza? And by the end of the season, I totally succumbed to the “norm” and bought a cake at Costco for the year-end celebration. I was fighting a losing battle and a tub of Betty Crocker kicked my butt. Here people, I know how much you LOVE frosting.

In all seriousness, I know parents advocating snacks are well-intentioned. And while I’m pretty sure the Costco sheet cake wasn’t the best choice I’ve ever made, I am choosing to let go of the guilt over post-game snacks. Yes, there are more extreme measures I could take – like contacting the sports associations and requesting that snacks be eliminated all together. But I’m not going to. At least not until my blog goes double platinum (wink, wink).

Why? Because each and every day, I am setting good examples in what I put on the dinner table. I am teaching The Dirties that healthy foods fuel our bodies and make us feel good. I am showing them how colorful and fun fresh fruits and vegetables can be. True learning starts at home. An unhealthy snack two times per week post-game isn’t going to make or break my efforts to bring up my family as healthy as possible. And my kids need autonomy to learn to make good decisions on their own. Having said that, I will continue to provide frozen grapes in eco-friendly bags when it’s my turn to bring snacks. Without a drink. Sure, some Candyland kids might complain like their mom’s iPhone battery just died. But they’ll survive just as they would 30 minutes without Minecraft until they can calmly and happily plug back in.

And if my kids happen to have a tummy ache after eating crap on the ball field, I will chalk it up as a win. So go ahead, eat that Nutty Bar, kiddo – and wash it down with a Dr. Pepper while you’re at it. Because this mom is letting go!

You can read more from Leigh at www.eatcleanlivedirty.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/eatcleanlivedirty.

 

 

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