The Art of Being an Advocate

by Vicki Caruana

Beginning two weeks after his birth, my son suffered ear infection after ear infection. Every time I took him to the doctor's office, the pediatrician asked me the same questions:

"Does anyone in your household smoke?"

"No."

"Do you put him to sleep with a bottle?"

"No."

"Is he in daycare?"

"No."

Every month a new antibiotic prescription. Every month my son slept less, not more. Eventually, some friends mentioned that allergy-caused congestion can lead to ear infections. Even though I breastfed, could a dairy allergy be the culprit? I immediately asked our pediatrician. He knew that the dairy proteins a nursing mother consumes could be transferred to the baby but was skeptical that a dairy allergy was to blame. When pressed, he refused to test for allergies.

So I took matters into my own hands and eliminated dairy products from my diet. Within days my baby stopped putting up a fuss at feeding time. Within weeks he was eating more than he ever had. Within a month he had caught up with his expected weight, and the ear infections had stopped.

I changed pediatricians.

As parents, we have a responsibility to stand between our children and the world, between what they need and what we are willing to give them. We stand up for them because they are not yet able to stand up for themselves.

Being our children's advocates, however, doesn't mean we have to become adversarial. We can confront teachers, coaches, doctors and other people in our children's lives with grace and wisdom. Consider these strategies:

Assess the situation. Check with your children before stepping in. Your help may not be welcome. Know when to step in and when to step back. Even a 6-year-old may protest Mommy or Daddy's interference with a problem playmate. Asking whether you need to intervene also helps you determine if your children are ready to stand up for themselves.

Know the opposition. Find out as much as you can about a situation before entering the ring. The soccer coach's agenda might be to won at all costs, making him completely indifferent to the fact that your child hasn't had any game time. Perhaps the pediatrician has a son your child's age and knows what it means to worry about a fever in the middle of the night. What do you know about those with whom you must negotiate?

Put your best foot forward. Be assertive without being aggressive; be knowledgeable without being a know-it-all; be subdued without being silent. Find a way to balance your personal flaws with what it takes to find resolution to instigate change.

You and your spouse may have different approaches toward conflict. If you avoid confrontation but your spouse welcomes it, allow him or her to take the lead. If your likeable personality tends to win over even the most resistant opponents, you can go in first to establish rapport. Either way, recognize where your strengths lie and step forward with those first.

Let your children learn from the sidelines. Give your children the chance to see the action when you stand up for them. They learn by watching how it's done. Just be mindful of the example you set. If you tell your children to speak respectfully yet belittle a teacher in front of them, your tantrums will make a much louder impression than your words.

Get your children involved. You can stand right next to them as they ask the coach for more playing time. You can even give them the words to say when they have to ask a teacher for a chance to make up missed work. You are the commanding officer, but it's really their battle, not yours.

Our degree of involvement and intervention will change as our children grow. When they're little, we stand front and center for their needs. As they grow, we begin to step to the sidelines. We can remain visible and step in when our older children and teens need us, but our ultimate goal is to help our children grow into adults who can stand up for themselves.

Vicki Caruana is the author of Standing Up for Your Child Without Stepping on Toes.


This article first appeared in the September 2007 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2007 by Vicki Caruana. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.


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