I have spent years trying to get my children to advocate for themselves. “Go tell Mrs. ___ that she gave you the wrong grade. She said your presentation was an A-, but she gave you a B; tell her you believe she put in the wrong grade.”
The answer was always, “No. It’s okay.”
Lately however, I have noticed that my oldest is beginning to take initiative in standing up for what he believes and what he wants. For example, last spring—at the end of his sophomore year—we noticed that he had an odd charge on his school account. When we inquired, we were told he had not returned a textbook at the end of his freshman year, but no one had bothered to tell us. (Most likely, they were hoping we wouldn’t notice until graduation, when we’d likely pay without debate).
“Mom, I know I returned that book. The teacher was distracted that day, and he probably forgot to write it down.”
“Well, you’ll have to go talk to him.” And so he did, with no result. He then went to the woman in charge of the book storage room. She repeated what we already knew; there was no evidence that he had turned in the book. She even went to the shelf and conducted a cursory glance-through. The book wasn’t there.
“Mom, she looked at the wrong books. I didn’t have the brown version of that text, but that’s where she looked. I had the green version.” He reappeared at her desk the next day.
“Are we to make this a daily meeting?” she asked him with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“Only until we find my textbook,” he shot back. (Most days, my kids could get in trouble for the sass they undoubtedly learned from their momma, but so far, they have not quite crossed that line….)
“Fine,” she sighed as she rose from her desk. “We’ll go look again. But it’s not there.” She tromped off to the storage room with my son in tow. After a quick look, he FOUND THE BOOK! Sadly, she did not apologize. But these are the encounters through which kids build the skills they need to navigate the world and advocate for themselves.
This past Monday, he came home from school and told me about a breakfast that was being hosted through his culinary program.
“It’s a little different than the other breakfasts,” he told me. “It’s for the mayor and some of the local senators. It starts at 8:00, so culinary 1 is doing prep, and culinary 2 is serving.”
“That’s too bad. So you don’t get to serve the mayor?”
“Chef said if we could get permission, we could stay. When we got back to school, we went to Mrs. B and asked her if we could stay. She gave us permission!” He smiled.
Yes, my son advocated for himself without any encouragement from me. He wanted something, and he was willing to put himself out there, knowing the answer might be no, but at least he would have asked. Maturity and experience are beginning to take hold. Then again, if you really want something, you’re willing to fight for it.