If your parents were asked, “Did you advocate for your child,” what would be the honest answer? If your parent could truly answer, “yes” to that question, that’s a gigantic kudos to them. There may be times when they did and times when you needed them to and maybe they didn’t.
Recently, I found myself in a very difficult position. I was struggling with how to advocate for my child. Before I get into what happened, I want to talk about things that can happen when parents advocate for their children in difficult situations.
The reason I want to talk about that is because the possibilities are what stalled me for a moment in advocating for my child. In my child’s four years of living, this has been my biggest parental regret.
I hear the terms “That Parent,” “That Mom,” or “That Dad” a lot. They are not endearing or positive terms. They are used to indicate that the parent is over-the-top, a troublemaker, or difficult.
If a parent is labelled that when advocating for his or her child, adults in the child’s life can often retaliate against the child. I was so fearful that would happen to my child.
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Being “That Parent”
When talking to my friends about what was going on for my child, I even found myself saying, “I don’t want to be ‘That Mom’ with what’s going on.” The more I said it, the more irritated I got with myself.
Standing up for yourself or for your child is often frowned upon because you are shaking up the norm and how you are “supposed” to be in the world. We are “supposed” to just accept how things are and learn to deal with them, even to the detriment of ourselves or our children.
That’s why I got so irritated with myself for not wanting to be “That Mom.” Shaking things up, going against the grain, speaking up for myself and others when they can’t is a huge part of who I am. I love that part of myself, but there I was trying to hush myself when I knew there was a major issue for my child.
Not only was I trying to hush myself, but at the same time I was also listening to a voice from my childhood. I could hear my mom’s voice telling me not to cause a scene, to keep my mouth shut, and to “be a good, little girl.” If this sounds familiar to you, read The Creation of Negative Self-Talk.
I have done a lot of work on myself to quiet a negative voice from my childhood, but it still sneaks back in, especially when I don’t know what to do in a situation. As I sit to write this, I’m surprised because I didn’t realize that my delayed reaction to a bad situation had all of these layers from my childhood, but most things do for the majority of us.
That gives me some guidance on where I need to do some work. Rest assured that I will do that. I tell my patients that I will never ask them to do things that I have not done and don’t continue to do myself. That will always be the case for me.
Advocate for Your Child
Now, you’re probably wanting to know what happened resulting in my need to advocate for my child and to speak up to protect him. Well, he had a HORRIBLE experience in preschool this year and he was only there for four weeks.
My need to advocate for my child started after his first day of preschool this school year. When I picked him up from school in the past, he would immediately begin telling me everything that he and everybody else said and did throughout the entire day. He’s a big talker and I love that about him!
That day, he said he didn’t want to talk. I thought that was odd, but let it go because he was in a new part of the school with new teachers and new kids. After a few hours, I asked him to tell me about his day again.
His response was that Mrs. Misty was mean and he didn’t want to go back. I explained to him that his teacher was probably just stressed with it being the first day and that I hoped the next day would be better. He did not want to go to school the next day and he had never said that with other teachers.
After I picked him up from the second day of school, he told me that Mrs. Misty was mean and put him in timeout but wouldn’t tell me why. I am still shocked that on the second day of preschool a child would be put in timeout for not following the rules that were brand new to him, which is what I later found out was the reason for timeout. They are FOUR years old, in a new environment, and learning the expectations of their teachers.
Children Need Us to Advocate for Them
Now, I am not one of those parents who thinks my child is perfectly behaved and would never misbehave. However, I am educated and trained in childhood development to know what is normal for a four-year old.
In addition to that, I knew Mrs. Misty was not a good fit for my child. He was adamant about his teacher being mean. He loved the other teachers he had previously and still talks about them. So, that was very different and alarming to me.
Also, I spoke to the mother of another child in my son’s class. She told me that her child was feeling the same way about their teacher and that her child struggled immensely with having to go to that class the second day. I later found out that continued every day for that child.
Advocating for your child does not always go well and this was one of those times. I sent a message to Kristi, the director of the school, asking her to call me. She did and the call was very short.
I told her that there were some very concerning issues with my child’s teacher and asked that he be moved to the class that had two openings in it. I explained that my mother-in-law, with whom my child is very close, has pancreatic cancer and will be dying soon.
Especially with my child’s “Mimi” dying and him knowing that she is dying, he needs a very loving, compassionate, empathetic teacher this year. She said she understood and would check the classes and call me back.
When Advocating Does Not Go Well
Instead, she sent me a message stating that she would not honor my request to move my child and gave no explanation as to why she would not move him. I responded back asking her to call me as she had agreed. I expressed my concern that she didn’t even ask why I had wanted him to move, and what the issues were with my child not feeling emotionally safe in his classroom.
She called and I told her what the issues were. There didn’t seem to be any concern and I hung up feeling very defeated by her cold and dismissive tone. Her only response about my son’s fear of going back to that classroom was that it was unfounded because his teacher has a four-year old, so she knew how to work with children.
Well, we all know that just because somebody has a child does not mean that he or she is a good parent or is good with kids. From my own personal experiences as a child and from my psychotherapy patients, I have seen the damage that many parents create. Not only that, but she could be a good teacher for some children and at the same time, not for my child.
I attempted to remain hopeful that he would be moved as she said she would look at schedules again, but I was pretty confident she would refuse. It’s also important to note that Kristi moved my child to another classroom simply because another parent wanted my child in her child’s classroom this past summer. We did not give consent, were not asked, and were only informed by the parent sending us a screenshot of a message the director sent her saying that director had moved MY child at another parent’s request.
A little later I got a message from Kristi asking me to come in early the next morning to discuss what she called “this matter.” I went and she said she was refusing to move my child and refused to give me a reason.
I had already prepared my son to have to go back to that classroom. We talked about how people can have bad days and the importance of giving others an opportunity for things to get better. Walking him into that classroom that he had begged me not to take him to broke my heart.
The reason I still took him was that I too was trying to give Misty an opportunity to be better with my son. Unfortunately, that never happened. It got worse.
As I said, I know that my child is not perfectly behaved. No child is, unless they live in fear, but I also know that he does not have a history of being aggressive. We go to lots of activities with other kids each week. He is very sociable and gets along well with other kids.
His teacher started putting him in timeout often and for things like moving his feet and not keeping his hands to himself during circle time. I understand that he needs to follow the rules, but at the same time I also know that expecting a group of twelve four-year olds to sit perfectly still and not touch each other is a very unreasonable expectation.
I decided to talk to the teacher to gain an understanding of how she operates and how she perceived what was going on with my son. She said that he struggled with keeping his hands to himself and not touching other kids. Developmentally, that is incredibly normal. She didn’t seem to think so.
I asked her if she was redirecting his behavior when he wasn’t following the rules. If you want to know what I mean by that, read this great article on redirecting children. She didn’t know what I meant by redirecting and told me that she had him sit out for several minutes of their play time.
Anybody who is trained to work with young children should know that you should never take away recess from a four-year old because they need that time to move their bodies and get their energy out. I walked away from my talk with her feeling very concerned for my child and about his teacher’s ways of thinking and working with young kids.
A few days later, my son had a fairly large scrape on the side of his face when I picked him up. Outside of the classroom I asked him what happened, and he responded with what had become his norm after school, “I don’t want to talk. I just want to go home.”
About an hour later I asked again what happened to his face and he wouldn’t talk. I sent a picture of the scrape to his teacher asking her if she knew what happened. Here is her response:
“I see the picture. I’m sorry. I did not notice that today. Maybe he knows what happened. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
Their classrooms are tiny, and my mind was blown that she didn’t know how it happened and that she didn’t notice the big scrape on my child’s face. Eventually, he told me he fell out of his chair. He had to fall pretty hard to get a scrape that size on his face and for a teacher not to have seen that is quite alarming.
Several days later, my son’s teacher told me that he pinched another child and a few days after that he hit her on the arm. That is NEVER okay, and he knows that. Again, my child has no history of aggressive behavior. So, I was really curious about it.
After each altercation, I asked Misty what was going on prior to my child pinching and hitting another child. Both times she said she did not see or know what happened.
I wanted to know what happened for my child to do that in order to talk to him about better ways to handle situations and his feelings. We have lots of talks about how to handle the big emotions that children have and when others do things they don’t like.
It was a concern to me that the teacher did not know what was going on either time. I also thought it was odd that it was the same child each time. What was going on between the two of them?
The Fall Out
At this point, my frustration and need to advocate for my child was tremendous. I had even heard from another parent that a child said she was scared when Misty put my child in time out but did not get scared when she put other kids in time out.
That’s a huge red flag! Why was a child scared about the way my child was put in time out, but not with the other children put in time out?
Now, I want to tell you about what was going on at home for my child during all of this. He developed extreme anxiety that had never been there previously.
About eight to ten times a day, he would do something like drop food on the floor accidentally and panic. Immediately, I could see the fear in his face, and he would say, “Don’t tell Mrs. Misty I dropped food on the floor” or don’t tell Mrs. Misty about whatever else he had accidentally done.
If he didn’t do something my husband or I asked him to do, that look would reappear. He would say, “Don’t tell Mrs. Misty that I misbehaved.” The fear she instilled in him made me sick to my stomach.
Also, my child, who was always begging for play dates, started telling me that he didn’t want any friends to come over and play anymore. He didn’t want me to leave him, even to go to the bathroom. He was afraid to be without me and/or my husband at all times.
Asking for Help
As a psychotherapist and somebody who is trained in Play Therapy, I knew he needed to be assessed. I took him to a phenomenal Registered Play Therapist to be assessed. She confirmed his anxiety.
Her recommendation was to have him moved to a different classroom. When I told her my previous request had been denied, she asked if she could write a letter explaining why it was her professional opinion that his classroom was not a good fit for him.
My heart sank at the confirmation that my precious four-year old had anxiety. I knew my next step needed with the Senior Pastor of the church where my child went to school. I called him.
I informed him of what was going on and that I had previously requested that my child be moved. I read the letter from the Play Therapist to him.
I also explained about the parent who previously got my child moved without our consent when there were no issues and now there was an issue, and the director wouldn’t move him. He seemed concerned but was in the midst of a big conference. He asked me to keep my child home the next day because he would talk to the director to get what my son needed.
At 4:30 the next day, I texted the pastor because I’d not heard from him and needed to know if my child would be moved and could go to school the next day. He asked me to keep him home another day because he did not have enough time to talk to the director in depth.
The next afternoon, I had still not heard back from him. So, I texted him at 5:00 because I wanted to be able to take my child to school and him not miss a third day. He called.
Advocating Failed Again
He informed me that the director was refusing to move my child and that “as a parent, I would pull my kid from the school.” I asked him if he was telling me to take my child out of the school because they were refusing to move him and that he knew that classroom was not good for my child.
He replied that he was just telling me that “as a parent” and that they did not see any reason why my child should be moved to another classroom. I asked him why he was refusing to follow the recommendation of a mental health profession. He said, “I can’t micromanage what the school does just because a parent wants her child moved. I’m busy with other things in the church.”
Wow! I was blown away, but still had questions for him. I mentioned his church and school’s mission posted on their website. I asked how their refusal to make a simple change that was in the best interest of my child’s mental health was in alignment with what they profess as a church and a school.
Dead silence. I even had to ask if he was still on the phone and if he heard my question. He said that he did but didn’t answer my question. I asked again and got no response. My final question was whether or not he believed the school was acting Christ-like since the school was a part of a church.
Again, he didn’t have a response. I asked if he had an answer and he said he did not and hung up. Decision made.
No More Preschool
My child would never return to that school. Not only that, but he will not go to another school until he starts kindergarten. He needs to be at home with me every day getting the love and nurturing he needs to hopefully alleviate his anxiety. He needs time to heal from his experience at this school.
Throughout all of this, we never told my child what was going on because we wanted to wait to see if he would be moved to another classroom. My son confirmed that I made the right decision to take him out of that school when I told him he wasn’t going back.
He said, “Can I go back one time just for one little bittty minute to tell Mrs. Misty that I’m not ever coming back, and she can’t be mean to me again?” That made me so sad for him and also proud that he knows it’s okay to tell people when they have hurt your feelings.
Since the moment that I told him he would not be going back, he has been happier than he’s been in four weeks. He still has anxiety, but I will work with him on that. If I see that he needs to be in therapy, I will also do that!
Be “That Parent”
When you have to advocate for your child it does not always go well. As I mentioned previously, you can be looked at as “That Parent” and that is perfectly okay. I hate that my fear of that and the fear of retaliation towards my child caused me to leave my child in an unsafe environment for three weeks after I knew it was not a good situation.
As parents, our ultimate goal is to protect our children. That sounds simple, but it is far from simple. Even when it appears simple, it still may not be.
So, what happens when children aren’t protected or when parents don’t advocate for their children? Well, the list is endless. People say that children are resilient, but they need to follow that up with something very important.
Children cannot be resilient if they aren’t given the tools, love, nurturing, and compassion needed to recover from difficult things they experience. When they aren’t given those, the effects can last a lifetime and impact every aspect of their lives. I know that all too well.
So, I say all of this to say, be “That Parent” if it means advocating for your child to ensure he or she is safe. Let people think what they want to think because that is their issue and not yours. Trust what your children tell you about others. Moving forward, I can guarantee that I will act swiftly if there is another time that I know my son is not in a safe environment.
When you think about your childhood, did anybody advocate for you? What did you need somebody to do to protect you? How has it affected you if you did not have anybody to protect you or advocate for you?
Now, for the most important question. If you didn’t have anybody to protect you or advocate for you, what have you done to heal? What are you doing now to protect yourself and to advocate for yourself? If you want to find a good therapist to help guide you on your healing from this, click here to learn how to find the right therapist for you.
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.