Being an Advocate for My Child Is One of the Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned as a Parent

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Children are tons of fun. Sure, they’re a lot of work, too, but you get used to that, and pretty soon the work is just part of life. On a daily basis you get to marvel and laugh at the new discoveries of infants and toddlers, the smarts and progress of your preteens, and, from what I hear, wonder just who in the hell raised your teenagers. That’s from my sisters and friends with teens. But again, the process itself is a lot of fun, and I’m enjoying the good and the bad, and even then, the bad is only really trivial stuff like lack of sleep, knowing what day it is and poverty.

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But every so often, shit gets real. Especially when it comes to two specific arenas: other adults and school, which is where I learned (and continue to learn) the most important lessons about parenting—namely, why being an advocate for your child is one of the most important things that you can do.

It sounds like common sense, and a lot of it is. But until your feet get held to the fire, understanding what that looks and feels like is just an idea. What you come to find out is that no matter where you pay to send your kids or whose house they’re at, nobody will ever care about your kids the way that you do; and until they’re able to truly speak for themselves, your job is to make their voices heard and ensure that they’re being treated properly and given the opportunity to enjoy life. That requires constantly making sure that your child is given the benefit of the doubt and being LISTENED to, two things that, in my experience, are vital to raising healthy and happy children.

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While my main parental job is to make sure that my children stay alive (especially early on, when all children seem like kamikaze pilots), the most important one is to help them grow into good, happy people and respectable contributors to society. That is not easy. There are lots of broken eggs on the way to making omelettes. Kids make mistakes—their main job. My goal is to minimize THOSE mistakes and guide them away from making the same ones repeatedly.

Life isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect and kids aren’t perfect. We all do our best and hope we get to smile and make memories along the way. With all that being said, kids have an uphill battle. Instinctually, it’s hard to believe everything kids say; they often haven’t learned how to lie but know that self-preservation means not getting in trouble for that shit you just saw them do. Nobody likes to get in trouble. But what you hope is that when it’s time to settle up, your kids make you proud and own their mistakes. Consequences are going to come, but integrity lasts forever.

But integrity doesn’t matter if we don’t trust our children to have it and be able to exist within it. That means learning when to trust that your children are telling you the truth and believing them. because if you don’t, nobody else will. One area where this has played out in my own life is in the school. My daughter, who is 8, has had some issues come up there. I obviously won’t be sharing specific detail, since the situation is still ongoing. However, here are the basics.

My daughter, who, again, is 8, had a minor dustup with an adult in a position of authority. This has resulted in what looks like behavior toward my daughter uncharacteristic of the school’s expectations, yet my daughter, who has not been shown or proved to be in the wrong in any way, shape or form, has borne the brunt of any consequences.

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This obviously does not sit well with me or her mother. But she’s a child. She doesn’t have the ability to walk into an office and express her frustrations in a blunt and candid manor and request a resolution. We do. It is our job to make sure that the experience my daughter has is as good as it can be, and if somebody, particularly an adult or person in a position of authority, is making that difficult, then we step in.

The same goes on playgrounds and in doctor’s offices or anywhere that children come into contact with grown-ups. For most of our children, we teach them to be respectful and deferential to adults as long as the adult is being respectful. Thing is, as a child, sometimes it’s hard to be able to tell when an adult is being disrespectful. It’s important as parents that we’re able to be there and represent our children so that they aren’t forced to debate with an adult who will ultimately find them problematic for daring talk back to them.

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And while that’s right as a general principle, our kids are smart enough to realize when they’re being treated wrong, and if we don’t step in and show them that we know also, what lessons are we teaching them? Are we showing them that an adult who is wrong is right because that person is an adult? That’s a terrible lesson to teach children and doesn’t help with their self-esteem or sense of purpose and self-worth.

I tell my daughter, “Your mother and I will handle that so you don’t have to, baby. You keep being a good person and do your best in school and be nice to people.” She needs to know that if something goes wrong, especially when she brings it to us, we can trust her and address the situation.

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That doesn’t mean taking our kids’ word at face value. Of course we all must look into these things, but hearing our kids out and ensuring that they know we are there for them can only pay positive dividends.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons since my children have been born. I’ve learned patience, tolerance, emotional intelligence, just how much a hug can fix and how much my voice can get accomplished depending on how loud it is. But having to stand in front of others and explain for my children and ensure that nobody gets the opportunity to lessen their life experiences or make it hard for children who have so much life ahead of them has been a lesson that’s revealed itself as one of the most important.

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Because if we aren’t there, who is?

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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DISCUSSION

“Thing is, as a child, sometimes it’s hard to be able to tell when an adult is being disrespectful.”

Here’s a quick “What would you do”:

I live in a mixed area, but more the other color than my color.

My son comes home and tells me how his teacher called him a “negro”.

In all my hastiness I get fired up and I’m goin in. “I work hard to provide! And just because the reason I live next door to them ain’t the reason they live next door to me, they got no right!” (Yeah... I quoted Lil Wayne in my anger).

I call up the school and tell them I’m coming there the next morning and want to meet with this teacher. Sho nuff, called in late to work and off to the school we went that next morning. I storm up in the front office ready to handle my business, got my phone in my hand like I got Al Sharpton on speed dial. Front office staff is white, so I tell them I’m here to handle why a teacher has to call my son a negro. Tell them the teacher name and they call him down to the office for a parent-teacher conference. Once I said the name, there was this look of bewilderment that washed over their faces. Nevermind that. I tell them I want the vice-principal in there too since she is black. By this time, I’m escorted to the conference room and I’m fuming, I’m ready.

In comes what I thought to be Morgan Freeman. Had the look, and even had the hat on. I thought they brought in someone to calm me down and figured another black man should be able to do it cause the school resource officer was busy. So he sits down and introduces himself as... my son’s teacher. My son decides with every ounce of his 14-year old wisdom that this black teacher calling him a negro was an insult. But left unchecked to his own musical choices, his songs would all throw some type of nigga this or bitch that. This teacher explained to me in all his older eloquence how my son and another young man were carrying on in his class and his words were “Stop being little negroes, and be the young men I know you to be”. I was bamboozled, led astray, run amuck... by my own son. I never felt so embarrassed in all my life. I apologized to the teacher for wasting his time and pulling him from class and we laughed the situation off. I wanted to yoke my son up in that parking lot for not saying the teacher was black and the circumstances. But I would need to yoke myself up for not inquiring either. I just heard “teacher” (assumed to be white) and “called me a negro” (automatically defending my son til I die). It was shame on me as well, so I chose to explain to him the complexities in how our culture can refer to each other and take it as a lesson learned.

Moral of the story: Teenagers are idiots. Don’t make yourself an even bigger idiot by not asking the right questions and overreacting.