Not many are prepared to be an advocate for their children, but when the day arrives, you can’t help but learn a lot about yourself as a person. Since I’ve been an advocate for almost 14 years, I wanted to share my experience with those of you who may just be starting your advocating journey. Most of all, trust yourself and know that you can do what is best for your child.
13 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Advocate Mom
1.Inner mama bear will tackle fear when provoked, leaving any insecurities hog-tied quicker than a rodeo star. She will roar from the deepest part of her soul, often surprising herself at her ferociousness when protecting her cubs.
2. There will be tears. They can burst through the dam at any time during an IEP meeting either from heartbreak, frustration or excitement, pride and euphoric joy. Niagara Falls pouring down your face is not only completely acceptable, it’s expected to happen with zero notice.
3. Learn your rights, and know the laws. Nothing will benefit you more than knowing what you can and cannot ask for. Arm yourself with as knowledge as you can from fellow parents, teachers, therapists and advocates. Information truly is power and can make all the difference. (this will also help a little with #2)
4. Respect is everything. Respect for the child, the teachers, the administrators, yourself and anyone else involved. With respect everyone is heard and everyone is motivated by the child’s best interest. Bring respect to the table even if there is conflict to find the best resolution.
5. Be clear with your words and get everything in writing. Scattered thoughts amount to nothing and talk is cheap, lacking liability. Write down everything you want to discuss so you’re not side-tracked. Golden promises are worthless without signatures. Carry a pen.
6. Be proactive, but not reactive. When we get on a mission we can sometimes put on blinders. Remember that curve balls can lead you down a brighter path. Take 24 hours to think about what has been put on the table, and talk to someone you trust before making decisions.
7. Blood boils. It’s true, like a witch’s cauldron on a full moon. It races through your veins, igniting an internal fire from your head to your feet. Use this anger to motivate you, but keep yourself grounded. If you’re crazy, you will be seen as a menace and that does not help your cause.
8. Pick your battles. You will find something to fight about all day long. Know when something is worth fighting for, and know when to let things go. Don’t waste your battle cry on something insignificant, save it for the bonfire that is just around the corner.
9. Be Fair. There are laws in place to protect your child, and there are laws to protect the schools, teachers, and other children. Like a divorce, often neither side will want to budge, but when being fair, resolutions are found.
10. Fight. There are times when you have to take off the gloves and get dirty. When you have exhausted all other options, or there is an emergency situation, jump in that ring and fight. Special Needs moms do not back down. Ever.
11. Find your People. You will need them, in some form. Fellow moms have you’re back, whether in person or online, a gaggle of Ronda Rousseys will be ready to rumble on your behalf. We know you got this.
12. Karma’s got nothing on Hindsight. I could grow old waiting for karma to arrive, she moves at her own sweet pace. Hindsight is a useful gift that has shown me everything worked out okay and I didn’t have to worry myself sick. And I probably shouldn’t have said those awful thoughts out loud. To the principal.
13. It is all worth it. Making the world a better place for your child, and allowing them to flourish into their best self is worth every second of adversity, every tear, all of the fear, the fights and the battle scars. Empower them to be self advocates and watch them surprise you with their strength.