Spoiler alert… it’s you!
I’ve spent the better part of the last ten years studying on how I can better understand my kids’ needs so that I could be the best advocate for them that I could possibly be. I have spent the majority of my career developing and mentoring young talent and advocating for young children and veterans alike. I have spent most of my marriage providing a life and a home for my family to the very best of my ability. I am no different than any other woman, wife, and/or mother. I’ve just done what I felt was right; tried my best to make the best choices. But in recent weeks, especially in light of the pandemic, I have come to the full realization of the toll that advocating for others has taken on me mentally. And when combined with the way I was brought up, self-advocating has become somewhat of a daunting task.
Here’s how it all began… more or less.
I was raised with the idea that one should not have to ask for what they need or ask for someone to do something that needs to be done. Instead, the sign of maturity was to look around and see what needed to be done and just do it, or so I was told. Just pay attention to your surroundings and you’ll be fine.
This is the advice that has shaped me. This is advice that I am fighting to sit with and unravel so that I can turn it into something that will better serve me. And this means learning to ask for help.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather the strongest, bravest thing that one can actually do. It’s acknowledging that something somewhere is not working and that something somewhere needs fixing. It means baring your soul and being vulnerable. This is very scary.
So I struggle with asking for anything from anyone, even when I’m in need because I’m afraid of rubbing anyone the wrong way or of getting on anyone’s nerves, or of being perceived as too needy. You notice how these reasons all include other people? The focus here is never on myself.
So how do I fix this? How can I better advocate for myself so that my needs are met? By no means am I an expert on this because I am still working day in and out to do better. To remind myself that no one is a mind reader and sometimes I just gotta tell folks what I need. And that’s okay.
- Be comfortable with asking for help. This the first step is learning to advocate for yourself. If you have an issue, ask for assistance. If I feel overwhelmed, I learned to ask my husband to step in so I can have a break. If I need a break from my kids, I am learning to be comfortable to ask my friends or neighbors or family around me to take them for a little bit so I can refuel my engine. If I want to go on a vacation or take a trip or do something different from the same old routine everyday, I am becoming very comfortable with letting my husband know that I am bored and that we need to find creative ways to make life a little more exciting… that pandemics aren’t excuses for allowing a marriage to go stale. Every time that I take a chance and learn to be okay with possibly hearing “no”, I gain a little more courage in doing what I need to do to be, and stay, okay.
- Establish loving boundaries. Boundary is a word typically used to describe a line around a field or a court during a game of play. When the ball is in bounds, then it is safe to continue that play but when it is out of bounds, the game must pause. The same is true for our relationships with people. We have to set healthy boundaries with those in our lives so that we can protect our space. When we let those boundaries blur, then the game can continue with no break or pause, especially when we need it most. The people in our lives are important. They are there for a reason. But it’s even more important to know when to press pause on some interactions with people when those interactions don’t always serve our best purpose. I’ve experienced this on both sides. There was a time where I believed that friends are loyal, stick by you no matter what. And if you needed an ear, then they ought to be there. But I never realized that I took a lot of people’s time with talking or venting about things that mostly were out of my control. I just wanted to air my grievances. I never took into account of what that person might have been feeling or how I might have been making them feel. In hindsight, I wasn’t always a good friend, although I thought I was because I’d do the same thing for my friends when they needed someone to talk to. I prided myself on being available all the time for people. But that wasn’t healthy, and what I was doing to my friends wasn’t healthy for them either. I’ve had to learn to respect people’s boundaries for what they can or cannot handle at that time. I’ve also learned to establish loving boundaries with people whom I love if I feel like those conversations and interactions are more draining than giving. In advocating for my needs, this is the best thing I can do to manage my emotions and my anxiety.
- Being unapologetically unavailable. This is one that I have the hardest time doing. Learning to say no is so important to our ability to thrive in today’s society. Often times, I have confused my loyalty and definition of what it means to be a good friend. For me, being a good friend always meant being available all the time. Saying yes even in times when I wanted to say no. For me, saying yes was the proof that I was a good friend and that I would inevitably be rewarded for my yes. That in saying yes, my friends would surely turn around and say yes to me. I think that’s why we tend to say yes more than no… we are afraid of hearing no, or at least I am. My yes prevents my hearing no. But in reality, this isn’t nor has never been the case. My yes isn’t an automatic guarantee to get a yes back because no one owes me anything. I am learning that it’s okay for me to also say no just like other people are comfortable with saying no. That saying no is my way of preserving my energy for things that are better for me. My no does not define my character or determines how good of a friend I am. It allows me to choose what I do and who I do it for. And it enables freedom. One should do something because they want to do it. Favors should never be an obligation.
- Communicate needs clearly. This is a big one that I often harp on my kids about. One cannot know what you need if you don’t let it be known. A closed mouth doesn’t get fed. And because I have encouraged and do encourage my kids to communicate their needs to me, or their father, or their teachers, or to whomever, I really really need to do better at doing the same. If I am feeling drained or overwhelmed, I need to communicate that to myself and to someone who might be able to help me, such as my husband. For example, this pandemic has really put into perspective how our home just isn’t practical for an active family like ours. With three growing children and a dog, it has become very difficult for this small house to act as a functional home, play area, classroom, doggie training area, and workspace all at once. I’ve found myself balancing my work with teaching my children to retraining my dog, while keeping up with typical household duties, and it has done a number on me. And while it is difficult to do a whole lot right now, I have communicated to my husband that I am tired and need a break. That when things get better we need to go somewhere away from our kids. And that perhaps the kids need to go see Grandma later this summer when summer school ends. The people I love cannot know what I need unless I tell them.
- Taking time for me. I cannot stress this enough. It is so important to discover hobbies and pursue them, especially now. Finding ways to give back to yourself is something you should never apologize for either. Part of refueling your engine is to find things that make you happy. And this is a great time to do it too. We are spending more time with ourselves and our thoughts nowadays and its a great time to find things that align with who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. Find time right now to do things that just make you happy. Not everything has to have a purpose or reason behind it. If you want to read a book for fun, do it! If you want to start back with working out, do it! If you want to bake an entire cake just for you, do it! Treating yourself shouldn’t be something special, it should be mandatory everyday. So do it!
Advocacy cannot be something that I save for my kids and for my clients at work. It needs to be something that I do for myself on a daily basis. And I’m positive that once I become more comfortable with making this habit in my life, my anxiety, while still there, will no longer be something that has the potential to be debilitating and disabling. Self-advocacy means empowerment. And empowerment can open up a life of which you have always been deserving.