My oldest son started Kindergarten in the public school last month.
I was totally fine with it, except for the whole “mom doesn’t get to go to school with him every day thing.”
But I’m learning to deal.
This transition for my family has me reflecting, though, about when and how my roles as advocate and Mommy collide, not in the “want to simultaneously be at this public forum on poverty and at kids’ church choir practice” way, but in the “Mommy needs to advocate, but as a Mom” way.
It manifests itself in many forms, honestly–when a fellow parent at the orientation asks whether class sizes seem a little larger this year than in the past, and I can’t help but use it as a platform to talk about school finance and our state’s dire need for a real revenue strategy; or when a teacher complains about the booster seat law and its effect on field trip transportation arrangements, and I try to gently insert some commentary on how it is the public’s business to regulate child safety, given the public impact when families fail to do so.
I promise it was gently. I think.
A while ago, I read this post by Allison Fine (herself a mother, too) about her experiences trying to transform her son’s public school “fortress” into the kind of networked, transparent, accountable, responsive organization that not only yields better results but also offers a fundamentally different user experience–one that is empowering and accessible, rather than off-putting and formidable (as fortresses are designed to be).
And I know that that kind of Mommy advocacy is in my future, too: not just using our family’s encounters with institutions as teachable moments around policy and organizational change, but also having to deploy my own advocacy skills in order to make a system work for my own children. I’m certainly not at the point where I’m ready to offer any real pearls of wisdom regarding this intersection between motherhood and advocacy, really, but I have been doing some thinking about how I have approached advocacy within complex systems before, about my experiences with this kind of “for the one” case advocacy, and about what being true to who I am as an advocate will mean for my efforts to be true to who I am as a mom, too.
What about you? What have you learned advocating with these fortress institutions (hospitals, insurance companies, mental health systems, schools) on your own behalf, or for a family member? How are you different as a “personal” advocate than in a public context? What lessons carry over? What advice would you share?