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Why I’m OK With Being 'That Parent'

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I recently presented at the BCEdAccess conference and saw they were selling a t-shirt that says, “Hi. My name is That Parent.”

It’s funny how a few words can pack such a powerful message. Many times, when we advocate for our kids to get the support they deserve, the education they are entitled to, or to be seen as a person, not a diagnosis, we are labeled as that parent.

I have been that parent many times. And I have no intention of stopping.

We should not be ashamed or feel guilty about advocating for our kids. Yes, ideally the system would be properly funded and resourced to support children equally and we wouldn’t need to advocate. But sadly, that is not the reality we live in.

Many times, as I’m writing emails, making phone calls, speaking at parent council meetings or voicing my thoughts/concerns in IEP meetings, I’m well aware of the fact I carry the label of That Parent. I am strong in my advocacy, having done my research and knowing my child’s rights. Most importantly, I’m prepared to do the tough work to ensure my child, and other kids with disabilities, are supported.

Holding your space

There is a fine line between advocacy and bullying. This is a line that can be easily crossed.

When advocating for yourself or your child, it’s important to hold your space. This means being clear on what supports are needed, what supports are currently provided and identifying the gap.

Holding your space doesn’t mean pushing forward in an aggressive manner, knocking people out of the way as you charge ahead. Rather, it’s about holding strong to your position without being pushed off course by others.

This subtle difference between holding your space and pushing forward can make the difference in being understood and respected. In both cases, you are wanting to have your voice heard — but one is done with respect and the other with aggression.

Sure, there are times I come across as a momma bear, advocating for resources for my child. But I always look for a way to be respectful and collaborate — even if those I’m speaking to would rather that I just went away.

I also find that mothers are more likely to get the “that parent” label than fathers. Wait, hear me out. When a mother holds her space on advocating for her child, she is often labeled as aggressive, demanding or overbearing. But when a father advocates, he is caring and committed.

These gender biases can result in women giving up their space, whereas men tend to be harder to move.

To all the women reading this, I encourage you to hold your space. Say your truth and know that you have a right to advocate. It doesn’t mean things will always go your way, or there won’t be any compromises, but don’t let others blow you off course.

Name the label

I have found a great way to deal with the gender bias and “that parent” label is to name it. It’s OK to voice the thoughts people have (even if they would never admit to them).

In my emails, I often write, “I know I am being persistent in asking for XXX, and you may be tired of receiving emails from me, but my goal is to ensure my child receives the education and supports they deserve. As educators, I know you are also committed to supporting children of all abilities. I’m hoping we can find a way to find a collaborative approach for XXX.”

Here’s the thing about labels. When you name the label, it deflates some of the power. By saying I realize I can come across as “That Parent,” I can address it directly and explain that I know my child best and want to ensure you see the child, not just the diagnosis.

Back to the t-shirt I saw at the BCEdAccess conference – I think it’s something each of us should wear with pride. And let’s reframe what “That Parent” means.

Yes, I’m “That Parent” who cares about my child and wants them to have the support they deserve. I’m “That Parent” who will stand up against inequality and advocate for the rights of children. And most importantly, I’m “That Parent” who loves my child unconditionally, advocating for their needs even if it makes me unpopular.

Let’s all be “That Parent” and rock the t-shirt!

Photo provided by contributor.

Originally published: October 13, 2020
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