Monday, September 13, 2010

College Is Hard on Warrior Moms

The time has come for me to hand my daughter the keys.

Not to our family car, though she will in fact be driving that to college every day.

The keys to her educational advocacy -- something I've been cherishing and polishing and tuning up far more faithfully than that 2001 Jeep.

If she could advocate for herself as well as she drives, I'd have no problem with it. If she drove as well as she advocates for herself, she'd spend the rest of her life stuck at the end of an onramp, reluctant to barge in.

After years of having my involvement in her educational planning required by law, I'm now out in the cold. I can drop her records off at the college's specialized-services office, but if she wants to claim the accommodations granted to her, she has to go up to each professor and arrange for them. When I tell her to do that, she looks at me as if I've suggested she take off her shirt, hop on a desk, and reenact Lady Gaga videos for the class.

I remember going with her school group to a self-advocacy conference a couple of years ago, and it was so inspiring to hear young people with disabilities exhorting their peers to demand their rights and insist on "nothing about us without us!" Looking around the room, I could see that some of the high-schoolers in attendance were ready to fight that good fight. And then there were the ones who looked like they were wondering when lunch was going to be served. My daughter, of course, was in the latter group. 

And this is the person I am supposed to trust to take over for me after years of negotiating IEPs, holding schools accountable, battling for services, conferencing with teachers, networking with professionals, demanding that attention be paid? She doesn't even want the job! She gives me no communication about what's going on in class, no proof of progress, no confirmation of services provided. If she was a school I would sue her.

I can pep-talk her until I'm blue in the face, but she now has the right to ignore me. And maybe that is a sort of self-advocacy -- defending the right to not seek special treatment and not draw attention to yourself and not request the accommodations you're entitled to. The right to sit down and shut up rather than stand up and speak out. The right to choose shyness and the lowest of low profiles if it is in your nature to do so.

I'm supposed to respect that, I guess; I'm supposed to peacefully transition from quarterback to cheerleader, and not, say, sneak into her e-mail and send messages to all her professors pretending to be her. Because that would be wrong. Man, old habits die hard.


Terri Mauro blogs at Parenting Special Needs and Parenting Isn't Pretty. She has two terrific kids, a 20-year-old with learning and language disabilities and a 17-year-old with FASD, both adopted from Russia in 1994. 


  1. Oh my goodness - I had never thought about this the transition from quarterback to cheerleader - as yuo so aptly described
    Still - in most ways - a lovely problem to have

  2. Yes, absolutely, a lovely problem, and I'm terribly proud of her for being where she is. Just hard to find the off button on this advocacy thing. Or even a mute button would do.

  3. We were surprised to learn, at our son's freshman orientation, that the LAW states that his grades are now his business, and his alone. We don't mind that - it's part of the college experience to be on one's own in this way - but it did surprise us that it was a legal reality, and not just an factual one.
    As we were walking out of the orientation session, a father in front of us turned to his wife and said, "If she won't tell us her grades, we'll just stop paying for her education." The wife said nothing, but if looks could kill, those would have been his last words!
    I worried, because of his "senioritis" last year, how our son would adjust to the rigors of college. He seems to be enjoying everything about it, so far. I hope the same will be true for your daughter, and that she will be able to advocate well for herself.