Standing at Attention: Advocating for our Family Members

Family
pixababy [family heart father forward 222763 by geralt, December 4, 2013]
By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

We all know the old adage about the mother bear and her cubs, right? You know the one; where the mother bear would do absolutely anything to protect her young. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of Advocacy. Perhaps it was the five years that I spent alongside parents of children with special needs when I was working in Early Intervention. Or, maybe it’s the fact that I am a mental health professional who has witnessed the importance and power of advocacy within families. Whatever the reason may be, it’s the mental image I have in my head of advocacy.

Much like the mother bear protecting her cubs, we humans sometimes have a tendency to let our natural instincts kick in. I have certainly experienced that before when protecting my own children. But unlike bears, we are able to push through those primal instincts to a much higher set of functioning. Advocacy is about acting on behalf of others to make sure that their needs are met. It’s also about raising awareness. And, last, but certainly not least, it can also be about protecting and standing up for ourselves.

Whether you are advocating for someone else or advocating for yourself, there are tools that are necessary in assisting us with being able to be successful at accomplishing our ultimate goal, whatever that may be. Here are some basic suggestions that can assist in navigating through this sometimes complicated and confusing world.

  1. Know your rights – Whether you are advocating for yourself or for someone else, it is extremely important to know what your rights are surrounding the topic of concern. Part of advocacy includes researching and doing some digging. And, it may require some extra elbow grease and a magnifying glass! This is one of those times when you don’t want to “show up unprepared”. The more you know about your rights or those for whom you are advocating, the more successful you will be in your efforts.
  2. Let your emotions work for you instead of against you  When we humans are passionate about someone or something, we have a tendency to allow our emotions to initially control us. As difficult as it can be, it is so very important to let your emotions help you when advocating rather than hurt you. This means that you may have to work really hard at putting that inner filter on overdrive before saying the first thing that comes to your mind; that first thing may actually be coming from your heart rather than your brain.
  3. Keep your eyes on the prize – Try to remember what your ultimate goal is when advocating for yourself or someone else. You will not be able to create peace on earth, nor will you be able to end hunger and strife. But, keeping your mind on the end result will help to keep you focused and well prepared.
  4. Don’t give up  You may very likely realize that the hill you thought you were climbing has now turned into a mountain. But, instead of turning around and walking off of the mountain, try to strap your hiking boots on and keep on going. As easy as it may seem to just give up, remember that prize (refer back to number 3).
  5. Build yourself a support system – Make connections with others and equip yourself with the cushion of others. Not only is it helpful to have people in your corner, but it is also helpful to have people who have had similar experiences. Connect with others through social media sites, community meetings, and public gatherings. It’s amazing how far you can get with a strong support system.

It goes without saying that there are many other things that one can keep in mind when advocating, but having these basic and simple tools in your box can at least help to guide you on a steady path. Unlike the mother bear who does not have the capacity to follow these steps, we humans are equipped with the ability to protect those we love with a much higher level of functioning.

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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