I have always avoided confrontation. In my younger years, the thought of speaking up and asking for what I wanted or even needed was a lost trait in my character.
When I was a very young child, I had no trouble speaking my mind, but somewhere around puberty, like so many other girls, I became a people-pleaser. And pleasing others often means denying yourself your true feelings, wants, and wishes because they are the very things that might offend.
There are a lot of us out there.
At work, as a manager, I quickly realized how many of our female employers would apologize, not speak up for themselves, and settle for less than wanted, whether it be workload or salary. In stark contrast, male employees, even those with little experience, would rally for themselves consistently.
So what made me, after so many years of being non-confrontational, finally learn how to stand up for myself? My kids.
When my oldest was just four months old, she acquired a horrendous, whooping sounding phlegmy cough, fever, diarrhea, runny nose — the works.
“Just give her nose drops,” the doctor told us, “there’s no infection.”
A few days passed and she only got worse. When I told the doctor this on our next visit, he condescendingly told me to not overthink things. Surely, she just needed some cough medicine, yet my little girl continued to choke and suck in air day and night.
Bleary-eyed and worried, I told the arrogant doctor he was wrong and left his office. I found another pediatrician, who saw her the same day. He said she had a very serious infection and gave us a combination of antibiotics, steroids, and fever reducers. When her cough was still scaring me two days later, he admitted her to the hospital, and saved her life.
That was an urgent situation, but many others, thankfully less serious, would follow. When a girl in my daughter’s class began stealing her snacks, I had to force myself to speak to her mother. I put a whole lot of unnecessary thought into the exact words I was going to say because back then, the thought of confronting someone was literally painful to me.
Then there was a teacher who marked a test wrong, the relative who insisted on my child kissing her hello, and a friend who smoked in front of our kids. Through taking baby steps in these minor situations, and calmly explaining why my daughter deserved credit for number 4, why she had the option to choose who she would kiss and hug, and why they could not smoke in front of my child, I slowly began to gain a voice.
It was a tiny whisper at first, but it grew each time I used it. While I would let so many things slide when it came to myself, once I had kids, I knew that I had to change that because they had no one to speak up for them. It had to be me.
Learning how to speak up didn’t happen fast or right at the beginning as my first child was born. Only through practice did I learn how to stick up for my kids and myself … and honestly, it continues to be a work in progress.
I still have those days when I let things slide that I shouldn’t. I still would much prefer to avoid conflict, but I choose to face it head-on, even when it makes me so uncomfortable I want to melt, because I want to show my kids that they need to learn to how to stand up for themselves and ask for what they want.
As moms, we have to be our child’s advocate, and if that makes other people uncomfortable, or gives them extra work, or simply makes them annoyed, so be it.
Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram