Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Assertive is my albatross...Hump Day Hmm for 2-27-2008

She herself was not strong-willed...so she quickly recognized the futility of attempting to alter the course of unalterable events. Enduring what couldn't be cured, she supposed, was what people meant by being adult, though it was ironic that so few of them---including her parents---had mastered the skill themselves. By age twelve she'd already learned to cut her losses and derive what comfort she could from doing so. Generally she was happy or, failing that, reasonably content, though she sometimes wondered if she'd conceded the inevitable too quickly. What if the only thing concessions got you was the habit of conceding?

"All and Sundry," from Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (p.324) (if you aren't reading this book, you should)


Marie A. Sherrett, past president of the Prince George's County, MD, chapter of the Autism Society of America, in her article, "Assertiveness and Effective Parent Advocacy," wrote that parents of special needs kids came in several categories:

* Pacifists or those who gets things done;

* Clinging vines or parent advocates;

* Silent victims or fighters;

* Dreamers or crusaders;

* Waiters or initiators;

* Bombshells or assertive parents;

* Appeasing compromisers or action heroes.

"Which are you?" she asked.

The second descriptor after each or, by the way, is the assertive parent, which is the best advocate, according to Sherrett.

I can be any of the first descriptors, but in general I think I tend to err on the side of assertive. What is assertive? I'll tell you what it isn't, also from Sherrett's article:

* Beat around the bush;
* Fail to describe problems;
* Feel guilty or are afraid to be vocal;
* Agree with professionals to keep peace;
* Leave everything to others;
* Accept excuses for inappropriate or inadequate services;
* Are too hasty to act;
* Fail to act;
* Accept the status quo;
* Give in to defeat;
* Are uncomfortable with accomplishments;
* Discourage your child from having hope of success.

These are often humps I have to get over, but constitutionally I am incapable of sitting down and being quiet when I fundamentally believe that is the wrong thing to do.

Like the little girl with the soccer ball I described in my post on Monday, this earns me mixed reviews. It makes me noticeable, and outside the status quo. It leads to backhanded compliments, that seem admiring on the surface but carry a nasty undertone at times. It often creates an embattled feeling.

Still, I can't stop. I have never been one for sitting back and waiting.

On Monday, BubandPie wrote in "1983," "I'm finding a certain pleasure in remembering that old ache of boredom, the helpless longing I felt as I slumped on plastic chairs at many a grade-seven lunchtime dance, hoping for life to find me."

I read that description several times, and read with great interest the comments, all of which seemed to completely identify with that feeling. Except I couldn't. I'd never slumped in a plastic chair and waited for life to find me. I'd always felt a bit of a wildness, a motivation. And when others laughingly expressed how relieved they were to have "grown out" of that crazy energy, again I was stymied. I never have.

I wasn't bored at 12. I was flying to visit my best friend in another state, and traipsing through Paris. I wasn't bored at 13, or 14 either, when I wandered the streets of San Francisco. I wasn't bored at 15 when I worked all year long to earn enough money to backpack through Europe with friends. At senior prom I asked my date to dance when a favorite song of mine came on. "No, I'm tired," he said, and I shrugged and went and danced all by myself. If it matters to me, I'll go and do it, solo doesn't impede me.

The more apt description of how I felt at 12 is this:
...and the teacher, Mr. Karp, puts us upon the stage with our legs around everybody, one in back of the other, and he says: 'Okay, we're gonna do improvisations...Now, you're on a bobsled and it's snowing out and it's cold... Okay, go!'
Ev'ryday for a week we would try to feel the motion,
Feel the motion down the hill.
Ev'ry day for a week we would try to hear the wind rush
Hear the wind rush, feel the chill
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside.
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried!
And everybody's goin' 'Woosh... woosh ...
I feel the snow, I feel the cold,
I feel the air...'
And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says:
'Okay, Morales, what did you feel?'
And I said...
'Nothing, I'm feeling nothing,'
And he says 'Nothing could get a girl transferred.'
They all felt something,
But I felt nothing
Except the feelin' that this bullshit was absurd!
"Nothing," from A Chorus Line, sung by the character Morales

That's pretty much how I sometimes feel at nearly 40, too, at times. And like at 12, and like Morales, it works for me
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul
Came up to the top of my head,
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul,
Here is what it said,
'This man is nothing! This course is nothing!
If you want something go find a better class.
And when you find one You'll be an actress.'
And I assure you that's what fin'lly came to pass

I try, often, to fit into the round hole. It's not easy being the Billy Bevel of Polieville. But that's not the point. I also don't think everything is absurd or nothing. That's also not the point.

The point is, unlike Russo's character Sarah, I don't cut my losses at the beginning. I do believe that all constant concessions gain is a habit of conceding.

I asked my mother---the source of all things original to me---if this is an apt description.

"Oh yes," she reassured me, reminding me that she had at least one teacher called conference about me for each year of school.

But I do try for wisdom and diplomacy, and that is perhaps the greatest difference between 12 and 40. I try for a generous dollop of humble with my assertiveness, and I hope I manage it.

Assertiveness with humility is a trait of getting the most from life, but people tolerate it in different ways from men and women. The tolerance extends further in men, and runs out more quickly for women, although both run a risk---especially since it varies more by personality than anything else.

I want the most from life, and hope for the same for my kids. In my mind, being assertive also means being mindful. I will always remain involved with my children as a parent. I understand this means stepping back and letting them be, at times, but it also means interceding at times.

What the wildness within me in my youth has grown into is a lack of automatic acceptance of the status quo and a willingness to evaluate each situation and decide whether it calls for assertiveness. If it does, I'll hop up from my chair and go forth.

The thing people misunderstand is that questioning doesn't automatically mean rebelling; wondering if something is a problem is not automatically declaring it a problem or creating the problem; and being nice doesn't mean being quiet.

I will be clear and speak up when it's called for, I'll describe problems or express concerns, and won't be afraid or guilty of using my voice. I won't appease or accept excuses, but I won't act too hastily or aggressively. I'll encourage my children to hope for success.

Assertive and humble. I'll endeavor to be assertive yet humble, endeavor to get the most from each situation, and teach my children to do the same.

I encourage you to go and read the comments from yesterday's post. There are some fantastic points of view, great information, wonderful opinions, and interesting discussion.

I encourage you to tell us your thoughts on this topic---assertiveness, education, adults, children, gender, politics and so forth. Posts from today or any time before today welcome! Just please link to here so others can see the entire discussion.



Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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31 comments:

Suz said...

For me, the challenge has been uncoupling assertiveness from anger. If asked, I would say that I am assertive, but much of this seems to arise from the burning throb of an injustice suffered. I've been trying to learn how to calm my angry self and speak up from other motives, instead.

Julie Pippert said...

I know, Suz, I understand because me too. That's what I think (hope) is the difference between 12 and 40. At 12 (and beyond) I burned with injustice and anger, I took, I did regardless. I hope now I am operating from wisdom, and am doing more giving.

thailandchani said...

When I think of how much time I've lost from being angry, trying to change things I can't change and staying in that mode to a point of poor health, it makes me cringe. At the very minimum, I wish I'd had better skills to exercise it without being alienating.

There's a balance that has to be met somewhere. I don't think it's gender-specific.

I would like to see manners developed around assertiveness. There are very few customs set around it and it causes too much conflict.

Intention also matters. Are we being assertive just to push our point of view or are we being assertive because we want our own way?

Balance, balance, balance.

It always seems to come down to that. :)

Kyla said...

You know, I am only assertive where KayTar is concerned. I honestly didn't even know I had it in me until faced with this situation. I guess it has been in there all along, I just never really needed to find it before.

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I think you just restated my point---my post---more succinctly, which pulls me right out of humble into arrogance in order to say great minds think alike. ;)

***

Kyla, when someone finds a voice of assertiveness I always wonder whether they ever wished for it before, noticed assertiveness and how it feels to suddenly be assertive. I guess, in short, I wonder if their opinion of assertiveness changes.

mommybytes.com said...

Hi Julie, I didn't comment on yesterday's post, but I will here (two birds). What I see with your post today is your free spirit of youth and when you look at Patience, you may feel that she doesn't have that same spirit, that she acquiesces too much. In your eyes, you may feel that maybe she will be stepped on and taken advantage of. When I was in school, I never needed any extra attention and that was just fine with me. Not all kids need special attention to succeed. They won't necessarily fall through the cracks, and they will often end up fitting very well into society because they have an innate understanding of their surroundings and "the system". Being overly involved in their school life may hamper their progress in becoming an independent adult, as they may rely on "mom taking care of the situation". It is important for them to learn how to adapt and thrive under different circumstances and this can only be done if the parent is not constantly hovering over them. It's not that I am not involved in my kid's schooling, I do all the points on your list, but I let my son work out any school issues and only have called his teacher once (we definitely don't see eye to eye).

In college, I never once raised my hand to ask a question. OK, maybe once, and only once, but my heart was beating so hard, I didn't hear the answer. Is this lack of assertiveness? Perhaps. But in my view, it was simply that I didn't need to speak up because I didn't have any questions to ask. I either understood the material, or it was so far out of my understanding that no question would help me get back on track (WTF are you talking about was not a good option). In the workplace, I certainly speak up when needed, but more often than not, I am quiet during meetings. It may or may not be a gender thing, but simply personality.

wheelsonthebus said...

I think that assertiveness is more tolerated from attractive young women. As women get older, we are expected to fade and shut up, just as we get louder. Perhaps it is wise that we learn diplomacy just as our breasts start to sag.

Melissa said...

I don't know...most women I've known get less quiet as they get older. Including me. Kind of like, "Well, I'm sick of fading in the background so WATCH OUT!"

Maybe that's a southern thing.

And the spam is really bad this week. I had noticed it on other sites...

Julie Pippert said...

Angela, I hear what you're saying. I think you're saying a lot of what Sci Fi Dad said yesterday. I do appreciate you sharing your experience as a quieter person. But, that's not really who my daughter is. I won't go into more detail about my daughter and her situation, but please believe me when I say that I do understand and accept who she is. My personality and traits aren't getting in the way of me parenting her well as she needs. My goal and actions towards that goal are all geared to help her get to her best, not any expectation by me of who she ought to be. I promise.

Gwen said...

Emily made me laugh. The beauty of small boobs is that they never really sag, which says I don't know what about my current state of assertiveness. But hey, at least my breasts are perky!

OMG, is there a topic here? lol.

I think some of the issue of assertiveness goes back to conflict. What one person--let's say, Julie--sees as being humbly assertive, another person, say, oh I don't know, a pathological hater of conflict, sees as aggression because all disagreement feels aggressive. This isn't to say that we should therefore always keep our mouths shut. But it does make mature communication more difficult to achieve, unless you can separate your feelings about yourself from other people's feelings about you (not you, Julie; I mean a general you).

Chani has got it right--balance, balance, balance.

You make no overt connection between your troubles with assertiveness and your gender, Julie (okay, you had a sentence about how assertiveness is more tolerated in men, but that's not the depth I'm used to from you, lol). Is your brother like you? Has he had similar experiences? These are the things I wonder, having grown up with only sisters.

Julie Pippert said...

Oooh good question Gwen. Is my brother like me?

No, we just look alike. My sister is not like me either. At least not in *this* respect. We are quite like one another in other ways.

I am also an awful lot like and not at all like my stepbrothers and stepsister, although we weren't per se raised together (my youngest stepbrother is close in age so we did have more common time growing up).

So I had five siblings of sorts in my mix.

My parents are fairly strong-willed and so am I. I asserted myself, sometimes aggressively, growing up in order to not be mowed down.

My siblings preferred a path of less resistance.

I'm more overt, they are more covert. I'm not motivated to please although I prefer when I get approval, but they do appease and please.

As we've gotten older we've inched from our extremes closer to the middle and thus closer to each other.

And SINCE I KNOW THEY ARE READING they are welcome to speak for themselves.

ON THE BLOG.

mommybytes.com said...

Hi Julie, I don't mean to say that you don't have the very best interests in your daughter in mind, but I agree with SciFi Dad and Robert that parents should not be overly involved in the classroom. Today's expectations have gone too far in the wrong direction. Be involved in homework and ask the child about what goes on in school everyday, participate in school activities as needed, but don't
href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter_parent">helicopter
(check the link there are some funny to the point of sad examples). Trust me, I wish my son has a different teacher, but I'm not about to make enemies with the school and become one of "those" parents. Unless he is seriously failing to succeed, I won't step in.

mommybytes.com said...

Oops, I forgot to hit preview.. Here is the helicopter parent link.

And previewing forces me to enter two captchas!

Julie Pippert said...

Emily and Melissa, I've been having a big think on your two points.

I think there is more tolerance for youth, period. Attractive usually starts with a get out of jail free card, too.

I think you are both right and I think it's because you actually both said the same thing.

Emily said, "As women get older, we are expected to fade and shut up, just as we get louder."

Melissa said, "...most women I've known get less quiet as they get older. Including me."

So women get more strength in their belief in their right to have a voice as they get older and wiser, and just about at the time society quits thinking they matter much.

But I think that's general ageism most of all. We start looking at older people as less able, less important.

It drives me batty because so many people over 60 are wicked cool.

But I'm the kind of person who doesn't diss on buying a house because I don't like the wallpaper. I always look at the bones.

Sober Briquette said...

Just catching up, but yikes! Here I am, feeling older and wiser at 40 and you're throwing out numbers like 60? Grumble.

I am not very assertive, and I think much of it has to do with conflict aversion as Gwen has been describing it.

This has me thinking a lot about my mother, as well. I mentioned that the four of us kids have similar personalities, and I think it's a response to my mother's persistent fault-finding - she settled for nothing. An example of assertiveness morphing into a habit of nitpicking.

Sorry, that's tangential. I agree with you and "assertive with humility" is what I was clumsily trying to say I'm attempting to teach my children.

Andrea said...

Finally finally got one up. Took me three tries and just about killed me. I hope you appreciate this!

On to the actual point: I'm with Gwen. I don't think it's possible to behave in such a way that other people will never perceive you as aggressive.

In fact, I'm not even sure what the difference between aggression and assertiveness is, for all the discussion about it. I don't know what "assertiveness with humility" means.

I know that with Frances, I have to teach her to yell because she's so small and soft-spoken that "assertive with humility" is likely to get her walked over.

we_be_toys said...

Very thought-provoking post, and I think we basically agree. I especially liked your quote from A Chorus Line - that has to be my favorite song in that!
It's a fine line to walk, raising a child. Knowing when it's time to step in and when it's time to let them go out on their own can be a trial and error kind of process. I've always told my kids to "embrace their inner weird" and believe in who they are. so far, I think I'm doing okay, but it's still a few years until the teen years, when all bets are off!

PunditMom said...

I have learned to become more assertive in my relationship with Mr. PunditMom and I'm not sure he knows what to do. Part of the assertiveness has just come from being too tired to hold it in and be the good girl. Too tired to keep my real feelings in, even if that means he won't be happy (ex: saying that I can't be interrupted for something he needs).

It feels powerful and scary -- I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be. But I do feel more like me.

And thanks for the book tip!

Robert said...

I agree with Melissa's response to wheelsonthebus, so it indeed must be a Southern thing. Here, women over fifty (or maybe sixty) tend to get a lot more deference when they speak than young women. I wrote about that in my post today, though only briefly.

Sorry for not commenting earlier, but my whole family is sick today and I was doing a lot just to get a post up.

Julie Pippert said...

Andrea I am always grateful. :)

To you and Gwen both, of course there's always the chance that someone perceives it other than it's intended, or opines it is aggressive when you feel it's just.

But.

I can't control others and there's usually this point where it's more about someone else than me, KWIM?

We live in a populated world and eventually we'll step on toes. It simply is.

But if I've done my best to be respectful, mindful, diplomatic, humble, whathaveyou, then I have done my part.

Which is all to say, I think, that I agree with Gwen that it's being able to separate from how others feel about (general) you.

And of course there is no single definitive definition of assertive or humility. It's more the intent, I think. Variable by situation and circumstance.

As you said, Andrea, you have to teach Frances to yell. I have to curb my loudness and work for softer. I am big with lots of energy. That, in and of itself, is often viewed as aggressive. To add speaking up to that? I have to be careful.

I think all I'm trying to say with the assertive but humble thing is to keep in mind my own limitations and other people too along with ensuring it is compromise not sacrifice, and speaking up when warranted. It bothers me to try to define it. It never sounds right.

Balance.

Robert said...

I love your line about "not buying a house because of the wallpaper", Julie. When we bought our current home, I think it sat on the market a long time, and I suspect it was in large part due to the master bedroom. Its walls had the color and appearance of someone taking a baby diaper and rolling it down the walls. My father even referred to it as baby s--- mustard brown (he can be so eloquent at times). We had, fortunately, already agreed to buy the house before we saw it (we moved from out west, but I knew the house from having driven by in on my way to work many times, long story). My wife refused to move one stick of furniture into the house until we'd repainted that room. We loved the look of the room now, and we've slowly given various elements of our own style to the house since.

I know this comment is completely unrelated to your meaning, but it struck a chord of just how truly you hit the nail on the head with your comment. Sometimes people are way too into looking at the surface and ignore the substance. I've certainly dealt with that, being bald, overweight, nerdy looking, and having the occasional flavor of Southern in my accent (my voice generally has very little accent, though). I've certainly surprised people over the years.

Robert said...

Sorry to keep commenting so much, but you've again reminded me of how people perceive me (or my wife) at times. I'm big, and generally come off like a quiet teddy bear, but when I get to talking about a topic that brings out my passion, I know I have taken people aback before. When I was forming a club and trying to recruit members, the expression on their faces seemed to demonstrate shock, and I think they wondered what cannon I was shot out of. My wife can come across as loud to anyone not experienced with her simply because (in her own words) she does things "big". I love it about her, but it definitely takes me by surprise now and then. And a good surprise. :)

liv said...

in coping with my son's issues, i think i went through those dread grief stages before really getting active, and still i find myself pretty balanced between those descriptors.

it's a hard line to walk.

Andrea said...

Well, see, that's the thing. I'm tall, and I'm smart, and some people find me attractive in a particular way--and that's already too much for a lot of people, and they've made it known in ways subtle and not-so-subtle that I don't really have hte right to say anything at all.

So, yes; I'd agree till the end of days that my intentions are to be assertive and respectful and all those good things (though I've given up on humble because when I am for it sometimes people treat me like a pet gerbil, which I can't stand). But the reality is that in many situations my intentionsn are utterly irrelevant, I'm perceived as being aggressive and intimidating simply for existing.

The fact is, to me, what's assertive or aggressive or seen that way is so dependent on one's roles and status and gender (and probably race and class and all that other stuff too), it's so wrapped up in stereotype and prejudice, it's so dependent on the voice that one is supposed to legitimately have depending on one's sex and wealth and age and all the rest, that it makes nearly no sense to speak of it as an actual behavioural attribute or style. In other words, in almost every situation I can think of, whether I am seen as assertive or aggressive has more to do with the person/people I am interacting with than it has to do with me.

le35 said...

I read the post and all the comments, but I can't believe that I didn't comment right away!!! I think the dey to assertive is to be positive. We can't just complain about not getting our way, but calmly suggest a solution. Leave out anger and emotion and then we can be heard.

Ria said...

For the first time

I.Have.No.Words.

What everyone said.

Seriously.

Annie said...

I love this topic and could post a very long post on it - but fear I would tie myself in knots trying to get it all out.

Linked to your post from yesterday - and my comments on it - I was a very shy child - PAINFULLY shy. Both my parents are quiet, rule followers - don't rock the boat kind of people. It is only as I've grown, and gone to college and begun to stand on my own two feet that I've realized that being a wallflower gets you nowhere. I would love to go back and tell myself to be more adventurous, and less afraid. I see assertiveness as SUCH a positive trait - and not necessarily something that always has to be associated with conflict. To me it is about putting yourself out there - getting on with things - being and DOING. I got to that point, eventually - but really I would say it was only about 3 years into my job - where I found myself becoming the proverbial doormat and I wasn't taking it - I started to come out of my shell, make people take notice of me and of what I could do - and they did. I moved up the ranks and was very successful at my work. This experience has stood to me, and is what laid the foundation for me realizing that my attitude needs to be all about 'I CAN DO THIS' and less about 'I wish I could do that'.

Had I had more assertive parents - modeling this attitude - perhaps I may not have been such a shy child, or maybe this is something I had to prove to myself? I'm not really sure and we all know we can argue the 'nature vs nurture' thing til the cows come home.

Your last two posts have given me much pause for thought though on how my kids view their parents - and I hope that I can model assertive behaviour that will instill in them the confidence and belief that they too can do whatever they set their minds to. Thank you.

Robert said...

Annie's comments have reminded me of something my father taught me from a very young age. He was a total introvert growing up, but when he went into the working world, he noticed it was the people who spoke up who got ahead. He took it upon himself to join the skills to speak out by joining Toastmasters, a club devoted to helping its members become better communicators and public speakers. He was a President and CEO of a large corporation before his career was done, and he has (since leaving that company) started a successful business of his own. He helped me learn to be a public speaker, too, by giving me the assignment to give out a scholarship award three times a year all through high school, each of which required me to speak in front of audiences of hundreds. I am thankful he helped me learn to speak out in public, and to be a better communicator in general, because I know it helped me succeed in my academic and business career. Parenting really can make a difference in shaping a child's future, no question.

Angela said...

Better late than never....I'm in. Back to read tomorrow--migraine. Ack.

slouching mom said...

OK, imagine me putting on my psychologist's hat.

Assertiveness versus aggression...

Assertiveness is perceived in my field as wholly positive (as opposed to aggression).

When, under what conditions, does assertiveness start to accrue negative connotations?

Well, of course, when we're talking about women.

Assertive girls, in my experience, are generally praised. Feminism helped us get THAT far, at least.

And yet -- something happens when these same girls become women, and it must be very confusing for them. All of a sudden society is seeing what was once counted as a strength as a weakness.

It's one area in which we are woefully biased as a culture. Because assertive women are judged to be strident and manipulative, and assertive men? Are lauded as go-getters, determined, strong...

Sorry if this has been said. I'm too tired to read through the comments right now.

Lawyer Mama said...

I use to be painfully shy. I'm still an introvert, but now I'm pretty damn assertive. My mother was the same way, so I wonder if it's something I learned from her behavior. No one's ever called me a bitch to my face, but I've heard my mother called one on many occasions.

On the flip side, it's also painfully hard growing up when you aren't assertive. I remember feeling as if there were something wrong with me when I didn't speak up. I could almost feel the disappointment coming from my parents, teachers, etc... when I wasn't assertive. Girls and women just can't win.

I was really sorry to miss this topic. But next week looks great too!