My teenage daughter has been working at her job for over a year. She started at minimum wage, at a time when they were incredibly short-staffed. And she’s always been willing to jump in and help and take on work beyond her job description, and she often fills in when others are sick.
But after a year, she saw they were hiring and paying new hires more than they were paying her. So even though it took everything in me not to march into her place of employment and say something to her boss, I told her she needed to ask for a raise.
I told her that despite knowing how hard it would be for her. My daughter is very quiet and introverted and shuts down when something is bothering her, and I knew this was going to take some time for her to wrap her head around. But she was feeling taken for granted.
It took a few months and a lot of long talks to convince my daughter she was worth the raise, that she’d earned it. I let her know that unfortunately, if she said nothing, her boss was going to assume she was happy and probably wouldn’t just spontaneously give her a raise. I think what finally got through to her was when I told her it would only be a minute or two of feeling uncomfortable, and then, if she got the raise, she’d feel so relieved and not resentful anymore.
Finally, she went into work and told her boss that she knew they were hiring new people at a higher rate than what she was making, and she wanted her to match that or she’d have to look for another job. She was so proud when she got a larger raise than what she asked for. And I’m so proud of her for stepping up and advocating for herself. Because most of adult life is learning to stand up for yourself and saying what you want, right? It took me till my mid-forties to learn that lesson.
For most parents, our instinct kicks in and we want to protect our kids. When they are young, they don’t always have the words or tools to advocate for themselves and it’s up to us to help them. But as they get older it’s really hard to give them the time and space to figure these things out.
It took my daughter three months to ask for a raise, and there were times I wondered if she’d even do it. But I knew that she had to do it on her own. This was her battle to fight — both internally and externally.
When my kids entered high school, I realized I wasn’t doing them many favors by talking to a teacher when they didn’t understand something in class or they needed extra help. It was so much easier and made a lot more sense for them to communicate to their teacher what they needed.
It’s really hard to let go of some of these parental duties as our kids get older. And I want to do more than I know I should do for my kids. One thing that helps me get my kids to advocate for themselves is knowing that it’s an investment in their future when they take charge of their life, and I can still support them from the sidelines.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.