40 in 40 · Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Being Your Own Advocate

“Im ein ani li, mi li? Aval im ani rak l’atzmi, ma ani?”

“If I am not for me, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

-Hillel (Pirkei Avos 1:14)

We all have own strengths, the things that come naturally to us, that we might even excel at.

We also have our deficits, our challenges. It’s no use to compare, because what might seem like a small challenge in our eyes is insurmountable in someone else’s.

As a parent, I often see, with dismay, my own deficits and flaws reflected very clearly in my children’s behavior. When they have a hard time dealing with disappointment, with frustrations, with the normal challenges of childhood, I see myself in them.

I see how my own maladaptive responses have trickled down into their childish tantrums. I see how my perfectionism and critical nature can result in a perfectly good drawing ended up crumpled at the bottom of the trash can.

And it is torture.

Torture because I want them to be better than me. Torture because making progress on this personal failings is a grueling and painstakingly slow process.

Rav Yisrael Salanter, father of the mussar movement, famously said that it was easier to complete learning the entire Talmud (a feat only some area able to do once every seven and a half years, if they learn a page every single day) than to correct one flawed character trait.


This pandemic has accelerated the amount of progress I’ve made on certain character traits, which is both fantastic and also humbling (who knew I could actually make such progress, and what was holding me back until now?!).

One thing that I have learned is that I must take ownership of my own emotional landscape and be my own advocate.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that I have learned to pay much closer attention to when I’m starting to get overwhelmed and take the necessary steps to prevent the overwhelm from getting out of hand.

Previously, I would have built-in time to decompress. When the kids were at school. When I volunteered for something outside of my home. When I went out to run errands.

But now, obviously, that downtime and those built-in mechanisms no longer exist.

Now I have to pay attention and speak up for myself when I feel the edge approaching.

And since I have learned to regulate my own mood more consistently, guess what??

I have been able to help my children with their own regulation as well.

So I feel that by being for myself, by learning how to really manage more capably, I have also been able to not only be about myself.

–Photo of cliff by Ashley Jurius on Unsplash

-Family photo by me

4 thoughts on “Being Your Own Advocate

  1. Nice article. I try to recognize when things start to get overwhelming too. Some times some obeI am with bad to remi d me to chill and step back from it and just think and not do.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Telling myself, “You actually don’t have to do that (whatever it is)” when I feel myself close to the edge has been the lifesaver during this time. But what about the things you do that don’t have to be done but that recharge you. e.g., I want my flowerbeds to be mulched. That will help me feel happier and calmer, but to get there I have to stress myself doing something I could have skipped.

    1. This is something I am also trying to figure out. Currently, I’m taking it on a case by case basis. Like these daily posts. Doing them means I’m doing less housework, which means my house is messier, which makes me more stressed out. But I made a calculation that, in this case, it’s worth the temporary stress to have the boost of creativity.

      Sometimes I just get to the point where I have to choose to let something “responsible” slide in order to do something like mulching the garden, and then when faced with whatever inevitable fallout, just remind myself that it was a conscious decision, and it was worth it, and take small steps to get through whatever mess I need to clean.

      I hope that’s helpful!!

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