In a gender-coded world, where we’re just beginning to blur the categories between self-identifying “girls” and “boys” in the store aisles, I (for one) think we need to be more thoughtful about how we frame the budding personalities of our children. My daughter, who is now eight, is most interested in communicating her strong point of view. She always has something to say, and has never shied away from sharing how she thinks things should be run in the world. In short, she fits the description of a "strong-willed girl" (a term I'm still not entirely sure I understand or is even a real thing) and as the apparent parent of a strong willed-girl, there are things I'm tired of hearing.
I get a lot of “he’s such a boy” comments from people who spend time with my five-year-old son. Suppressing annoyance, I gently correct them. “He’s a kid,” I say. He’s curious, has energy, and likes to make explosion sound effects on the regular. A lot of boys do that. A lot of girls do that. I don’t really think it has anything to with his genitalia or the gender he currently identifies with. Alas, my son is told he fits the "boy mold" and my darling daughter is labeled "strong willed", because she voices her opinion with little remorse. Studies show most girls are as eager to voice their opinions as their male peers at this age, so my daughter is pretty "normal".
My daughter is considerate and well-mannered for the most part, but she has her fair share of outbursts and tantrums. She calls me on my sh*t (like passionately demanding that I stop interrupting her) and reminds me, rather loudly, how unfair I make things for her (because there are only so many hours a week I am willing to dedicate to arranging and attending playdates). She toggles between euphoria and devastation; life is amazing and terrible and not once has my daughter kept those feelings to herself.
Which is why I think calling my daughter “strong-willed” is way off-base. She’s a third grader trying to figure out this weird world and its sometimes illogical rules (“Why won’t you buy us Pringles? They never expire!”). She’s got questions, and demands answers with a passion and enthusiasm I, honestly, love and admire and hope continues. I really wish people would stop remarking on her behavior as if it were a negative thing to want things to go your way. We all want things our way; she’s still figuring out the best tactics to make it happen.
But until the term “strong-willed” is kicked to the curb, here are a few things us parents of strong, passionate and unapologetically unique girls are tired of hearing:
“Wow, She Really Knows What She Wants”
Yes she does, and I’m so thankful. Arguably one of the most difficult things to be (especially when you become an adult and you're expected to have your entire life planned out) is undecided. It breeds self-doubt and fear and can inspire others to make unfair assumptions about you. I’m glad she can make up her mind definitively about things. It’s an admirable quality, honestly. (Except when she’s made up her mind not to leave the room as we’re trying to get out the door to the dentist. That's kind of the worst.)
“Got A Lot Of Opinions, This One”
Unlike me, a perpetual people-pleaser, my daughter says what she thinks without fear of pissing anyone off or becoming someone somebody else doesn't like. She’s not rude, and she doesn’t spout hateful things whenever they pop into her head (well, except to tell me I’m the worst mom ever when I give her a 5-minute “screen time is over” warning), but she gives honest answers. In fact, I think I’m learning a lot from her. It’s took having a little kid to teach me it is more satisfying to be true to myself than worry about my opinions being unpopular, as long as nobody gets hurt.
“She’s One Tough Cookie”
That’s a really cute thing to say. Ever use it to describe a boy with similar outgoing attributes? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
“Where Did She Get It From?”
My daughter’s extroverted personality is in stark contrast to her parents’ introverted tendencies. I know we appear different (she enjoys group social settings while I find it hard to walk outside without wearing headphones), but we complement each other. I can’t imagine how a house full of extroverts would manage. (Actually, I kind of can, and no. Just, no.)
“A Born Leader!”
Everyone is a born leader; parents are at the complete whim of their newborns, for example. It’s just a matter of encouraging kids to continue forging new ideas and galvanizing excitement in others to join their cause, from the lemonade stand to the board room. We could use more female leaders, as long as they don't turn into dictators.
“Little Miss [Anything]...”
The title “Little Miss” is not even a real salutation. I am pretty sure my daughter would not prefer a reference to her size in how you greet her. Unless you’d like her to do the same to you.
“She’s Kind Of Bossy”
Yes, she is sometimes, and I tell her nobody likes to be told what to do. But I have to be careful not to steer her too much in the opposite direction, where she starts censoring herself for fear of coming on “too strong.”
And honestly, do we ever call boys or men "bossy"? Why isn't that a thing? Why is it that when a little boy asserts himself he's "brave" or a "leader" or some other completely positive thing, but when a little girl does it, she's rude? I mean, hello gender stereotypes that we should totally get rid of as a society but, for whatever reason, continue to hold onto and push on our children. Ugh.
“She’s The Boss, Huh?”
Of me? No. She has strong opinions and I hear her, but she is far from qualified to be in charge of anything more than her homework and the occasional meal prep, if it doesn’t involve the oven. I’m still the boss, I think. Well, on most days. You know what, let me get back to you on that one.
“She Probably Wants To Run For President, Huh?”
Actually, at this moment in time, she wants to be a pop star and a teacher. And while I would definitely support her hypothetical decision to run for POTUS, it honestly doesn’t matter what she wants to be when she grows up; as long as she demonstrates the same determination in the future as she does now, any of career goal is one I will emphatically support.