It’s been a few months since the ban bossy campaign began and so the hype has been dialed down a bit. I could wax on and on about the idiocy, hypocrisy, and misplaced priorities that encompass the people who dreamed up this faux drama, but instead I will tell you the story about the day I called my daughter “bossy”.
Each of my children have their own little vices that they tend to habitually fall prey to. Spencer blames his siblings for anything and everything that goes wrong in his life. Emma is ridiculously distractible. Lucy is a forceful micromanager. Each of them is unkind to the others on a regular basis. Little things like, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “oops! I’m sorry” are not the kind of thing they say to each other even though their father and I practice that kind of simple, considerate behavior with them and each other all the time. Combine the lack of kindness with their individual vices and it’s not a pretty picture.
Just a few days before I called my daughter “bossy” we instituted a new discipline method inspired by the “Congratulations, You’re Grounded” photo that we’ve seen on Pinterest. We adapted to allow for three different levels (or “strikes”), each time having to earn more points to dig themselves out of the hole. Given the chores involved, this system is exclusively for the oldest three children. After two days my children were still acting like angels and I was thinking how great it was that just the prospect of having to do so many extra chores was enough incentive to keep their behavior in line.
Then it happened. Jack was in the kitchen and I heard the sound that every mother dreads hearing… the sound of rattling glass. Not being able to move very quickly these days (over two hours to finish a 5k, remember?) I sent Lucy into the kitchen to stop whatever accident was about to happen. Two seconds later I heard a shriek. Unlike the “I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar” shriek, this shriek extended far past the expected twenty seconds. After a minute or two Jack had managed to calm down long enough to show me the long red scratch across his chest. In her zeal to prevent her brother from licking the last few crumbs out of the jar, Lucy had been too rough with him (again) and accidentally scratched him.
This is the kind of behavior that I am constantly warning Lucy about. “Careful with your siblings”, “be gentle”, and “not so rough” are just a few of the phrases I find myself saying to her more often than I would like. I was at a loss as to what to do. I knew she didn’t scratch Jack on purpose, but it’s not acceptable that her default reaction be force when her siblings are doing something they shouldn’t. Obviously my constant reminding wasn’t helping. I had to do something to teach her!
“I’m sorry, Lucy… but you have earned a “strike one”.
Devastated doesn’t quite embody the emotion she felt at the punishment. I have never seen her so upset. I called all of the kids into the kitchen and told them what happened between Lucy and Jack and then explained that from that point on, any time they physically hurt one of their siblings–even if it is an accident–they automatically get a “strike two”. Being aware of your body’s movements and how it affects others is an important skill to learn. You can’t throw a toy across the room, hit your brother in the head and escape consequences just because it was an accident. Accidents happen but you still need to take responsibility for them. They all understood, nodded their heads, and left Lucy and I alone the kitchen.
I told her that since I had already said it was a strike one I would keep it that way this time, but next time it’s a strike two as per our new rule.
She was still visibly upset. After talking with her I was able to discover she was upset because she really didn’t mean to hurt Jack and not (as I had originally thought) because she was in trouble.
“Lucy, you’re not in trouble and I know it was an accident. But this is a problem that we have over and over again and nothing changes. It’s my job to teach you and that is what I’m trying to do here.
“Look, there are a lot of different kinds of personalities. Every one has strengths and weaknesses and every one is necessary for a society to work well together. You have a personality that means that you really like to be in charge. You look around, see what needs to be done and try and figure out ways to get it done. You are a doer. You have good ideas and you want things to work the way you think they should work.
“That’s GOOD! That’s the kind of personality that can turn into a great leader and the world NEEDS great, good, strong, women leaders! On the other hand that same personality can turn into horrible, frightening, and evil dictators. It’s the difference between George Washington and Adolf Hitler.
“You have a choice to make. You can be Washington or you can be Hitler. You can be the kind of person who people love and want to follow, or you can be the kind of person who forces people to follow you because they are scared. Which one do you want to be?”
She definitely did NOT want to be Hitler. She wanted to be a good leader. “Then you have to start with your family. It doesn’t matter if you want to be able to lead a company or the country or the world, the principles are the same. Start with being a good leader to your siblings. But right now you are just being bossy and bossy turns into dictatorship. The world does NOT need more bossy people. It needs more kindness, love, and understanding.”
I then told her about a book I have been listening to by Simon Sinek entitled Leaders Eat Last. I asked if she would like me to put it on her iPod so she could listen to it and she did. “It’s a book written for people who are running companies, but the principles are the same no matter what. When I listen to it I think about how I can be a better mom. When you listen to it I want you to think about how the lessons you learn can help you be a better sister.”
She then quietly (and happily) cleaned the middle room, cleaned the entry and stairwell, organized and scrubbed out the refrigerator, and scrubbed all of the cabinet fronts in the kitchen as her chosen consequences.
There IS such a thing as bossy behavior–and it’s not something to be encouraged (don’t believe me? Has anyone ever called a little girl who was encouraging, kind, and inclusive “bossy”?). If you have a daughter (or son) and you see in her the makings of a fabulous leader, teach her the difference between a beloved leader and a feared dictator–and when she starts being bossy, call her out on it. Being bossy is nothing more or less than dictatorship in its infancy. There is nothing wrong with being a strong and independent woman–in fact I consider myself one of them–but don’t for a minute think that kindness, mercy, and virtue are signs of weakness; or that a sharp tongue, a rude demeanor, and condescending attitude are synonymous with strength.
Ignoring or encouraging that kind of negative behavior is not “empowering”, it’s degrading and insulting; not only to the people you supposedly “lead” but also to the millions of young girls whose potential for leadership is hindered because they think force and bullying is the only way to achieve it. Being a female does not automatically put you at a leadership disadvantage, as millions of mothers can testify. Men and women alike who inspire support and love from those around them will go much farther than those who engender fear and bitterness.
The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. … There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity. ~Margaret D. Nadauld