As my daughter embarks upon adolescence, I find myself once again (this time vicariously) thrown into the treacherous social world of teen girls. My bright, funny, insightful twelve-year old possesses staunch opinions and is not afraid to assert them. I assure you she did not inherit this from me. Truth is, I have really only found my voice in the past decade or so. Although I hadn’t been a complete doormat up until that time, speaking up assertively was accomplished only occasionally and with a decent amount of discomfort. As a teen and young adult, there was little worse than being called bossy or (gasp!) the other b-word. I was going for nice. That is what I wanted to hear, and usually did, at times to my own detriment. A born pleaser, assertiveness has been a hard-earned skill and one that in certain circumstances challenges me still.
Mothering from the sidelines (endeavoring to stay out of the helicopter), I vacillate between awe at her strength and angst that she may push it too far. I attempt to find balance between wanting to cheer her chutzpah and advising her to just be quiet and let it go. Is she behaving as a leader or acting abrasively? If she were a boy, would this idea of “bossy” even be an issue? Am I perpetuating societal stereotypes or deftly guiding her through the maze of social propriety?
I dare to hope that when faced with future peer pressure, my daughter will have built a solid arsenal of comfort in saying no and staying true to herself. Yes, I want her to be kind to others. Kindness is one of my most deeply held values. However, girls are expected to be nice (read passive and quiet), which is different than kind. What is often forgotten in nice is kindness towards oneself and attending to one’s own needs, especially for females in a society that still prioritizes and encourages nice at the expense of leadership and assertiveness
As if on cue, Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook and the Lean In movement), along with other prominent leaders, recently initiated a Ban “Bossy” campaign. www.banbossy.com “We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead,” Sandberg said, “and if you ask girls why they don’t want to lead, whether it’s the school project all the way on to running for office, they don’t want to be called bossy and they don’t want to be disliked.” Whatever you may think of Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In movement, there is no denying her power, influence and guts. As a female leader in a male-dominated tech field, she has been called “bossy” more times than she can count.
Thanks to Sandberg and her timely Ban “Bossy” campaign,I am encouraged to stand more firmly on the side of assertiveness in my quest for balance in mothering. When I am more relaxed and mindful, I am able to step aside, allow my strong girl to navigate her way and learn to strike her own balance within kind leadership. I know she won’t get it right each time, but I’m now reminded to trust myself and my girl, supported in my pride of a daughter to whom leadership comes naturally. Go get ‘em, love