My 4 year old daughter just received a note in her third week of pre-k from her teacher.
It said, “She is doing such a wonderful job being a leader at school!”
I couldn’t be more proud and grateful that her teacher is seeing the same qualities my wife and I see in her.
Since she could talk, she has been very clear about what she likes and doesn’t like, very willing and able to tell you how she feels about any particular topic. She loves to suggest activities to other kids and lead play.
Also, since she could talk, people who observed her would make comments like, “she sure is sassy,” or “she’s definitely got a personality,” or “you’re going to have your hands full when she’s a teenager,” or my favorite: “she sure is opinionated.”
(You’re GOD DAMNED RIGHT she has an opinion!)
Moving through my eye roll and doing my best not to completely tear down the person behind the statement, I say something like…
“No, she’s not sassy or bossy or a hand full, she’s a LEADER.”
I’m confident that the people making these seemingly harmless statements don’t intend harm nor are they purposely perpetuating gender stereotypes, but they definitely are.
As a parent, I could definitely find a million things I think I’m not doing well enough, but one thing I’m really proud of about how my wife and I parent, is that we are very intentional about being in relationship with our daughter in such a way that we don’t shut her down, force her conformity or treat her as a being that should “shut up and listen.”
The most important principle in parenting to me is that I teach her how to love herself, trust herself and find her own sense of what feels right and wrong to her. A confident being who is kind to herself has a much better chance at living a great life.
We are all born with a sense of right and wrong and we are oriented toward love. We have what Brené Brown calls “healthy guilt.” Unfortunately, as a society, we often trade in trusting this essential nature in our children for the illusion that we can control our child’s behavior now and in the future “for their benefit.”
Either because parents are scared or stressed or both, or because it’s the way we were taught and “we turned out fine” it’s been normalized to resort to shame, guilt or dominance to make kids “behave.”
I’m not blaming the parenting, because I genuinely believe, all parents (even the absent ones) have a deep desire to be the best parent they can be and that parents who hurt their kids, were hurt in their own upbringing.
But, I do believe we will someday look back on this time with remorse and realize how much damage we did to our children through words, actions, education and parenting philosophies that we call “normal” now.
To leaders everywhere…. keep leading.