I’ve been doing my best to avoid using the word ‘bossy’ when referring to my gorgeous little Button-Pusher. Words are powerful and can have a very negative effect on our emotions and self esteem, and the word ‘bossy’ has a particularly negative association. So much so, that in 2014, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, launched the #banbossy campaign in an attempt to address the impact it seems to have on young girls’ lives. Boys are seldom called ‘bossy’: they’re much more likely to be referred to as leaders. “Aye aye Cap’n” is often said with a smile and a salute. “Sir yes sir!” is affirmative and respectful and is often followed by the parent or adult doing the very thing they’ve been asked, or rather told, to do. A young girl on the other hand, is much more likely to hear “oo what a bossy boots!” after any request she might make.
The #banbossy campaign believes the word has such a negative association, that it sends a message to girls: don’t speak up, don’t be assertive, don’t speak your mind. The confidence gap between young men and women is known to start early, so I agree that we should encourage girls everywhere to have confidence in their abilities, minds and voices.
With this in mind I recently turned my thoughts to my little Button-Pusher, mentally calculating how often I hold my tongue from calling her ‘bossy’. And it’s daily. On a daily basis I stop myself from saying, “hey bossy boots ask Mummy nicely”. The words are almost automatically ejected from my lips, which of course means I see how indoctrinated we all are at calling girls bossy!
I think I feel compelled to say it so often because (and despite doing my utmost to teach good manners and insist on pleases and thank yous) as her confidence and desire for independence grows, so too do her ‘polite requests’:
At the breakfast table – “Daddy eat your porridge, right now Daddy, sit down here with me!”
In the car – “Slow down Daddy!” (which to be fair, I was thinking too).
At her Grandparents’ house – “Grandpa! Come play cars with me. Right now Grandpa!”
After being told not to do something she shouldn’t do – “You go in the kitchen now Mummy, go and have coffee” i.e. can you get out of my face Mum so I can do the thing you’ve just told me not to do! Sneaky eh?!
And recently out in the park when I scooped her up as she kept running in the opposite direction – “Put me down put me down! Right now!” This one left me with my head metaphorically in my hands as to anyone listening it probably sounded like I was kidnapping my own child.
I have to be honest, one of the main things that bothers me about the many and varied demands that B-P throws out each day, is the thought that it could be argued that much of it, is learned behaviour. I’m a stay-at-home mum, and aside from a few mornings at nursery each week, my little Button-Pusher spends most of her time with me, so if she’s learning these things from anyone, it’s (gulp) me! I’m the one putting these
bossy assertive sayings into her vocabulary. I’m the one struggling with (a lack of) patience and teaching by example. She’s getting it from me. Last week when Mr Baffled asked if she wanted to play tea parties, she told him, “Not now Daddy, I’m really busy doing emails on my laptop”! Now I can’t be sure, but I don’t think Thomas the Tank Engine is saying that to the Fat Controller.
So, as with everything toddler related, I realise that it’s as much what I do as it is what I say, and that my little Button-Pusher is, in her sponge-like way, taking everything in. I’m not beating myself up here: I appreciate that there are a myriad of other influences in her little life, but I am having to accept that my influence will of course have a great impact on her. My behaviour imprints on her, and perhaps one of the reasons that her behaviour has the power to push my buttons so much, is that it holds a mirror up to me. It’s a constant reminder that I’m not that patient a person. That I’m pretty grumpy if I’m tired or hungry. That I’m not much of a diplomat!
So the next time my mind jumps immediately to call B-P a ‘bossy boots’, I’m hoping that I’ll remember she’s just trying to assert herself, in the hope that she’ll grow up to be a strong, capable woman.
Just like Mrs Baffled hopes she will one day too!