My daughter is 6, and she’s a badass. Which is another way of saying she’s strongly opinionated and thick-skinned and ornery. Her feelings are rarely hurt. She skis fast. She runs fast. And she talks even faster. She tells us when we are wrong. She never apologizes unnecessarily. And when she loves you, she loves fiercely. But you gotta earn it.
I’m not just saying she’s a badass because I’m her mother. She’s the type of kid who, when she falls down, usually just brushes the blood off on her tutu and keeps on playing. She’ll always choose to go outside in the mud and rain and pull worms from the earth, fat and wiggling, over staying inside, being warm and dry.
And yes, her opinion is loud. In class this year, her art teacher insisted that each child draw seven circles for their caterpillars and my daughter told her that, no, she’d be drawing nine circles because she is an artist, and artists decide on how many circles their caterpillars get. It’s cute now, but you can see how this might evolve horribly during her teenage years.
Raising a badass isn’t always easy. It often comes with daily arguments and big emotions and a lot of hollering. She doesn’t like to be told what to do at all. And she wants to be the best at everything, but that doesn’t always happen. While we want to send her out into the world hanging on to all of those skills that she naturally has, we also want to her to learn kindness and gentleness and even more kindness.
There are some ways that we encourage her badassery while also trying to live with each other.
We encourage her to speak up. She has a voice and she needs to use it — she orders for herself in restaurants and talks to other grown-ups like a real human. We help her strategize on communicating with her teachers if something is bothering her at school. We value her opinion and try to listen to most of her words — which is next to impossible. I mean, the girl has so much to say. But we try.
We encourage a love of the natural world. Dirt doesn’t hurt. We rescue spiders and all sorts of bugs. I try to model not freaking out over critters getting in the house, getting messy, rolling on the ground, and loving the outside world. It’s becoming increasingly more evident that a connection to the outdoors is important for developing brains, so it should also be vital for being a badass.
We promote being physical. My husband wrestles her and throws her around, and I just try not to watch. Roughhousing has been shown to help kids learn resilience, develop grit, and bond with their parents — so go for it. And girls can like skateboarding, biking, skiing, treehouse building, and gold mining just as much as boys can.
She’s been taught how to pee in the woods. It’s a skill, people.
Getting hurt, spilling milk, and not getting our way is how life works. There aren’t any gasps of horror coming from us when someone wipes out or breaks a glass or throws out a random curse word. She sees us not reacting, and it helps calm the dramatic situation.
We buy her toys that make her think. Not just dolls and dresses, although she enjoys that stuff too. She’s just as likely to build towers or construct intricate train configurations as she is to play princess or babies. Gendered toys are dumb. Boys like to bake. Girls like to smash stuff.
We encourage choices and failures. Oh, the failures. They are hard to celebrate, but we do because we hope that the more she fails now, the better she will get at making positive choices when she’s a teenager with a driver’s license.
We teach her to listen to that faint voice that speaks up when something is wrong. Intuition is powerful, and all kids have that voice. Our only job is to not squash it or undermine it or not listen to it ourselves.
We talk a lot about how language can be used to get what you want. No, you can’t boss me around, and in turn, I shouldn’t order you around — except for maybe when you are singing in your room until 10 o’clock at night because…seriously.
Crying is great. Crying is what makes the world go ’round. I feel so much better after a good cry-fest, and I want her to always know that this doesn’t make her weak. It makes her strong.
And finally, we let a lot of shit go. That child walks out of the house looking like a hot mess a lot of the time, but she feels so freaking empowered when she picks out her own clothes, so I let it go. Why not?
She’s only 6, so we still have a ways to go, but I’m hopeful that as an adult, she will still be a force to be reckoned with. I just hope we all survive her childhood in the meantime.