My daughter is 7, going on 17, and she doesn’t put up with a lot of shit. She’s a foot-stomping, door-slamming, lip-twisting, strong-willed little lady who has so many amazing headstrong qualities that I’m about to pull my hair out.
She’s a brunette, like her mother, with bangs cut in a straight line above her eyebrows and blue eyes. She’s the second shortest person in her second-grade class, and while it seems like her small slender build would set her up for a limited power dynamic, she’s the one running the games at recess. She’s the one telling everyone the rules and how they should be acted out.
And the thing is, there are a lot of ways to interpret how my daughter interacts with the world. I am not 100% sure how popular she is. Perhaps she’s that girl in the class who everyone secretly hates. Perhaps all of her friends are frenemies. Perhaps she’s too young for that sort of thing.
But what I do know is that she isn’t all that good at taking no for an answer, and unless I explain, in detail, why we are doing something, there’s a 50% chance that she’s not doing it. Perhaps this is the feminist father in me talking, but when I see the way she puts her foot down when she disagrees, I see her as a future Elizabeth Warren. And depending on which side of the coin you are on, that is a really good or really bad thing.
In my opinion, I think Elizabeth Warren is awesome. I consider raising an Elizabeth Warren as a huge parenting win.
But at the same time, as a parent of three kids, my 7-year-old is, hands down, the most difficult child we have. This isn’t to say that our other children don’t have their own quirks about them. My oldest son, who’s 9, is addicted to video games, so life with him is basically a constant, irritating, negotiation for more screen time. And my youngest daughter, who’s 2, is like living with a wild raccoon. But neither of them are as headstrong as their sister, and in the moment, when she’s stomping her feet, or slamming her bedroom door, or looking me square in the face and telling me that she will not, or won’t, or that she isn’t interested, I feel like I’m about to explode.
I want to take her down a notch. I want her to understand the reality of her place in life. She is the child, and I am her father, and I don’t always owe her an explanation as to why she needs to clean her room, or do her homework, or share with her younger sister. She should just do it because I said so. But it’s only in hindsight that I realize how much I want to direct her assertive strong will and independence in the right direction without stomping it out.
Because the reality is, I want her to grow into a strong-willed and independent woman. I want her to be the woman who stands up for what she deserves. I want her to be the woman who breaks through barriers and brings the glass ceiling crashing down. I want her to be an inspiration to her younger sister. I want her to feel comfortable looking at her partner and saying, “I don’t agree with that.” I want her to feel confident in anything she does, whether that’s being a CEO or a stay-at-home mom. I want her to do well in this world, and I want her to feel comfortable speaking up and speaking out, even if it goes against the grain.
So this is the reality of raising a strong-willed little girl. It means humbling yourself. It means not taking it personally when she stomps her foot and demands an explanation. It means overexplaining. It means telling her to do things that she doesn’t want to do in a way that doesn’t demean her but still grants her the opportunity to express her objections, even if those objections are drafted under the poor logic of a 7-year-old.
It means listening to her.
It means getting blindingly frustrated, swallowing it, and then discussing with her how to better handle a situation.
And I will be the first to admit that I’m not all that good at any of this. There are times that I flat-out don’t want to. Times, after a long day at work, when I come home to a red-faced little girl who is demanding an explanation as to why she needs to finish her vocabulary homework, that I just say, “Because I told you so. That’s why.”
But what I will also say is that I’m trying. I’m thinking about all of this. I’m trying to do the best I can to make sure that my daughter keeps her strength and independence. And I honestly don’t know if she will. I don’t know if the world will eventually take her down a notch, or 2, or 20, telling her that she’s too aggressive or too loud, or that asking questions isn’t very ladylike, when in fact all of these things are the signs of someone who is inquisitive and assertive and ready to make changes. Because ultimately, I don’t want her to change to fit the world; I want her to make changes so that the world is a better place. And perhaps that’s too much to ask of my daughter. Perhaps it’s too much for me to hope for. But that’s what fathers do, right? We dream, we hope, and ultimately want the best for our children.