By Ambrosia Brody
My daughter had said no. She’d said no twice, actually, but for some reason I seemed to be the only one who heard. Her words were clearly directed to the blonde-haired boy standing only an arm’s distance away.
How much clearer can she get? I thought as I headed from the bench toward the swings. The word “no” is not difficult to understand; there should only be one reaction – stop.
Instead he chose to try and hug her again.
“I said no!” my daughter’s raspy voice echoed through the playground once again, this time with a slight tremble, an indication she is close to crying. “NO!”
“What happened?” I ask, kneeling by her in the sand.
“There was a disagreement over the swing,” explains the mom holding the hand of the little blonde-haired boy who continues to stare at my daughter, “she was standing in front of it but not getting on so my son pushed past her and got on. I told him to apologize and he hugged her. Then she pushed him.”
“I’m sure he’s sorry for doing that,” I tell my daughter.
“Excuse me but she pushed him,” the woman says.
“Yes, but she said no. Twice — three times actually. She didn’t want to be hugged,” I said, pulling my daughter to my side, preparing to leave because I already know the response to this statement. A look of confusion, contempt, judgment, a label: That little girl is “mean.”
To clarify, my daughter is not mean. She is assertive.
A man followed me out of Starbucks once to stop and ask for a business card because he was launching a new company and needed writers. How does he know I’m a writer? Was the question that played on a loop in my mind as he delivered his pitch. He asked for a business card three times, each time ignoring my polite no thank yous. I ultimately gave in and handed him a business card.
This was not the first time I stayed in an uncomfortable situation because I worried that someone would deem me rude or label me as mean, or worse — a bitch.
Growing up I was taught to be polite, to be nice to others even if I didn’t necessarily like that person or agree with their opinion. The need to be liked was paralyzing as I tolerated people, conversations and situations that I wanted to run away from. Instead of acting on instinct, I did the nice thing: I stayed in uncomfortable situations.
When I found out I was having a girl, the first decision I made was to raise her to be assertive.
Children need to learn when to practice kindness and empathy, but they also need to understand when to say no, how to walk away from toxic situations and set boundaries for themselves.
My husband and I have encouraged my daughter to vocalize her opinions even if they are in disagreement with our own. It is not easy negotiating with a three-year-old but it’s important that she understands her opinion holds meaning.
We welcome her thoughts and although she does not always get her way, it’s important that she has the confidence to assert her opinion toward adults or kids her own age.
Raising my daughter to be assertive and not “nice” has led to uncomfortable situations with other moms who do not understand why I don’t make my daughter “play nicely” when she chooses to play on her own instead of join in a game of “Frozen” where my daughter is instructed to be Anna, not Elsa.
Taking turns is important and a valuable lesson. But if she’s decided to opt out of the game altogether because she’s dead set on being the sister with ice powers – why should I force her to play along?
She’s not being mean or rude, she’s standing by her decision. And I stand by her.
I’ve received a few side glances from relatives who can’t understand why we don’t make a toddler “be polite” and greet family the “proper” way if she shakes her head when a family member requests a hug.
It would be easy to step in and tell my daughter to push her feelings aside if only for a few minutes in order to be polite. But what message would I be sending her about her feelings?
My daughter is being taught the importance of sharing and listening, she understands that she needs to follow instructions and compete tasks that are not always fun, such as cleaning up toys or sharing with her sister.
She is not being taught to rebel. She is learning to be assertive.
My daughter is learning to trust her instincts: that if at any time, in any setting, someone makes her uncomfortable, she has every right to walk away. Or to tell someone to leave her alone.
I am showing my daughter her opinion, her feelings, her voice, matters. When the time comes for her to negotiate a salary equal to a male co-worker, to turn down a date or take the lead in a group project, she should have the confidence to do so.
We continue to teach her how to hold her ground without being aggressive. That is, unless her boundaries are crossed.
I am not advocating for raising girls who bully one another, or applauding those who throw punches instead of walking away. However, I want to ensure that if backed into a corner, my daughter will stand her ground.
I’m not raising my daughter to be “nice.” I’m raising her to be assertive.
The clink of the swing fills the silence, a quiet standoff between mom and mom. Who will apologize first? Will parenting styles be judged?
“C’mon, let’s try the slide,” the mom directs her son toward the other side of the park.
A truce: they go their way and we ours.
Ambrosia Brody is a full-time editor, journalist and mother to two spirited daughters. She started to blog at Random Aspects of (My) Life when she realized how much her daughters, and being a parent inspired her writing. Writing about all things parenting is now one of her favorite pastimes. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook or on Twitter.