Learn to ignore the bossy


I grew up in Southern California, the land of backyard pools. Many summers I taught swimming and gave lots of advice to nervous parents about their children. One of the more controversial things I said was not to let kids swim with floating devices, “floaties," on their arms.

The problem is those seemingly innocuous floats were so inconspicuous kids forgot they were wearing them.  The wee ones became fearless around the pool, launching themselves into the water without hesitation.

While this behavior is fun during family playtime, a two-year-old can’t reason that she won’t keep her head above water when she isn’t wearing arm floats; she’s conditioned to pseudo-swimming and doesn’t recognize when her skills outpace her courage.

Floaties provide a false sense of security and the risk of drowning is higher when a child doesn’t understand the danger of water.

Most parents have the urge to protect the child, but as a swim teacher, I want to prepare the little one to swim.  Practically speaking, this means letting kids struggle to learn the mechanics of swimming even if they occasionally swallow water.

Trust me, there is always a tension between these two desires, even when kids grow up. Parents want to protect their kids – to make sure they are safe and treated fairly.  However, eventually healthy parents change their habits from the “protector” role to the “preparer” role.

And in that transitional stage many people get off course.

This is yet another reason I bristle against the “ban bossy” initiative; I think it’s over-protective and under-preparatory.  (My first problem is yesterday’s post - here.)

People are going to call our assertive kids names.  If it’s not “bossy,” it’s going to be “pushy” or “aggressive” or something else.

Many times the word choice will be spoken out of jealousy, competitiveness, or meanness. And, to make matters worse, what makes “bossy” behavior is subjective, based on personal opinions; a subjective label can be “unfair.”

Maybe "bossy" is unfairly applied to girls more than boys, but I haven't seen anything besides anecdotal stories for this point.

Still, something can be unfair and true at the same time.

Even if it IS categorically unfair to call a girl “bossy,” that doesn’t mean we can protect our daughters from hearing this term.  For the record, we also can't stop them from hearing these terms: nerd, ugly, awkward, fat, unfashionable, airhead or, or, or....

We can spend a lot of energy trying to get the world to ditch words we don't like, but I’d rather spend my time teaching my daughter AND son to recognize when they need to ignore the noise of the yahoos in the room.

My favorite advice comes, yet again, from the beacon of Bossiness, Tina Fey:

"So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: 'Is this person in between me and what I want to do?' If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”