Keeping the spirit, taming the trouble - FamilyEducation

Keeping the spirit, taming the trouble

November 17,2008

This past weekend my parents and sister visited, and on Saturday, after a visit to the local art museum, we came home and ordered Chinese take-out. T. finished hers in record time and disappeared from the table. About five minutes later there was a crashing sound, a dreaded splashing sound, and then silence. Thirty seconds later we heard T. crying--not in the I've been hurt way, but in the oh my god, look what I did way.

"I can't go in there," I told Scott."I'm very afraid," so he went instead. T., as it turned out, had decided she was still hungry (that Chinese food just doesn't stay with you long, does it?), and went for the carton of soy milk on the topmost shelf of the fridge. It had toppled down, and soy milk was everywhere--all over every nook and cranny of the refrigerator.

There are few sights as bloodcurdling, as far as childhood kitchen disasters go, as spilled milk all over the fridge. T. was sent promptly to her room, and we gave the fridge a complete overhaul. On the positive side of things, the fridge got a much-needed cleaning, and my mom was there to help. When I talked with T. about it later, it was clear she had wanted to pour herself milk because, in her words, "If I big enough to get strawberries, I big enough to get milk." I was completely baffled by this mysterious comment until I remembered that last week I had praised her for going into the fridge to help herself to a carton of strawberries. Of course, in her mind there was little difference between that and what she had tried to do with the soy milk.

It's tough to know what to do when independence looks a lot like blatant naughtiness. In the end we couldn't fault T. for trying to be resourceful in the same way she had been last week when she'd decided to get her own snack out of the fridge. I remembered a conversation I'd had with our neighbor recently when she came over for a playdate with her two girls. Both T. and the older girl are, as T.'s teacher so politely put it at our recent parent-teacher conference, "strong-willed." They both have a quiet (or not so quiet) stubbornness about them, and I know T. never accepts at face value what someone tells her--not unless she's tried it out herself and made up her own mind about it. As we watched the older girls play, we talked about these traits in our daughters and about how difficult it is to walk the line--to nurture the independent spirit, but also teach respect, caution, and responsibility.

I feel particularly strongly about this as the mother of a daughter. Even before both our kids were born, Scott and I talked about how admirable sensitivity would be as a trait in a boy, and I talked about how much I hoped that, if we had a daughter, one day she would be independent, willful, and filled with self-esteem--qualities I didn't really have as a small girl. Of course, independence and willfulness in a small child can be frustrating, and make you sometimes want to pull your hair out in despair, especially when milk is involved, but I think these qualities will end up serving T. well--with proper guidance, of course. It's a tough world out there for our kids these days, but it's a particularly tough world for young girls. I want my daughter to grow up knowing she can get whatever she puts her mind to; that there is no glass ceiling to stop her dreams; that she can and should learn to dig her heels in and fight for what she wants. I want her to grow up feeling good about herself, but I also want her to learn to listen to advice, and to heed it if needed.

So you parents of "strong-willed" daughters, how do you enforce rules and guidelines without quashing the spirit?