So… our 3-year-old Queen of the Putdown says to me: “Why is Marsi always dressed like a farmer on Easter?”
I can’t decide if this slam was intended for me (the one who dresses the baby because she obviously can’t dress herself) or for the baby (who will always and forever more be the Little Sister). I can be sure that it was intended as an insult. No offense to farmers everywhere.
Like many girls do, our 3-year-old daughter, Emi, has a bit of a “mean girl” tendency. It’s a problem she inherited from me and from my husband’s side, too. For many women, myself included, there’s a certain satisfaction in injuring someone else with words. If Emi’s feeling tired, hungry, insecure, or hurt, she seems to delight in firing verbal weapons. When she was smaller she reveled in saying, “Bruddy a bad bruddy,” about her big brother, because she knew it bothered him. We disciplined her out of that one — because it simply isn’t true, and even if it was, what would be the point in saying it over and over? — but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still fight the all-too-female resort tactic of trying to hurt other people.
It’s normal. A lot of little girls have the Mean Girl gene. They just need to be taught to control it. When we don’t teach them, we end up with Mean Women, a subcategory within the Emotionally Adolescent Adults category. And we all know a Mean Woman who’s raising up Mean Girls in her own footsteps. The cycle will go on and on. I, however, hope I can save my girls — and their world — a whole lotta heartache by helping them to recognize and nip the problem in the bud now, before it blossoms.
One of my favorite parenting books is called “Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches” (Rachel Jankovic). The author has four little girls, and in one of the chapters she writes about teaching her girls to think of their emotions as wild horses. She says this: “Little girls can be scared out of their minds when their emotions charge off with them. They need the security of parents pulling them back… they need help sorting out their emotions — not so they can wallow in them, but so they can learn to control them. We tell our girls that their feelings are like horses — beautiful, spirited horses. But they are the riders.”
Jankovic explains to her girls that the horses (emotions) in and of themselves are not bad, just normal. But, she tells them, if we don’t control our emotions — if we don’t train our “wild horses” — they’ll stampede and hurt other people… and maybe even jump off a cliff or run into a tree and hurt the rider.
Jankovic does discipline her girls for bad behavior (i.e., an emotional outburst results in an injured sibling), but she puts a lot of focus on discussing with them ahead of time how to handle a potential situation that might arise and cause a “wild horse” to snort and run. She writes, “The goal is not to cripple the horse, but equip the rider. A well-controlled passionate personality is a powerful thing… but a passionate personality that is unbridled can cause a world of damage. If you see a lot of passion in your little girls, don’t be discouraged. It is just wonderful raw material.”
So I conclude that this is what we’re dealing with at our house: at least one little girl with wild horses (I’m guessing the 12-month-old girl has them too, but it’s a little early to be sure). We chose to bring our little girl into this world. But my conscience dictates that we may not choose whether or not we’re going to teach her how to train her wild horses. It’s a requirement; it’s part of our job description as parents as we work toward shaping her into a contributing member of society. And as the lady in charge of this household, I truly believe I must do my very best not only to give her riding lessons, but to be an emotional leader for her as well.
First on the to-do list, then: control my own wild horses.
© Tami Blake