Friday, April 30, 2010

Walking the Walk?

I just finished a long and serious talk with my daughter; one I hadn't really thought I would be having with an almost-ten-year-old. That is: It's not just your body that's your own. Your time, your energy, your feelings - all your own. No one has the right to demand access to you. Being a girl sometimes means that you will be called mean for being assertive. Many people are threatened or even intensely angered by a girl (or woman) who refuses to be accessible (which is kinda what all those culturally-enforced niceties are all about). That is their problem. Not hers. We talked about boundaries and how important it is not to feel obligated to be available to a person who is actively or passively ignoring your expressed boundaries.

No, nothing horrible happened to her. She's been having trouble for quite a while with a boy who won't leave her alone. Today I witnessed it.
And yeah, this is a pretty normal-ish 10-year-old boy. He just happens to be a ten-year-old boy with questionable social skills, minimal impulse control and some need to be around my daughter. Basically he seemed like a kid who really needs friends.

But watching G-Rex's discomfort as he insinuated himself into our lunch together, first squeezing in between G and her sister and then monopolizing the conversation - and G telling me later about how difficult it is for her to play with her friends at recess or work with a partner at school - because he's always right there, arguing and being hostile to people G wants to spend time with... I just can't counsel G to try harder to befriend him. I'm pretty sure that's what I would have been expected to do. Offer pity friendship.

But it's that kind of expectation that gradually blurs all boundaries a girl might have. Someone make you uncomfortable? Oh, just think about how it would hurt his feelings to know that! Smile and be friendly. Someone you don't like asks you to dance? You don't say no! You smile graciously. It's just a dance. A boy constantly makes comments about your body parts in the hallway? Well, boys will be boys; besides, what were you wearing? All sorts of ridiculousness tracing back to being nice at all costs. Assuming that distrust and dislike are negative things that must be overridden.

No. I won't ask that of them. And I'll teach them to fight (or run from) anyone who does. In this case it's just a 10-year-old boy and it breaks my heart a little that the person I'm instructing her to not feel obligated to be nice to is a kid. But if not now, when? If I want her to feel comfortable demanding respect for her boundaries when she's a teenager or adult, how can I tell her to play nice now?

You can't make little girls be nice and expect them to magically toughen up later. It just doesn't work that way.

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