Earlier this week, I shared this great little moment with my six-year-old, the Bean. The weather was that right kind of in between – not quite warm, but not quite cold. Our family strolled down to the playground at the Bean’s school and we let the kids dangle from the monkey bars and play pirate on the swinging bridge that connects the jungle gym.
Her school is exactly a mile from our house, and so, with my husband’s suggestion, I had on my running shoes and planned to run home when we were done to get in my run for the day: a slow one-mile recovery run. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for the Bean, who has run a couple of kids runs, to run her first mile.
On the walk to the playground I pushed my almost three-year-old in her trike. The Bean was armed with her newly-acquired scooter and my husband and I took turns giving her pep talks on why she shouldn’t give up scooting just yet. It sounds funny, right? It’s a scooter. It’s fun. It’s easy. It has light-up wheels, for goodness sake.
But here’s the rub: The Bean is a perfectionist. She wants to get on that scooter and gracefully glide her way through the neighborhood – down its wooded paths, along the edge of The Lake, and find herself rolling to a gentle stop at whatever destination of her choosing. It’s going to take a little a practice before she gets there, especially since she takes after me in the coordination department.
She’s always had these perfectionist tendencies. Every crayon slash that mistakenly passes over the line is painful for her. She craves to be the line leader at school. She acts as director when playing with her friends, telling each one what their next move should be and the emotion that act should entail. She’s eager to fling her hand in the air first to answer any question or be the chosen volunteer for any task.
I was the opposite at her age. I hardly spoke a word. I wouldn’t try anything new, no matter how much my parents encouraged me. I shied away from the spotlight and let my older brother – who most definitely found his voice at an early age – take the lead.
But now, I find that I crave these opportunities like she does. I like taking the lead. I direct before giving someone the chance to get started. For better or for worse, I am a tad too controlling and much too willing to tell someone they aren’t doing something as quickly/efficiently/good as they could.
Although I have yet to read it, I’ve been reading the reviews, criticisms and truths about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. I plan to read it despite the fact that it’s been slammed for being elitist, too harsh on women, and that it paints an unfair critique of working women because her experience as one has been so unique.
Maybe all that’s true, but there are a few things she has said that resonate with me. For the last 10 years in the U.S., women have held 14 percent of the top corporate jobs and 17 percent of the board seats. Do you know what that means? That means no progress has been made in ten years. Ten.
So as a mother raising two girls, I’m taking notice. I’m interested in the fact she cites data showing positive correlations between success and likability for men, but the opposite is true for women. We get ahead, and we’re liked less by men and women. He gets ahead? They love him.
I’m also intrigued by a point she raises about how girls and boys are socialized. Girls who direct, like my Bean, are considered “bossy,” but that term is rarely used with boys. My experience with this in the workplace? A male co-worker leads and is told he’s doing a tremendous job. A female does the same thing and is told she’s being too aggressive – or, worse, it’s just muttered behind her back.
I find it fascinating, honestly. But as for my Bean? I want her to direct. I want her to lead. I want her to stand her ground and fight for what she wants. When she was in Pre-K, her teacher told me that, while her work was always impeccable, she had a tendency to rush through things because she wanted to finish first. This put me on the defensive; however, her example was a good one. The Bean would rush through their afternoon snack or art project because she wanted to finish first. If you finished first, you would get to throw away your plate or toss your art scraps in the trash. Then, you had to take a potty break and wash up. Next, you could help others, which meant you would earn your spot first in line to lead the class out to recess. Her teacher told me this, explaining that the Bean, at age four, was constantly thinking five or six steps ahead to attain the goal she ultimately wanted. She said that she had just finished this series of teaching podcasts about developing young leaders – and one of them focused directly on the kids that could plan like this. The ones that strategized. The perfectionists. They were showing their natural leadership skills in the only way a four- or five-year-old knows how.
Like any parent, I felt proud. I loved hearing her perfectionism and, yes, her competitiveness being put in this context.
But, I also don’t want her to give up if it’s not perfect or if she’s not first.
That mile we ran together was a first for her. It was not perfect and she admitted it was hard once we got home. She told me a few times along the way that she wanted to stop. It was taking longer than she thought it would. Or her breathing was too heavy. Or she thought she had a stitch in her side. Instead, though, I slowed us down. I told her not to talk, but to look straight ahead. To focus on each step. To breathe slowly. To relax. And finally, to notice how close we were to home. To be proud of what she accomplished. I directed and she learned.
And she wants to try it again really soon.
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