Last night my almost-nine year old daughter was curled up in bed–pajamas on, cuddling a pillow, holding her favourite mug filled with her favourite herbal tea, and reading The Bridge to Terabithia. She was the epitome of cozy. As I passed by she called out and said, “Look, mom. I’m your perfect picture.”
I felt a queasy squeeze in my belly over the word perfect. I don’t like it, I feel too much pressure when I hear it. I redirected her words by responding with, “That’s definitely one of my favourite activities.”
She continued. “I just felt like curling up with a book and a cup of tea, so I did it.”
“Good girl,” I said. But then the queasy returned.
I always feel the queasy when I hear myself say “good girl” or “good boy.” Not because of the gendered part, but because of the good part. I always feel like I’m telling her who to be and how to behave by labeling something good or perfect. My daughter is a fireball, as I was a fireball at her age. I often feel like that was trained out of me, and, difficult as it can be, I don’t want to be the one to subdue her fire.
So I said, “You know, when I say “good girl” I don’t mean that because it’s an activity that I like to do. I mean it because you listened to yourself and went for it.”
She looked at me with a duh expression and said, “Yeah, I know.”
But I persisted. “I mean, it’s not because you’re being quiet and calm in this moment that you’re good.”
At that point she looked at me with an expression resembling something like pity mixed with annoyance over my ineptitude. She actually slowed down her speech when she responded. “Yeah, mom. I know.”
And that’s when I realized that it’s me that has the problem.