Advice to My 4-Year-Old Daughter: If Anyone Ever Calls You “Bossy,” Just Say “Thank You”Dr. Kelly Flanagan
Yesterday, I overheard your brother tell you, “You’ll always be a little sister.” And you responded, with all the fire we have come to expect of you, “I’m not always going to be a little girl — I’m going to be a big person!”
You are 4 years old, and you may be little on the outside, but there is nothing little about you on the inside.
However, your brother will not be the last person to make you feel little on the inside. And I’m guessing someone will try to keep you feeling small with one teeny, tiny word:
With that word, they want you to remain small in the one place that really matters: your heart. They know the truth: sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can really shame you. Shame you into silence.
I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose. They’re just doing what powerful people do — instinctively clinging to their power. Men, in particular, will be inclined to use BOSSY on you. I don’t blame them. Most men have been taught from birth to believe their own worth is predicated on being strong, powerful, and in control. They’re just doing what they’ve been trained to do:
They want you to doubt the authority residing at the center of you.
The dictionary defines authority as “a persuasive force.” I’m in awe of your persuasive force. But the world will be terrified of it. Because when the “little” people on the margins of the world begin to feel strong — when the powerless begin to sense the authority hibernating in their hearts — the powerful tremble.
So when someone calls you BOSSY, I hope you will respond with two little words of your own:
And then tell them you have banned BOSSY in the most important place of all: your heart.
Tell them BOSSY can’t get into the center of you anymore.
Tell them if you are acting rude, they should use the word rude, not BOSSY. Because BOSSY isn’t about correcting your behavior — it’s about shaming your soul, and your soul is done speaking the language of shame.
Tell them BOSSY isn’t about correcting your voice — it’s about putting you in your place, and your place in this world is changing, one brave girl at a time.
Tell them BOSSY is their way of keeping you small so they can feel big.
Tell them you are no longer willing to feel like you’re not enough just so they can feel good enough.
I hope you tell them these things, because when the “little” ones stop believing they are little, a revolution is afoot.
And a revolution is afoot. The future leaders of the revolution are — as I write this — sleeping in cribs and coloring pictures in preschools and learning multiplication tables in grade schools. The revolutionaries are the little-on-the-outside — yet exploding-with-authority-on-the-inside — young women of this world, waiting for their turn, preparing to shape the world in their image. And it is a brilliant image indeed, full of all the same strength and bravery and steel as any man, but tempered with the kind of grace and tenderness and awareness from which all true authority is born.
A revolution is afoot. They can feel the tremors, and they are running out of ways to control you, so they are reaching deep into their bag of tricks for that word — BOSSY. But you can tell them you are done apologizing for who you are. Tell them you’re ready to assert who you are.
Just remember, though, as you fully embrace the authority that is yours, authority isn’t about mass and it isn’t about sass. While power beats people down, authority raises people up — it respects the worth and dignity of every person, even while exercising its persuasive force. Power destroys. Authority resurrects. As you step into your authority, be careful to not become more like them — instead, become more like you.
As your father, I’ve tried to lead you the best I can, but I believe you and your generation of young women are about to lead all of us somewhere we could never go without you. Lead us, Little Authoritative One.
In awe of you,