I’ve always held a special place in my heart for little boys. When I was a summer counselor at a local daycare, I was in charge of 21 four-to-five-year-old boys, and I absolutely adored it. Mud pits and exercise competitions were just part of the day’s activities as far as we were concerned, and it gave me hope that one day I might have a house full of dirty, stinky little boys. And at first it looked like that was the direction my life was taking. Our first two, born 19 months apart, were dirty, stinky, precious little boys, and I became part of the culture of #BoyMom (and LOVED it)!
From afar, it seemed like there were several things I didn’t understand about raising a little girl. To be fair, I avoided passing judgment about how girls seemed so inherently different from boys. After all, what did I know? I had only ever known boys and their silly ways. But of all the baffling and unchartered territories of girl-rearing, the one that perplexed me the most was the obsession with little girls being “sassy.”
The context of the term confused me, as it seemed to point to several different things all at once. Sometimes proud moms would boast that a little girl’s sassiness was an expression of her big personality. Other times, the idea was coupled with a feminist quest for independence. The word was everywhere! Casual conversation! Social media posts! T-shirts! Clearly I was once again behind the times of another fad, but I shrugged it off. None of it would ever apply to me …
And then I had my own little girl and braced myself for the “sassiness” that I was sure would come. It was inherent, right?
My three-year-old daughter certainly has plenty of personality. She believes she’s the star of her own show (which anyone will tell you she gets honestly). One thing she’s not short on is independence. One of her favorite phrases, like her brothers before her, has been “I do it!” And my husband and I work to make sure that she gives and receives the same respect as our boys. But what she is not and will never be is “sassy.”
Certainly she’s attempted to be. Like many two- and three-year-olds, she’s tested her boundaries with what she can say to adults and how she can say it. But where many may be humored and find her attitude entertaining, we find it disrespectful and inappropriate. Maybe it’s because my husband and I are both high school teachers, but we always anticipate what our children’s behavior will look like when they’re teenagers. If it won’t be acceptable or “cute” when they’re thirteen, it won’t pass at three. That’s kind of our whole “angle” in this parenting thing.
Perhaps because we had two boys before her, my husband and I had already well established our behavioral expectations. But I think a pretty good litmus test for us has become a comparison of her behavior to theirs: if we wouldn’t accept a certain tone from our boys, we’re not going to accept it from her, either. It’s not cute. We’re not laughing. You’re going to time-out. Call me crazy or over-analytical, but I’m not even crazy about her posing in a “sassy” way for pictures. Nope. Not the character I’m going for here.
The bottom line for us has become this: if it wouldn’t be tolerated from a boy, don’t humor / enable / entertain / encourage it from a little girl. It isn’t “sassy,” and it certainly isn’t cute: it’s disrespectful.