I’m almost too scared to write it down because it so rarely happens, but my daughters are currently playing harmoniously and happily together and have been doing so for over an hour. They’ve even managed to do so without waking the baby who, also breaking with convention, has now been asleep for nearly two hours.
‘Tis so unusual that when Husband came in from doing whatever it is he does in the garage of a Sunday morning he asked me (in hushed tones so as not to upset the delicate balance we’ve got going on) what I slipped into the kids’ breakfast this morning. He was only half joking. He knows I have the dregs of a bottle of phenergan in the fridge.
Maybe the planets have aligned just so, or it’s a full moon or something. Maybe the girls stumbled across some rescue remedy somewhere and have had a swig each. Maybe the lessons of Peppa Pig and Strawberry Shortcake have finally sunk in. Or maybe they’ve finally reached that magical age that I have heard tell of but was a bit too scared to hope existed where they can ‘play nicely together’.
Frankly, I don’t care how it’s happened. It’s glorious. Warms the cockles and all that. Also, I am sitting here writing. On a Sunday morning. Alone. ALONE!
Of course, our definition of playing harmoniously involves Daughter the elder telling Daughter the younger exactly what to do, where, how and when to do it, and Daughter the younger complying without question. A bit like what it means to live harmoniously in say, North Korea. As long as no one tries to disrupt the system, then no one gets hurt. And you know what, who am I to say that a relationship between siblings shouldn’t be a dictatorship? Democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. (I mean, look at our mates in Aussie, the mess in the UK, and John-bloody-Key. And Trump. What the hell, U.S.A?)
Having said that, it does get a bit ugly when the younger tries to make any decisions for herself or rebels against any of the orders that she gets given. She is most likely to take issue with having her right to freedom of speech curtailed, and the elder’s attempts to remove particular songs from the repertoire or to alter the pronunciation of certain words often meet with protests. Sometimes, the elder can use her powers of persuasion to talk her sister around and get her back in line but if not, as with any self-respecting dictator, the response is swift and it is punitive.
Anyway, you can imagine.
I have an internal battle between wanting to save the wee one from being bossed from here to kingdom come and wanting them to play together. Most of the time I can cope with their interactions as long as no one is getting hurt and the protestations from the younger one don’t get too fervent but there are times when I can’t help but pull the big one into line and I find myself telling her off for being too bossy.
Now, when I was growing up, there was nothing wrong with calling someone bossy and I’m sure I had my moments as the eldest in the family but nowadays it’s a bit of a minefield. I know it’s a word that’s usually applied to girls and women whereas boys tend to get classed as assertive or forceful etc., etc. And I completely understand why gendering language can be a dangerous thing – I get it. There’s even a campaign to ban the word bossy (with Beyonce involved so I’m surprised it’s not gone already, really).
Sometimes she IS just plain bossy and it’s simply because she enjoys being in charge. It’s not because of a need for a leader in a given situation or because she’s particularly passionate about whatever it is they might be doing. It’s not about being assertive or forthright, (although she is both of those things, which will see her right in the future, I imagine), it’s just about being the bloody boss. Power tripping. She lays it out for her sister in no uncertain terms. I’m absolutely certain that she’s going to use her bossiness to her advantage as she gets older but if her need to be the boss is impinging on someone else’s enjoyment, needs or feelings, then she needs to reel it in a bit. There’s a fine line between being bossy – ordering people around for no good reason – and being a bully. If she was really a boss, she’d be facing a number of personal grievances from former colleagues by now.
So, rather than ban bossy in our house, I think it’s better to teach the difference between bossiness and assertiveness. And, if in future my son starts acting in the same way as his older sister sometimes does now, I promise I’ll tell him off for being bossy too.