It was New Year’s Day but it felt as though it would be 2021 before the cashier in front of me finished ringing up my two shopping carts full of food. We had just returned from a family trip and my two little girls were jetlagged, cranky, and alternating between fighting with each other and whining to me that they were hungry and wanted ice cream – in no particular order, over and over again. I felt a tidal wave surge inside. I wanted to scream and then go hide under a rock after having caused one of those “wow I’m glad those aren’t my children” scenes. Instead, I took a deep breath and told my girls, in as calm a voice as I could muster, that as Piggy and Gerald put it, I understand “waiting is not easy,” AND that if they continued to behave this way, there would be a consequence to their behavior.
I wish I could say this worked. It didn’t. As I pleadingly looked to the cashier to speed the process up (I would have leaped behind the counter and done it for him had I been given the option) I resigned to the fact that my kids were just acting like kids — not perfectly behaved ones – but normal ones, and maybe I just hadn’t done a very good job of hearing them. As the mother of two little girls, who clearly have no problem vocally asserting their needs, I often tell them that I love how they know what they want, and are not afraid to ask for it. To this they look at me confused, as if they aren’t sure why I am congratulating them for something so… basic. But the truth is, advocating for one’s needs and desires, whether it’s a trip to the ice-cream store or a salary raise, is not always easy. It seems many of us have grown up with that assertive voice silenced in some way or another. Maybe we were told “nice girls don’t behave that way” or “be a nice girl and let your friend have your toys.” Maybe we were taught to swallow our feelings, to be concerned with what others will think of us, and to somehow believe that our self worth is tied to something external, like our job title, or our physical beauty. These flawed assumptions are at the root of our inability to feel comfortable asking for what we want, advocating for ourselves, and even putting ourselves first.
As Executive Director of WIN, a mission driven company aiming to help bridge the gender and opportunity gap through teaching women to be better negotiators, I believe we need to be more concerned with getting what we deserve and less concerned with rocking the proverbial boat. I believe it is possible to be nice AND assertive. And I believe we can become better communicators in our lives through listening and understanding the needs of others, whether that be our colleagues, partners and spouses or children, and that through this process of listening and understanding, we will find we can get our needs met too.
This year, I am committing to doing more listening, to modeling more flexibility with my children, and to learning from them how to ask and continue asking even when the answer is no. And though we didn’t end up in the ice-cream store this time, maybe the next time they ask, we will.