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I think I'm raising a pint-sized dictator

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

I'm the mom of the kid who might get your kid kicked out of class

I had a feeling this day was coming. The lovely dance instructor peeked around the door with my daughter and a couple more girls in hand. They were all on the verge of being kicked out of class, thanks to my daughter, the ringleader.

“I think we need to have a talk about listening,” she said, making eye contact with me.

Soon after our talk, my daughter was back in class and at it again: egging on the other girls to join her in hanging from the ballet barre, tapping their tap shoes against the wall as they swung back and forth. She got kicked out of class, the first of many instances I’m sure.

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I sat her on the couch outside the dance room, in clear view of all the other parents, taking off her tap shoes while she flailed and screamed indignantly. It only registered to me that I should be embarrassed because this was a new group of parents and teachers, unaccustomed to my strong-willed daughter and her regular outbursts. Every little thing that does not go her way is a loud and vicious struggle. The faculty at my son’s school is well-acquainted with the sight and sound of my daughter being carried like a thrashing sack of potatoes under one arm as we walk out to the car. To be honest, strong-willed is an understatement. She is hellbent on being in charge.

Whenever she is playing with friends, I will hear her voice calling out instructions based on whatever she wants to play. If she wants to run to the other end of the soccer field at school, she will motion and rally all the other kids to come with her. When she sees me approaching when they are misbehaving (often at her request), she responds by yelling for everyone to “hide” while holding her hands out at me like Gandalf the Grey, insisting I shall not pass.

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While I love the prospect of raising a daughter who is a natural-born leader, it’s happening at the expense of my sanity in these early years. It’s hard to pick your battles when every single thing is a battle. She wants to make every single decision, and when she doesn’t get her way, there is hell to pay. I can’t give in to her every whim, nor do I want to, but I wonder how I am supposed to let her take the lead in her life without giving up my authority as a parent.

Of course I don’t want to squash her will or crush her spirit. I want her to be vibrant and confident, to learn to harness her ringleader skills and use them to her advantage. But I also want to be able to take her to dance class without the other parents thinking, Oh no, here she comes again. I worry about how her strong-willed leadership will affect her friendships, and how other parents, teachers and peers will react to her. I worry about her becoming too confident, too bold. I don’t want her ringleader tendencies to turn into trouble, which is clearly becoming a problem already.

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There is a fine line between finding that sweet spot where her leadership can shine and letting her raise hell. I want her to be the most authentic version of herself, but right now, the most authentic version of herself is often an awful, pint-sized dictator. I’ll sometimes find myself wishing she was more calm and sweet and demure — embodying the antiquated stereotype of what a little girl should be.

But then I’ll watch her run at the front of a pack of kids, jump off the top of a tall rock without fear, confidently stand up for herself when another child tries to quiet her — and I remember that’s not who she’s meant to be. Even though she may be a struggle to parent, she is exactly the child I want. I’m glad I’m raising the ringleader, even if it does make my life an absolute circus.

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I'm the mom of the kid who might get your kid kicked out of class
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