Month: February 2015

Queens, Matriarchs, Mama Bears, and Alphas

As it turns out, there is some debate regarding the accuracy of the Alpha, Beta, and Omega pack hierarchy among wolves. Some animal behaviorists say that the “alpha” pair of wolves is alpha simply because they are more than likely the parents of the rest of the pack. The other wolves might offer them obedience, but not because they are stronger – because it’s Mom and Dad. (Which is sending my brain down a whole other philosophical musing that I have no doubt will pop up another day.)

I’m a bit skeptical, myself, of the “Type A” personality designation. It was created, in part, to take pressure off of cigarette companies by dispelling some of the association of smoking with heart disease (Type A’s are designated as not only more prone to stress and its negative effects, but are also more likely to begin smoking).

But, really, it doesn’t matter what you call it or whether you even CAN research it or label it or justify it with comparison to the animal world. Human females are predisposed to compete. We are hardwired for it. And the funny thing is, sometimes we celebrate that trait, and sometimes we demonize it. I don’t think that the competitive drive among women is a bad thing in itself. It’s how you do it that matters. I’m no Biblical scholar, but I can think of two Old Testament examples right off the top of my head.

Start with Sara. Separating half brothers with a propensity to fight with each other is not a bad thing. I can only imagine, though, what kind of news stories would pop up today, if a relatively wealthy woman were to give up her adopted son in favor of her birth son, and then send the newly-unadopted teenager to live with the former live-in maid that she’s just fired and kicked out of the house (even if the maid was his birth mother).

Now flip back to Proverbs. There’s a growing movement encouraging women to aspire to be the “Proverbs 31 Woman,” or “Wife of Noble Character.” She is in charge of the family’s finances and investments. She works. She “sees that her trading is profitable” (read: she haggles, and she’s good at it). And, my favorite: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” (Or, go ahead and bring on that proverbial (no pun intended) storm: there’s a big ol’ red flag telling you to keep away from her kids, her husband, and her staff, or you are going to answer to her, because she “watches over the affairs of her household…”and she will “laugh at the days to come.”[NIV]) But let’s not forget that the same proverb stresses that she must also be humble – none of it is any good, if you can’t be Good while doing it. So go ahead and rule your world, but remember to be Thankful that you can.

We see that drive to compete everywhere. I’ve observed that if I’d known that Junior High were such a good example of Real Life, I’d have paid more attention. Whenever you get groups of women together, there is eventually going to be some friction (read: catfights). We’re probably going to complain about each other, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we dislike or don’t respect each other. Sure, I kvetch from time to time, about some of the women I regularly interact with. We all do things differently, and part of that competitive drive is wanting to defend the way you do things. But I can probably count on one hand, the number of people I truly dislike.

So, how do I teach all this to my kids?

There’s a strong alpha tendency in my oldest daughter. Right now, she wants to be in charge all the time. And I don’t know how to help her learn that there is a time and place for that. It’s a lesson that she’s having a hard time with, and it’s starting to affect her school work and her social life.

This is a lesson that’s important socially and professionally: giving up a little bit of control means team collaboration, new ideas, compromise, and an ability to delegate. Our lives are happier when we don’t have to be in charge all the time. Not only that, there are some things you can’t be in charge of. Other people’s schedules. Supply chains. Weather. Linear time. Et cetera.

The thing is, in our insular little home worlds, it is possible to control so much, that from a kid’s point of view, it’s easy to see how that expectation develops. Video on demand (you can even fast-forward through the commercials!). What time things happen. What food is in the pantry, what clothes are clean, what games to own and play. Infinite musical selections on the internet. Add in that I’ve been a little bit of a pushover when it comes to eating habits, and I’m afraid it’s been a recipe for trouble.

Invite a friend over, though. We only have enough for one serving of goldfish crackers, so the two of you will have to have popcorn for your snack instead. Your friend would rather not play Trouble – can we play Monopoly or Clue? Your friend’s mom is picking her up at 5, so you can’t start a movie at 4:30. That all involves giving up a little bit. The big question: is it worth it? Is it worth giving up being completely in charge, to see your friend?

How important is it, really, to be in control all the time?

Back to my assertion that the difference between being a strong woman and being a “bitch” comes down to how you do it. Demanding 100% control, 100% of the time, is not doing it right, I think.

I think this is going to be a tough lesson to learn. But then, it’s a tough one for us adults sometimes, too.