When Did Saying "Good Girl" Become So Bad?

Recently, I attended a dinner party. A couple brought their two-year-old girl with them. One never knows how a toddler and a fancy restaurant will go down, but the little girl held up through a four-hour dinner with panache -- coloring on her paper, eating her chicken strips and sweet potato fries without complaint, and generally being well behaved and social.

Towards the end of the gathering, the little girl ended up sitting next to me. So we're sitting there, chillin', and she was doing something cute with her large red bib, when I cooed, "Aren’t you a good girl?" Her mother -- a very nice woman, by the way, don’t get me wrong -- leaned over and said, calmly but firmly, “We don’t use the term 'good girl.' "


In New York City, the land of extreme-parenting, there's about a million different ways one could go wrong around a child in the eyes of the hyper-vigilant parent, and I had just bumped smack dab into one of them. In using the term "good girl," I had unwittingly crashed some parental ordinance of which I had no knowledge, but had been scolded for nonetheless. It wasn't one of those things that you could classify as obvious not to say around a child. Such as, say, "muhthaf**king crackwho*re."

I knew that I should shrug off a little micro-mothering without taking it personally. But my mind began pulsing with self-criticism: Why did I call her that? Didn’t everyone know to avoid the term 'good girl'? Sheesh, I might as well have just handed her a Barbie doll and told her she needs to grow up to look just … like … THAT.

I wondered why the term "good girl" was bad. Could being called this cause the child grow into a miserably martyrish "people pleasing" adult who denied her own needs in order to be "good"? Had I just unwittingly committed her to years of therapy? Should I have avoided any value judgment and stuck with the facts, saying something like, "Aww, you are a female child playing with her bib."

A couple of nights before, I’d spent a few hours with the two-year-old daughter of a friend of mine, and had repeatedly used the Aww, you’re a good girl line. My friend had not stopped me. In fact, she looked quite pleased. Sometimes, you just wish parents would all get the same memo.

Have you ever said the wrong thing in front of a parent?


Image via Tammra McCauley/Flickr

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