"The sad fact is, my kids have just as much control over me as I do them."

We call it her asshole face. This is where my five-year-old tilts her head to the side, makes eye contact, and draws her lips to a straight line. Then she does whatever I just told her not to. I tell her not to drink more water before bed, and she gives me the asshole face—and drinks more water. A few days ago Mel was at Tristan’s basketball game. Mel told Norah not to go into the other court with her friend, and Norah turned, gave her the asshole face, and kept walking.

Every time she gives me the asshole face, I tell her to cut the crap. “Don’t look at me like that,” I say. “Who do you think you are?” And sure enough, she does it anyway.

five year old daughter
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Norah is boy crazy and complicated and enjoys getting her own way. Before becoming a parent I used to listen to my older sister, Melissa, complain about her five-year-old daughter. How she never listened, talked back, and thought she was the boss. I told her that it just showed that her daughter was becoming a strong-willed woman.

“You make her out to be a jerk,” I would say. “She’s going to grow up and become a CEO or a senator. I think that it’s awesome.” Melissa gave me a look that seemed to say, You have no idea what you are talking about.

And indeed, I didn’t. I mean, I love the hell out of Norah. She melts my heart. Her hugs are the sweetest little things ever. But the fact is, she is kind of an asshole right now. I am not going to say that this is a little girl thing because I don’t think it is. I think it is a Norah thing. However, I will admit that I often compare her with her older brother and how Tristan acted at her age. What I can say is that Tristan never called me a stupid fart face. He never deliberately ignored me while humming the song “Let It Go.” He never tried to manipulate me by fake crying. He never said, “I don’t love you anymore” when I sent him into his room or said, “If you make me take a bath, I’ll never ever speak to you again.” And he definitely didn’t have an asshole face.

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I tell her to not talk back and she says, “You can’t talk to a princess like that.” And the really sad part is, according to her kindergarten teacher, Norah is reserved and soft spoken while at school. While I will admit that I was happy to find this out, part of me wonders if she is only an asshole at home because she secretly hates her parents. I know that some of you reading right now are thinking, “Oh... no! It just means that she’s comfortable at home. She feels like she can speak her mind.”

Yeah, awesome. Here’s the thing: I want her to be confident. I want her to be a strong woman. But there is a difference between being a strong, intelligent woman and someone who crawls around on all fours, claiming to be a puppy because puppies don’t have to clean their room. I give her an A for creativity. But at the same time, I want her to understand obligation and respect for authority. Basically what I’m saying is, I want her to do what I ask of her and not make me want to punch myself in the face. I want her to flush her own toilet without throwing a fit, and I want her to clean her room without trying to pull some elaborate animal metamorphosis. I want to somehow channel her thoughts, aggressions, and creativity into a productive form.

I know this all seems overly complicated. I am her father. I should have the power to make her do what I tell her. I am the giver of food, clothing, and shelter. But the sad fact is, my kids have just as much control over me as I do them, and I suspect that Norah fully understands this. I can see it in her eyes. I can see it in the cock of her head. I can see it the way she hugs me and whispers sweet things in my ears.

When I complain about my daughter to other parents they always say, “Just wait until she’s a teen.” And suddenly I think of when I was a teen and how my teen friends complained about their parents. And how, at the time, something as simple as a curfew seemed unjust. And suddenly I feel like there is no hope. My daughter might just be an asshole until she leaves home.

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It’s in these dark, frustrating parenting moments that I try to think about the small parenting victories. I think about the times when Norah sits on my lap and I help her with her homework. I think about the smile on her face when she figures out how to read a word, and she immediately seeks out my approval. I think about times when she tries so hard to help with her younger sister or insists on having her mother call me at work so she can tell me about getting a reward at school. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that my five-year-old daughter can be an asshole. Honestly, right now, she is driving me a little crazy. But every once in a while I get a glimpse of her becoming who I know she can be—a bright, responsible person. A strong woman and a passionate, loving daughter and sibling. These moments are what make the complicated mess of parenting, the asshole face for example, worthwhile.

This is an extract from This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Parenting. Marriage. Madness.) by Clint Edwards. You can purchase the book here:

Do you have any tips for wrangling a strong-willed child?