Relationship advice to give smart girls

I have a confession.  I really don’t know how to raise smart teenaged girls.

I have been filled with no small amount of anxiety over my daughters’ future fates – the burning questions I have is:  Will my daughters find intellectual challenge AND have room for love and a family?  Does it have to be either/or?

I had no adequate mentoring in my life as a highly intense, highly ambitious, smart girl.  I know I was internally driven to achieve, found my passion in science, but was grossly misinformed about relationships.  My mother’s bit of ‘wisdom’ with regards to relationships was this:  “All men are assholes.”   I heard that a lot growing up.  My mother, married twice and divorced once but nearly twice, was most definitely a man-hater.

I’m glad I didn’t believe her.  Through a lot of youthful experimentation (against my mother’s wishes), I discovered on my own that all men are not assholes, only some of them are.  Others are warm, generous, sensitive, and caring.  One of them in my youth imparted this few nuggets of wisdom: Shakespeare’s “To Thine Own Self Be True” and Nietzsche’s “Whatever does not kill us makes us stronger”, both of which became mantras I clung to when I struggled to proceed with my ambitions in a hostile atmosphere that didn’t support them.

I married one of the warm, generous, sensitive and caring men.  And we had three beautiful and smart girls.

So when it’s my turn to impart my wisdom on ambition and relationships (and yes, I realize I’m WAY early, since my oldest is just newly 10), I am glad to have found some really great advice in a few books about raising girls (and I hope to highlight my new resources in the next few posts).

I’ve been winging it, and have tried to steer clear of the gender issue, tried to include both toys and activities that encourage math, science and critical thinking skills as well as, dolls, play kitchens and dress-up that allow my daughters to practice their nurturing, social/ emotional and caretaking skills.

I’ve steered clear women’s studies out of an irrational fear of becoming a man-hater, and  creating man-haters.  But I shouldn’t have.  I missed out on a lot of really thoughtful advice and mentorship on how to couple intellectual challenge and relationships.

I just finished Barbara Kerr’s Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women and Giftedness.   I wish I hadn’t waited so long to focus specifically on girls’ development.

She writes about not compromising love for work, or giving up intellectual ambitions for love, but finding love through work.  She writes,

An early feminist of Georgia O’Keeffe’s youth said, “First you must find your work, then you will find your love”.  This axiom held for most of these women [that is, the ones studied in her book].  For many, their romantic lives were so entwined with their intellectual lives that the two were inseparable.  Margaret Mead chose all three of her primary relationships because the partner fit her work at that period….The intensity of the relationship of Pierre and Marie Curie was that of mind touching mind as well as heart touching heart.  And without her work, Gertrude Stein would not have attracted Alice B. Toklas, who exclaimed that a “bell rang”, telling her that she was in the presence of genius when she met Gertrude, evoking intense feelings and making her want to stay by her side.”

For the record, I have no qualms about same-sex relationships.  I know that it’s not my personal choice, but I’m not about to restrict my daughters choices based on gender.  I have known two sets of same-sex relationships with two very highly respected women in my field.  They were very, very fulfilled and I would never want to limit who my daughters might find future happiness with.

I’m collecting nuggets of wisdom, and I’m inviting you to share yours.

What do you wish you heard growing up?

What do you plan to pass on to your daughters?

This entry was posted in feminism, motherhood, raising smart girls, women's studies. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Relationship advice to give smart girls

  1. tigerlilymermaid says:

    Thank you for your always thought-provoking, always informative posts. For me, I wish I’d been told (and encouraged) to follow my heart, career-wise. I believe that if you do this, and manage to make some sort of living out of it you learn to love yourself and respect what you do and who you are. Being true to yourself, being fulfilled, you attract potential partners who recognise your values, self-worth and passions. And these are the ones you want for keeps.

    Like you, I have no trouble with same-sex relationships (and do occasionally wonder about my nearly-13 year old; though also agree that our girls are still incredibly young and semi-formed). My only reasons against her finding a female partner would be two-fold. One, from a purely selfish point of view, is there’d be less chance of me having grandchildren (I only have the one child); two, that even in these comparatively enlightened times there is still much stigma and discrimination around. And nobody wants that for their child. Other than that, I’d support her every way. We are all unique, we are all individual. And who are we to say what they should and shouldn’t choose to do with their adult lives.

    I would want to pass on to my daughter the importance of trusting your inner voice, behaving only as you wish to behave in a relationship, and not following what those around do (or think you should do). I reinforce positive talk (being a lone mother often makes this a particularly hard job) in an effort to raise and maintain self esteem: self esteem is key.

    Looking forward to hearing your recommended resources on the subject.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Tigerlilymaid –

    I just recently came across an article on same-sex parenting that might give you some hope regarding those future grandchildren.

    “And while research indicates that kids of gay parents show few differences in achievement, mental health, social functioning and other measures, these kids may have the advantage of open-mindedness, tolerance and role models for equitable relationships, according to some research.”

    “Catholic opposition aside, research suggests that gay and lesbian parents are actually a powerful resource for kids in need of adoption. According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute and the Urban Institute, 65,000 kids were living with adoptive gay parents between 2000 and 2002, with another 14,000 in foster homes headed by gays and lesbians. (There are currently more than 100,000 kids in foster care in the U.S.).”

    Thank you for your thoughtful responses and especially about positive self-talk. Shad Helmstetter has books on the subject about “What to say when you talk to yourself”. I think that positive self-talk is the foundation of everything you want to ever achieve. Over the past few years I’ve been reprogramming my negative self-talk that I acquired from my early development.

    Whatever your daughter decides, I’m sure she’ll change her mind a few times before she finds the one she wants to make a life with. I know, though I chose the more traditional heterosexual route, I dated quite a few, sometimes rejecting them on the basis of being “dumb as toast” before I settled on my husband.

    Best wishes in raising your daughter and in your present role as a single mom. That has to be tough and a little scary.


  3. Rick says:

    I have been drafting a note on this very issue. Not because I’m going to talk to them via email, but as something they can have, should I die early, like my dad did.

    Here’s my first draft. Really. Not smooth or even PC, but it’s what came off my chest on the first attempt:

    Guys respect women who don’t give it up right away. They enjoy slutty women, but they don’t respect them. It’s important to understand that difference.

    Sex is a personal thing. It’s not something you need to advertise, and not something you need to be 100% open about. We’ve joked that the appropriate age is 17, because that’s when I lost my virginity, and it was Chef’s answer in South Park. It does seem to be a standard American age, for people of my generation. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

    Clearly, I believe in monogamy, and clearly, I do not believe in waiting until marriage. But there’s a lot of good that can come from waiting. I have seen this in people’s lives. I just don’t want to promote something I wasn’t interested in, at your age or later in life.

    Sex is made into a very big deal in modern culture. I’m here to say it really isn’t. It’s fun, it feels good, and with the right person, it can be a great experience and a way to continue bonding. But not having sex is not some kind of failure, and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation. As I think Woody Allen said, “It’s sex with someone I love.”

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:


    Gosh, I just laughed at that last line. You crack me up – and yes, I do agree.

    But really, it’s a great note. And I do get the need to have some personal philosophies written down to pass on, just in case something happens.

    I was totally a late bloomer. Books were more important than dating in HS…and the idea of having sex scared the crap out of me. But…well…my senior year of college…wow, it was like everyone wanted to date me, and I was like, “really, ok”. No sex though until I settled on an engineering major. I struggled with Calculus III (differential equations? I think) that semester. There’s a bee traveling around in a spiral…and for some reason flings off on a tangent…please determine the tangent to the curve he was on… or something crazy like that.

    Turns out I should have dumped the boyfriend and kept the calculus.

    All my blog posts? That’s my legacy to my girls, should I die too soon. I have been printing them up so they know how much I struggle, but want to learn how to be a better mother to them than my own was to me.

    There’s some really good stuff here…and should they ever question if I cared about them, they will know. They will ALSO know they drove me up a wall sometimes…but we’ll have this.

    And yea, I saw that South Park episode too.

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