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?