The Kidlet, age six, was showing off her subtraction skills to a crowd of admiring family and friends.
“Wow, you know your stuff! Soon you’ll be better than your mom! She’s terrible at math.”
My kids have heard comments like that all their lives. And it always makes me want to flip a table and hulk-smash the picture window. Teasing me for something as gender-loaded as math ability does no one any favors, least of all my little girls. There is plenty of research to show that the math skills of girls are undervalued. The world incorrectly perceives women as less skilled at math than men. Telling my daughters their mom is lousy only makes that real bias into something they can believe about themselves.
I have no special aptitude for math. Numbers require my full attention. In school, it took me twice as long to do my math homework as any other subject. But my skills are not “bad”. They are average, as witnessed by the C+’s that graced my report cards. I use a calculator to make sure I don’t stiff servers on tips. I seek advice when filling out complicated financial forms. I don’t know my multiplication tables. I am no Ada Lovelace. By no stretch of the imagination would I choose to be my kiddos first female math role model. But guess what folks? I AM IT.
When those two little female people think of how girls do math, I am their first point of contact. This is the razor’s edge of raising girls. They look up to you, the Mom, first lady in their lives, even when you would prefer they look away.
It may seem harmless now, to make jokes at the Mom’s expense. But if at age fourteen, my daughter is faced with a complicated equation, I want her to seek guidance and focus on the problem. I do not want her to shrug and say “My mom is horrible at math. Me too.” This is a very real possibility. Children absorb our attitudes. I work hard to be as positive and optimistic about math as humanly possible. Your trash talking my long division is counter productive.
Yes, there is a time coming (and it is coming soon) when I will not have the knowledge to help my girls with their math homework.
And when it arrives, I will be up every night with their workbooks, trying to stay a few days ahead of the class, so that when the Kidlet asks me a tough math question, we can work together to find the answer. I will do everything I can to keep the doors to math open, because they can shut so early. I am keenly aware of the worlds that closed to me when I did not excel in math. I will do everything in my power to keep those options open for my daughters as long as I can.
So lay off the cracks about my math, okay? Make jokes about my cooking instead. Frankly, that’s much more deserved.
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Cathy, that is a terrific suggestion! I think building a network of positive role models would be a tremendous gift to my girls.
Good for you! There’s nothing that irks me more than people who discourage the love of math. And you’re absolutely right – suggesting that their role models aren’t great at it has the same effect. Remember though, that when time does not permit you to stay a few steps ahead of your girls’ homework, there are loads of fantastic young women who tutor and provide this important help to both kids and moms alike.