My daughter loves math. She must have fallen quite far from the tree, because I began to hate math as it got progressively difficult in school, although I did gain an appreciation for it in college. I love the fact that she loves math, and I encourage it often–by stressing the importance of persevering through the tough problems, finding ways to incorporate math in activities and daily life, and talking positively about math in general. I tell both of my daughters that they can do anything they want to do in this world, whether rocket scientist, graphic designer, or thespian. And like most moms, I truly believe that they can do whatever they put their mind to, as long as they’re willing to work hard for it. But I’m not perfect. In addition to encouraging their STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, I tell my daughters (perhaps too often?) that they are beautiful, I confess to a love of fashion, and I almost always leave the home repairs (i.e. engineering at its most mundane) to my husband. Am I conditioning my girls to value looks above brains? I hadn’t thought so until I saw a brilliant Verizon commercial recently.
I’ll now be thinking twice before I discourage my daughter’s exploration of the natural world around her or stress the importance of her outward appearance, however inadvertently. Even if she isn’t the next Madame Curie, perhaps she will boost that number of female college engineering majors. Or, if she changes her mind and decides to study art history instead, hopefully she’ll be equipped with the inner confidence to exercise her mind as well as her body.