Things Not to Say to Your Math Loving Children

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I’m not kidding when I say there are consequences to hating or loving mathematics. I know both sides of this and wrote about it in my post about math anxiety. “The following quotes are from my memories of things my parents said to me growing up.

I would say the first one is around junior high age and the last from high school. I think they are the reason why it was so hard for me to come out as someone who loves mathematics. I could never discuss it with family without them dismissing my interests.

Real Quotes From My Family

“Would you like to return that book to the library?”

The context from this quote has to do with my interest in cosmology. About the age of 12, I read “A Brief History of Time.” by Stephen Hawking. This awakened an interest in Astrophysics that would continue up to my first year in college. I identify strongly with the line from the movie “Theory of Everything” where Hawking tells Jane cosmology is a sort of religion for intelligent atheists.

I checked out from the library a physics textbook. I knew that most people found physics scary. I didn’t want to be afraid of it. The only way that I knew to do that was to read about it. I didn’t think that I would understand it but I wanted to prep myself for it.

I think this alarmed my family a little but this quote just shows how much they didn’t understand me or my ambitions. I didn’t return the library book by the way. I got pretty good at solving early physics problems before friction is introduced.

“Wouldn’t you rather do something fun like acting?”

My parents didn’t want me lounging around the house over summer vacation. My dad was requiring that I take classes. He said the choice was up to me. So, I decided that I wanted to take Algebra II. This was so that I could take Calculus AB in my senior year in high school. This quote is my parents’ reaction to my request to take math classes.

“You shouldn’t talk about math with other people because you’ll make them feel bad.”

I will be honest here. This quote made me stop trying to talk about mathematics with anyone. I live by a do no harm principle. After my parent told me this, I felt the weight of every conversation that I had ever tried to have about mathematics. I suddenly felt guilty and responsible for some pain that I had inflicted on others. At this point, it seemed better just to bury my feelings about mathematics and not talk about it anymore.

“You must be a genius because you passed calculus.”

I hate the implications of this statement. That because I like math it comes easily to me. This is not the case. I earned every one of those grades through hard work and struggling. I was always the worst in my class. Teachers didn’t hide that from me. I was constantly working to keep up with my peers.

“We took home the wrong kid from the hospital.”

This one frustrated me because it implies I was born with my mathematical ability instead of the work that I put into it. I know my family was trying to compliment me but they couldn’t understand how I felt. That is because they didn’t see themselves as having any mathematical skills. So, I can understand why they were so impressed with my achievements.

I Don’t Have Answers

I hope that if you have a child you will be more supportive of their interests. I’m not sure what the best advice is here. I was fortunate that my parents let me do things for myself, like choose what to take home from the library. I would say encourage your kids even when you don’t understand why they like something.

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