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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: On Being Well Behaved
January 20, 2011 - 8:12pm

In economics, we sometimes describe economic activity as being able to be modeled by what we call a “well behaved function,” meaning that it meets certain usual assumptions that are necessary to proceed with a mathematical analysis. I found myself thinking of this recently when our lunch time conversation turned to the topic of parenting styles and what it means to raise a child who is “well behaved.” (You can probably guess what discussion topic led us to this subject last week…) I know for sure that my own daughter is better described as “spirited” or “energetic” than “well behaved”, but I have come to respect and celebrate her for having her own personality, while trying to teach her to function appropriately in society. If anything, I struggle with trying to find a happy medium between teaching her to be well behaved and encouraging her creativity and independence.

I have a young niece who is a few years younger than my daughter, and the two are best of friends, even though they see each other only a few times a year. When they do get together, it is not uncommon to see the two girls holding hands, with my daughter leading the way on excursions that almost always remind me of the phrase “lead us not into temptation.” Several years ago, when the girls were quite young, we bought some marshmallows while on vacation and tried to put them out of reach on the upper shelf of a closet. My husband and I realized that something was wrong when it got just a bit too quiet as the girls played together in that room. We opened the door to that room and found the two little girls sitting on the floor with the bag of marshmallows open between them. Working together, they had moved a chair across the room to form a stool, and climbed up on it to capture the marshmallows. They sat on the floor and happily chomped down on the treats, looking up only as we exposed their deed. They were not behaving well, but their adventure, which our family soon called “the Great Marshmallow Caper of 2008” soon turned into a fond memory that I am glad I did not miss.

As a teacher, my most fulfilling moments come when a student offers a new way of looking at things, a new way of solving a problem or some new insight into a reading. I want to not only teach my daughter to behave appropriately in society, but to also encourage my daughter to dare to break out of the conventional way of thinking of things and to participate in the great project of creating that human society. For, when I think of the people who make me shiver with pride at being a member of the human family, there are few people on that list that were “well behaved”. Such a list might include people such as Jesus of Nazareth; Martin Luther; Galileo; Catherine of Sienna; the suffragettes; Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Oscar Romero, Dorthy Kazel (our alumna from Ursuline College) and their fellow Central American Martyrs; Mother Theresa, and, I dream, maybe someday, my daughter.

I would like to ask the question of how you encourage your children to think for themselves, while still continuing to be “well behaved.” For, to slightly paraphrase a famous bumper sticker, “Well behaved women [or men] seldom make history.”



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