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Calvin Asks: Help! I'm fighting a losing battle.

I’m a mum of two girls age 7 and 9 and I’m trying hard to get and keep them interested in the sciences and engineering (my husband is an engineer) and yet I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.  No matter how many times I ask my own family and in-laws not to buy the girls stereotypical ‘girly’ presents they always do.

Both mine and my husband’s family are very traditional when it comes to family roles, the man of the house is the breadwinner and the wife keeps house and brings up the children. My mother is very disapproving of the fact that I work and is constantly making veiled comments that I’m failing as a mother because I’m not caring for my husband and children 24 hours a day.

I told my family from the start that I wanted my girls to have choices and options as they grew up and have ambitions over and above ‘find a boyfriend, get married and have kids’.  My mother and mother in law however, both insist that the girls should be ‘trained’ for a future as a wife and mother and any thoughts of a career should come second, especially a career in engineering or science.  

My husband is a member of the IET so I’ve seen lots of literature and information about encouraging girls into STEM subjects but most of it is targeted at parents and teachers. How can we change the attitudes of grandparents and other family members though?

Losing the battle - Yeovil
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9 Replies
Tim Jordan
1 Posts
This is just my opinion - you make your own decisions! :-)  You will never change your family's attitude - it is who they are and how they were brought up.  You are THE role model for your kids, especially when they are younger, so you need to keep doing what you are doing and keep them exposed to STEM activities.  As they get older, hopefully they will develop friends with similar interests and keep up their own activities (friends are a huge factor in their lives too).    BUT, you should not force this on your kids into this.  Their interests may be elsewhere.  Keep their interests balanced with other activities (sports, arts & crafts, etc) ultimately, they will decide what they want to do and what interests them - keep them curious!!      Honestly, if your parents keep this up, it may be time to limit their influence - set your boundaries and ask them to respect that.
Lisa Miles
1273 Posts
Keep their interests balanced with other activities (sports, arts & crafts, etc) ultimately, they will decide what they want to do and what interests them - keep them curious!!

That's very true Tim Jordan‍!

I share your frustrations Yeovil, in that I try to persuade other family members not to gender stereotype my two nieces from an early age (they're now 5). Their Grandmothers have bought them dolls and prams and toy vacuum cleaners, irons, washing machines etc etc 🙄 whereas I like to buy them a variety of presents to spark their curiosity even if they do seem a little girlie themed in the first instance.

For example, one of my nieces loves making bath bombs, very girlie you may think, but I believe that's an opportunity for a chemistry lesson to teach her how certain compounds react together and to outside influences. I also have a 'make your own solar powered robot dog' kit for each of them too so we can sit and make it together when I see them next and I can teach them all about how sunlight can make electricity.

My youngest niece is fascinated that her auntie (me) can make a variety of things and is always asking me to do so. I'm always explaining to her how and why things work and how they are made and put together.   Just the other day we were talking about what people do for work, she knows her Dad works with computers (software engineer) and her Mum works with money (accounts) and she then said 'You're an engineer aren't you Auntie Lisa?' 😊  So I had to tell her unfortunately not but I wish I was... 😔

So I agree with Tim in that children should always have a variety of influences and it's when they don't that the paths are narrowed.  So keep on doing what you're doing and be their role model! 

As for influencing grandparents, given that many grandparents (and other family members) are also employed in a childminder role,  I wonder if they should they have their own set of learning and education resources targeted specifically at them to encourage them to think about STEM when interacting with their grandchildren? 

I think one of the worst things you can say to a child when they ask 'Why..?' is 'Because is does..''
Better to say 'I don't know / I'm not sure... So let's find out together..' 😉
"My mother and mother in law however, both insist that the girls should be ‘trained’ for a future as a wife and mother". I thought that view died with the 1950s, but I agree with others, that you will never change their ideas. They sound like people whose view is "don't bother me with facts, I already know what I think".

However, looking at this from an engineer's viewpoint. A person who is a wife and mother needs to run the house: change fuses, replace batteries, mend the cistern, set up the X-Box (whatever that is), service and mend the bicycles. When given a child's iron, you could teach your daughters about electricity, and what fuse is necessary - and how it is different in the USA. When the present is a vacuum cleaner, teach about vacuums. Cooking is similar to chemistry: what happens if cornflour is stirred into hot milk, how to convert oven temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius. In the car, talk about instantaneous and average speeds. Be enthusiastic. Maybe some of your fun facts will fall on stony ground, but if you don't try you'll never know. Look at "girlie" presents with an engineer's eyes, and you'll be amazed how you can turn the tables on them. Get the girls to help with fun tasks that involve STEM topics. I'm sure your husband can give you further ideas.

I was lucky, my father (who was born in 1894) bought me my first hammer, micrometer, and so forth. He encouraged me to make things - I made my mother a book stand, a case for a loud speaker. Things like that. Before I went to school, I had put up wallpaper: my father was a journeyman house decorator.

Another thought ... aren't a lot of "girlie" presents plastic? Perhaps plastic presents could be banned as being bad for the planet???

Good Luck
Kathryn Bain
385 Posts
Can I suggest Lottie Dolls?  If they want to go down the doll route, then Lottie teaches a lot of STEM roles and also a lot of diversity issues. Aimed at activities that kids do, they are inclusive in terms of diversity and abiity - yes the girls are dolls, but they can be scientists, activists, explorers, brownies etc   WES have some information on them and my own niece (8) has a few of these.  Best of both worlds?


I was brought up with high heels, ribbons, nurse's outfits, teddies, kitchens and play food at my request. I was also heavily influenced by maths, science, technology, music and computers. My parents rarely told me what I could and couldn't be interested in. (I say 'rarely'; around teenage I was told to study hard and not think about boyfriends!) Now an adult (by age), I love cooking, sewing, music and plaiting hair. I am also an electrical engineer. If you, as parents, provide the freedom to explore different disciplines, your daughters will shape themselves according to their desires. (Just to add: my brothers were taught to knit, use a sewing machine and plait hair as well as play football)
I wouldn't be upset by their opinions or deterred. I'm an engineer (have been 27 years) currently in Nuclear, trustee of the IET and past Young Woman Engineer of the Year and my mum is immensely proud, she tells everyone and shows them cuttings from the newspapers about me. 👷‍♀️
I am also an avid DIYer and have done I think everything on my houses, built extensions, electrics, jobs on cars and built a caravan. 👩‍🔧
Although, when my mum wants a small job doing at her house, she asks me to ask my boyfriend to do it. Every time she is perplexed when I ask why she is asking for him (he's ok under supervision 😉 )...
It is something that confuses me, she apologizes, but she won't change, her perception is still jobs for boys and jobs for girls... the next generation will be less so until we have enough critical mass for it not to be an issue.
I wouldn't worry, just keep offering all opportunities to encourage well rounded children be it my two boys or your two girls and they will find their own passions!
Lisa Miles
1273 Posts
I had to chuckle Samantha Hubbard‍ where you say that your mum always asks your boyfriend to do the small jobs around the house. 😄

I think that might be a parent/child thing as my own mother never quite understands that her children are competent professionals at what they do and always wants to get someone else in to do what we could easily do for her, and also get paid to do by others...!  

Even though we're all fully grown adults with children of our own, we're still children in our parents eyes. 😊
3 Posts
As a child I played with dolls and built with Lego. I learned to cook and wire a plug. I had a deep fascination with maths and things that moved.  I was happily learning a wide range of skills. This put me in a good position to choose For myself later on.
I ended up with a degree in electrical engineering and then a PhD in engineering and was a chartered engineer by the time I was 31. No pressure from anyone. It was my choice. I loved it.
Then I became pregnant, it went badly, and I lost my research contract. By the time I was healthy enough to work again, no one would give me an interview and I lost my career. 
I always thought that I had been very unlucky but I have now been told that 97% of women in STEM careers lose their careers. Still want your daughters to enter a STEM profession?
The challenges faced by women in STEM are often talked about and their are initiatives to help somewhat.
I brought my daughter up with as many skills and experiences as possible and let her choose for herself. It was a huge relief when she became a dentist.
Julie B
1 Posts
You won't change the opinions and mindset of in laws and parents, so stop fighting it.  As others have said, keep it balanced by encouraging interest in STEM and the like, but keep an open mind since your daughters may still decide that they want to be a wife, mother and homemaker, and there is nothing wrong in that.  Life should be all about them being able to make an informed choice.
Like DrMoss, I played with dolls (had a lovely Tiny Tears!) and Lego. I learnt to cook and clean a house, but played with toy cars, too. I also learnt to look after children and babies by babysitting for my older sisters. At 16, I left school to be a Trainee Draughtsman (or Draughtsperson, as the advert insisted) since I enjoyed technical drawing at school. I went on to attain an HNC in Mechanical Engineering and, later in life, a degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering. I'm 48 now, a wife (28 years last week), mother (of sorts, to two dogs!) and a drawing office supervisor in a fabrication company. In my humble opinion, it's more about opening up the choices and letting children choose their path.
In short, keep interests wide, let your daughters know they can try anything and that you'll love and be proud of them, whatever their choice of career path.


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