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She’s Got Brains, She Knows How to Use Them

May
12
2005

Do you think the new pope has unpacked his Skivvies yet? Because if he has, I want to send him a letter nominating Katherine Ellison for sainthood.
She’s a Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist who has written a recently published book called “The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter.” The title alone should be enough for you to understand why I’m nominating her.
“Hear, hear,” say I.
The common perception is just the reverse. Mother, as a category, simply doesn’t get matched up with rocket scientist. Having a pregnant belly, pushing a stroller, driving a carpool means you’ve got nothing more on your mind than kids, making dinner and shopping. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Somebody does have to pay attention to that stuff—and people who do it professionally–a chef, a child psychologist, a marketing executive, well maybe not a marketing exec—do get respect. So why shouldn’t a mother?
Anyway, the stereotype is that you’ve dumbed down, have no other interests and couldn’t understand big boy stuff even if you wanted to. For a graphic current example, see the story our esteemed founder Chris Nolan has been following about a group of gentlemen’s objections to giving a job to a pregnant woman.
So what Saint Kate, as I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her, says, is that having kids triggers physical changes and necessity-driven learning that makes mothers smarter, in areas like emotional intelligence, stress-coping, motivation and efficiency. You can read a bit about it in her own words here. (No, I haven’t read the book yet either, but, um, I will, as soon as I have a minute.)
Sounds good to me.
It’s particularly satisfying that she discusses the intelligence advantages from some of the hormonal changes of motherhood. Women hear “hormones” as the pseudo-scientific reason given for a lot of sexist statements made throughout their life spans. Can’t take the idiot you’re dating any more? Must be on the rag. Fed up with your boss at work? Must be going through the change.
Ellison’s book really seems useful in pointing out the subjectivity in some of our perceptions. Think about those studies of kids in school, where they live up or down to the teacher’s expectations. If pregnant women and new mothers think they’re going to be more scatter-brained, they will be, or they’ll perceive themselves that way, which isn’t good for anyone. And a lot of moms do think that. (Perceptions aside, chronic sleep deprivation does hit lots of new parents and can make you feel like your mind was flushed down the toilet. But who isn’t sleep deprived, anyway?)
Or think about the way mothers are perceived by others. Here’s a basic example. Let’s say a mother is keeping a conversation going with another adult and paying attention to her kid at the same time. Is the mom unfocused or multi-tasking? Unfit for paid employment or upper management material?
Tune back in here soon, and we’ll try an exercise in perception.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:46 AM | Permalink

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