I want to care more about knowing things (or I miss the ego hit?)
November 23, 2022 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I used to value knowing things. Now I don't. Some of that is intentionally dismantling the identity of the erudite person. Some of it is... I'm not sure what. I mostly don't care but part of me does care. Details below.

I basically don't care about how smart I am. But I do care that my son has determined that his dad knows a lot more than me. Dad knows different things. He knows a lot about a lot of trivia, has somewhat of a photographic memory. My knowledge is more intuition based, gut based, and in social-emotional-psychospiritual areas. So between the two of us we cover a lot of ground. But my 6yo doesn't really spend time in the realms of my purview.

I find myself having "specialized" or maybe I'm using psychological projection. I feel dumb around the two of them now. My son asks how the mechanical, natural world works and I often have a hesitant answer to the question at hand. But when it's just the two of us I seem to access more of my baseline, background knowledge. I wish my son saw me as a person that knows things but I don't know how to talk on his level about what I do know, and when I try he often has little bandwidth for it (like his dad I guess, two sentences then he wants to get back to maps, history, natural science etc.).

I'm not sure I want to become the person I was before when I was so "learned" in how I structure and carry myself. It doesn't reay feel like me anymore. But I don't like feeling dumb around my child either. And I really don't like my child thinking his dad knows more, when dad just grabs onto a different type of information than I do.

Anyway. Somewhere in here is a question about gender, identity, the tortured gifted kid trope, and maybe being a sore loser because my partner probably is "smarter than me" based on several conceptualizations of intelligence and that's never happened in any previous relationships, so sometimes it does hit me in my pride. But I think the bulk of this is not wanting to seem like an airhead to my child because he happens to seek information that I don't find interesting enough to keep in my head. What do you recommend for me to find peace with what is, or a way to loosely hold more of this type of knowledge even though I honestly could care less, or a way to talk about this as co-parents that can mitigate what seems to be happening?
posted by crunchy potato to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you’re feeling isolated and thirsting for validation from your child. Not unusual, but maybe not the best place to get validation. My first question is—are you feeling otherwise starved for recognition?I’d be wondering where your adult validators (trusted peers, respected elders, partner) are at. Because a kid might not have access to or interest in the knowledge you carry. Maybe it’s just right now, or maybe never. I would talk to your husband about this, maybe a therapist; and consider other ways to share yourself and the parts of you that you’re proud of, grow self-esteem, etc.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 5:18 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: This is definitely not about wanting validation from my child. I find it curious that it sounds that way, and will reflect more to see if there's any truth to that. From my current perspective, it's really about wrestling with whether I want to go back to knowing more things, or keep my current intellectual laziness, and whether wanting my child to grow up with a model of any gender or sex having equal ability to access and hold knowledge is a good enough reason to motivate myself to go back to a cerebral approach to things when it doesn't feel natural anymore. It's more about honoring feminist ideals and how to make that work as motivation, or whether I need to adjust my perspective and just let it be ok that I feel airheaded because eventually my kid will need the knowledge I hold more comfortably.
posted by crunchy potato at 5:23 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

Nobody knows everything. Think of it not as an request for a hard answer, and more as a prompt to spend time together and explore.

"What do you think?"
"If that's the case, where would we look?"
posted by dum spiro spero at 5:39 PM on November 23 [10 favorites]

It's good to know things off the top of your head sometimes. And it's good to know how to find things out. So maybe if you don't know the answer, you can start teaching your son how to find things out: how to research, think critically, and draw inferences from things they already know. Knowing how to learn is just as, if not more, important than having facts in your head.
posted by ananci at 5:59 PM on November 23 [19 favorites]

It also sounds like this is yet another instance where your partner doesn't have your back as a co-parenting, and isn't actively reinforcing the value of multiple kinds of knowledge when talking with your kid.
posted by knucklebones at 6:14 PM on November 23 [10 favorites]

You say you want your kid to see you as someone who knows things, but you also admit you’re “intellectually lazy”. That’s like saying you want to your kid to see you as fit, but not wanting to work out. You gotta pay the cost to be the boss, as they say.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:51 PM on November 23 [7 favorites]

Does your partner ask you questions or consult you on things in your realm of expertise? Could he?

This would model valuing your knowledge and engaging with it. Even if some of the concepts are over your son's head right now, it's an ongoing way he can see that this conversation matters, and can find his way into it.
posted by away for regrooving at 6:57 PM on November 23 [6 favorites]

Would your partner help to set something up for you?

- He teaches you some specific thing about a topic your child likes
- Next time kid asks about it you can answer. Or your partner can redirect the question to you and you answer.

In The Big Bang Theory, Leonard (I think) teaches Penny some math, science-y stuff, and then when she shows off to Sheldon, he's like, "Whoa!"

I do think it is important for your partner to reinforce that there are different kinds of intelligence, and to show that sometimes he doesn't know either.

But I think it is very common for kids that the only way to be smart is to know lots of hard facts. Their thinking is very black and white. Hopefully as they mature they start to think more in gradients. But I really do think your partner needs to be doing more here to set you up for success, since he's the trusted "smart one" right now.
posted by tinydancer at 6:58 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hoping I can post a link to this study, not as a way of having a conversation on AskMe but as food for thought for anyone else venturing into this problem because it might be relevant information for their own research.

Example: In the original study by Hogan (1978) into self-estimates of intelligence, participants were also asked to provide an estimate of the intelligence of their mothers and fathers. Fathers were rated as more intelligent than mothers (Hogan, 1978), even though there were no gender differences in general intelligence in the community. The effect has been replicated numerous times (Beloff, 1992; Furnham and Rawles, 1995), but should be interpreted cautiously as it might reflect the systemic educational and occupational inequalities of the time (i.e., higher male educational advancement) rather than genuinely held beliefs that men are inherently “smarter.”
posted by crunchy potato at 7:32 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

But I think the bulk of this is not wanting to seem like an airhead to my child because he happens to seek information that I don't find interesting enough to keep in my head

I'm not interested in Paw Patrol but when my son was watching it I knew all about them and the other denizens of Adventure Bay. I'm not interested in volleyball but my daughter is on a team so I'm learning about rotations and scoring. These are relatively easy things I can learn so that I can have better interactions with my kids. Up to a certain point I can even help them with their piano practice but beyond that they need to go to their mother because she's better at it. It would be helpful if your child's dad could defer to you or direct things to you to help reinforce that you are a source of knowledge as well but I think you need to make your own effort to keep things you don't find interesting in your head so that you can better answer your child's everyday questions.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:28 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, “I don’t know, let’s find out together!” is always a good answer. And it teaches your child that there’s no shame in not knowing things, because you can always learn!
posted by mekily at 8:39 PM on November 23 [9 favorites]

Best answer: There's a lot to unfold in your question and comments. I feel you need to give yourself some care and love, and maybe a good way to convince yourself could be that your son needs to see you as a person who deserves love and care every day.

That said, there is a good question about the gendered roles of parents, a question I have given a lot of thought as a single parent. I think in western post WWII culture, the "mother" has provided comfort and care in many ways, whereas the "father" has provided knowledge and societal values in many ways. And it makes no sense, since there can be so many different parents.

Because the fathers of my children have at times been unable to provide a traditional "father" role, I consciously worked to go beyond the frame, and also looked at other concepts globally and historically. The nuclear family is a modern concept and we are not bound to it in any way. But we are confused by our own upbringings. Obviously, you know enough about science etc. to enlighten a six-year old. Every single adult does. As you say, you have feelings that stop you from doing it. I suggest that you push back at those feelings. If your son asks about the age of the universe or the mechanics of a heat pump, answer him: tell him you will google it on your phone and and read out the answer. Just do it. Don't think too much about it.

My kids see me as the educated person in their family of origin, and it is fascinating to see how their concepts of gender are completely different from those of my generation, and how it plays out in their relations with their children. I have friends that are much more radically un-"traditional" and their kids are healthy and happy and engaging in society in ways that are different from what I knew as a kid.

As a professor, I am delighted to meet students who have none of the gendered expectations I grew up with. There is literally nothing to loose, just do it: be the adult who knows stuff, because you can.
posted by mumimor at 8:51 PM on November 23 [5 favorites]

Best answer: People who know a lot of facts are great, I see where you’re coming from. Kids get a lot of praise for knowing facts, and they take enormous pride in it. But knowing a lot of facts is not everything. Someone has to teach the kid about how to daydream, how to have conversations, how to swim and cry and argue and cook and walk the dog and play with their friends and solve problems and live their life. He’s not going to get that from a list of facts. Be a good loving parent, model the behavior of not knowing everything while firmly secure in the idea that you are still a worthy and valuable person. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that your social emotional psychospiritual intelligence is less valuable because your 6 year old thinks it is.
I think there’s some space here to think about about the wise person as opposed to the person who knows a lot of details, there’s some overlap in the venn diagram there but not a lot. I don’t know what that answer is but it’s worth thinking about.
posted by Vatnesine at 9:46 PM on November 23 [9 favorites]

I think that there is a lot of value in saying, "I don't know either. Let's try to find out!" And then working together to find out how the thing works.

To a child that may even be more interesting than simply being told how something works.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:28 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

Yeah I'm with the others picking up on the gendered nature of this. Knowledge that is "feminized" (intuition, emotions, a lot of the stuff you're bringing up) tends to be devalued for not being "rational" or "logical". This leads to a dangerous situation where women & other minorities are disbelieved for being "too emotional", where people are seen as utilitarian tools instead of human beings, where psychological well-being is pooh-poohed as being unnecessary for human function.

You've got knowledge that is important and necessary. Your kid needs to know this, or else he risks perpetuating harmful behaviour on those he doesn't regard as "smart enough" (the pipeline is significant). Here's your opportunity to change that.
posted by creatrixtiara at 1:59 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

My husband and I tend to have different skill sets and different knowledge bases, and I take the long view.

There will be times when his knowledge is more interesting, and there will be times when my knowledge is more interesting.

We're careful to model that there's more than one way to be smart, and that knowledge is something you earn over a lifetime by looking things up.

I think there are two issues at hand here: a gendered dynamic, and a dysfunction in your co-parenting relationship, which could be addressed in therapy.
posted by champers at 3:08 AM on November 24

You could try vocalizing your intuitions about people and situations and what and how you read between the lines. Your child might start internalizing that type of thought process, even though they don’t value or perceive it right now.
posted by gt2 at 5:12 AM on November 24

My husband is very smart in a lot of ways I'm not. I'm not dumb but I've struggled with ADHD and at least one learning disability, and I'm currently doing a job that is not a great fit, so I don't always feel like my smartest self these days.

I've been helping him learn how to cook. He's starting from absolutely no knowledge of any type of cooking techniques whatsoever. He's never fried an egg or made a grilled cheese sandwich. He doesn't know what sautée means or what type of implement to use to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan (or why you would even want to do that.) He doesn't know you can't leave a pan of hot oil unattended on the burner while you turn around to prep your vegetables, unless what you are wanting to make is smoke and fire.

I'm not the best cook in the world but I absorbed a lot from hanging around my parents and grandparents kitchens growing up; and I had to learn to cook on the fly when I got married for the first time at age 16. So I know my way around a kitchen. Even though I don't love to cook and don't usually try to do anything fancy, if I ever needed to make a complicated recipe I have no doubt I could easily figure it out just from all the basic knowledge I've accumulated (and probably a bit of help from the internet.)

So the Mr started getting these meal boxes where they send you ingredients and a recipe, and we had our first cooking session the other night. I've always taken my skills/knowledge in the kitchen for granted, but for the first time I'm realizing just how much there is to know, and also how much becomes intuitive after you've done it for a while. This is a thing I am genuinely "smart" about! And it's an important life skill to have, but somehow my very smart husband missed out on picking up even the basics. Now that he's putting his mind to it I have no doubt he'll become competent, but right now I'm feeling real smart as it becomes clear how much knowledge and skill I have that a beginner does not.

I would think about what skills and knowledge you do have, and whether they are things you could and should teach to your son. Especially your knowledge of basic life skills, as it seems a lot of younger people don't manage to pick those things up these days. As a kid various people in my life taught me the basics of cooking and home care; how to use a dictionary and encyclopedia and the library; how to mend and sew; how to crochet and cross-stitch; the basics of various sports; how to change a flat tire and check my oil and fill up the windshield washer fluid; and just all kinds of random life stuff that has proved useful to me throughout my life. It was also interesting to watch how they learned stuff. They would take on a new hobby or project and I would watch how they learned and made mistakes and figured things out as they went. Each person in my life seemed to know a lot or a little about a great many useful things, and I don't remember ever thinking that anyone was the "smart" one. I was just interested in learning the things they could teach me.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:27 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

Some of these answers are really discouraging to me. It's not the job of a particular woman to be "smarter" than any or all the men in her life to teach something about feminism.

Even more deeply, what if you taught your son to value people for who they are, and not which facts they know or how smart they are? What if your home were not the site of a competition for who is better but rather a team and family that comes together to get everyone what they need, including their thirsts for knowledge.

But I do care that my son has determined that his dad knows a lot more than me.

He's 6. When my kids were 6 they were obsessed with the realm of books known as fact books - the National Geographic series, the World Record series, all those things. This is delightful! And your son is enjoying such a rich world full of Google and books and yes, his dad.

But I think the bulk of this is not wanting to seem like an airhead to my child because he happens to seek information that I don't find interesting enough to keep in my head.

Echoing the above "what an interesting question! Let's look it up together." (If you do voice-activated things, this is the major reason we got a Google Home device.)

What will your child learn? That you love him enough to spend time exploring his passions with him.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:23 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy this book.
posted by nixxon at 11:23 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

It might help to have this conversation with your partner so they understand how this is impacting you. It wouldn't hurt for them to say 'I'm not sure, why don't you ask your mother' once in a while if there really is an imbalance in who gets asked because of perceptions of one knowing more stuff.

The most important thing you can teach your child, though, is how to find things out. There's an excellent opportunity to sit with them and find things out together when you get asked something you aren't sure of or, even if you are (because you can then guide their search more accurately). Learning how to do their own exploration may well be the experience that blows their mind, you'll be the one that gave them that and it will stay with them forever. Not that it's a competition ;-)
posted by dg at 4:54 PM on November 24

Maybe your child is looking for a way to connect with his dad? Six is old enough to notice the things a parent *wants* to talk about.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:00 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]

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