Dads Who Do Dishes Raise Ambitious Daughters (and 4 Other Ways Any Parent Can Help Their Kid Succeed)


A recent study by UBC found that dads who do the dishes — and other household chores — tend to raise more ambitious daughters than dads who stick to more traditional (or, dare I say, outdated) gender roles and leave the kitchen duties to the women in the house. (See also: 7 Important Financial Lessons Kids Teach Their Children)

I am not a mother (yet), but I'd say I'm a pretty ambitious daughter myself. And yes, my dad did do the dishes. In fact, he did them every single night. Coincidence? Probably. But sticking dad with kitchen duty isn't the only way to raise daughters who want to take on the world. Here are a few things that could make a difference.

But First…

Before looking at how to turn precocious young girls into determined young women, we have to acknowledge the existence of what Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg calls "the ambition gap." According to Sandberg, even though girls in the United States are well-educated, most still fail to make it to the executive level in business, don't have proportional representation in political office, and still earn significantly less in almost all jobs compared to men. And, of course, this doesn't happen because women are less capable, or even less interested. It happens, according to many experts, because so far, our world hasn't been designed to set girls up for this kind of success.

So, rather than looking at how to raise more ambitious daughters, I'm going to look at what the research says about raising more ambitious children. I think the idea here is that these lessons should be applied equally to both girls and boys.

Here are four ways that have been shown to help kids to achieve their best — whatever that may be.

Stop at One

According to a study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, the eldest or only female child in a family is likely to be (at least statistically) more capable and successful than her younger siblings. So, if you want to give young girls the best chance, just have one.

I'm kidding, of course. But the discrepancy is pretty interesting, and it disappears as the space between children in a family widens. The study's author, FeiFei Bu, believes that the difference could have something to do with parents' investment of time and effort into first-born children compared to their younger siblings. It's worth keeping in mind, especially since many experts still argue that birth order doesn't define a kid's destiny. But, they say that in order to reduce the birth-order effect, parents need to be aware of the biases they have about their children, and work to encourage their strengths individually.

Encourage Them (or Let Them) Dream Big

Big achievements usually start as big dreams and research suggests those are worth nurturing, no matter how abstract, grandiose, or even absurd they might seem. According to researchers at London University's Institute of Education, little kids with the biggest dreams fared the best as adults, regardless of their backgrounds. Sure, an unrealistic proportion of the kids in the study may have said they wanted to be sports stars or veterinarians. The fact that many of them probably didn't achieve those careers (and, by the time they got a little older may not have wanted to) doesn't matter. What made the difference is that their big goals gave them hope for the future.

So how can parents encourage those big dreams? A poll out of the U.K. found that all it takes is opening up the conversation with kids about what they'd their lives to look like and encouraging them to "think big." The poll also found benefit in education and career guidance from an early age.

Value Effort Over Achievement

When Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck told kids how smart and capable and awesome they were before asking them to assemble a puzzle, those kids did much worse than those who weren't praised at all. Weird, right? But it makes sense when you think about it.

When you call someone "smart," you give them a big, important label they feel they have to live up to. It becomes how they define themselves. The problem is that "smart" isn't really something you have to work at. In practice, that meant that the kids who weren't worried about being smart tended to try harder at the tasks they were given, feel happier with their achievements, and progress better over time. According to Dweck's extensive research in this area, praising kids for their efforts rather than their achievements and encouraging them to do their best is the way to go. (See also: The Secret to Succeeding at Absolutely Everything)

Remember What's Important

Of course, there's more to life than becoming a CEO, and many parents are most concerned about raising their kids to be happy and healthy. And that isn't such a crazy idea. In Raising Happiness: 10 Steps to More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, happiness expert and author Christine Carter says that kids who grow up and learn to be happy are also more successful, both in their jobs and in their relationships.

Raising ambitious kids to believe in themselves, to have the emotional strength to keep trying at difficult tasks, and to learn to balance all that with becoming happy people is a huge job, even if dad is on dish duty. But hey, it's worth a try, right?

What are you doing to raise ambitious daughters (and sons)? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

Nothing with a daughter trying to achieve her "dreams" and conquer the world ,provided they don't leave their homes in tatters. Plopping an ipad with the baby can never substitute for what mother can offer. I was "raised" by the so called career ambitious mother who was there nominally. Today, she has a lot of regrets of sending my brothers and I off boarding school and during the summers letting my grandmother and dad take care of us so she could get more degress. I have reassured her that we do not hold this against her but she is still very despondent when she compares herself to her peers who took a more "traditional and outdated" approach. They have much stronger bonds with their kids.
What I am more concerned is that women are following the same career oriented formula men have used which have resulted in the broken homes and distant relationships between family members.
As the well meaning author of this piece, I hope you don't get married to one of those guys who have "failed to launch" in your quest to conquer the world. Material acquisitions and worldly titles mean squat then the home is on fire.

I would recommend the book "boys adrift" and you will see my concerns for the future.