How to Raise a Girl — The Morning Glory Experiments

What do girls need in order to thrive – to grow into exactly who they’re meant to be? And if it’s different for every girl, then how do you figure out the requirements for your own daughter?


morning glories iStock_000007494985XSmallOne long-ago wintry afternoon, the cover of a magazine left on the sofa caught my eye. In enticing contrast to the grayness outside, here was a photo of the most magnificent morning glories – along with the directions for creating an indoor window trellis, a veritable curtain of morning glories — right there in the middle of November.  I could create spring – in my living room — now.

Ten years and one house later, I found the time to act on that idea.  This time, I had a garden window — perfect! Nothing more needed than to grab a couple of terracotta pots and some potting soil, drop in the seeds – and watch them grow.

Which they did – fantastically.  Before long at all, the vines had blooms on them, and they climbed gently up the window toward the sun. Their name is no accident, I learned — the blooms greeted me for morning coffee and folded up by dusk. Nothing going wrong there – it’s in their DNA; they’re morning people (see #2 below).

To state it gently, I’m not a reliable waterer of plants.  Animals and children I am careful to keep hydrated, but plants I have always expected would adjust to my rhythm.  This works well with, say, philodendrons and pothos. (I left  one of those in the garage for two months after we moved to House #3 – and it did better there than when I was taking care of it.  Which maybe is not a good character reference…)

Anyway, morning glories do not flex to the preferences of their caregivers.  Three times or more, I started the seeds (easy) and then … relaxed… on the watering, and three times the blooming vines turned up their toes and opted for becoming compost.

Despite these sad results, the mental image of a window alive with blooms persisted, and when I set out to transform the eat-in kitchen in House #3 into a French bistro complete with twinkle lights, the plants in wrought iron hangers on the walls were joined by a soon-to-be beautiful pot of morning glories in the window.  And – they grew right away.  At least the vines did.  The blooms, which took months to appear rather than weeks in this east-facing window, were few and far between. When I was sick for a few days and neglected them, the whole thing went all autumn on me and died. The next time around, the absolute jungle of vines that grew had only one bloom, and once again, perhaps over-watered this time, suddenly expired.

But I’m not quitting.  Morning glories – Take 8. Taking it from the top —

I share this with you because the Morning Glory Experiments provide a metaphor that offers some solid principles for raising girls. For example:

  1. Don’t blame the morning glories!  Because this was so obvious, I didn’t feel irrationally irritated with the blameless seeds.  So, putting the responsibility where it belongs, the task is not to figure out “what’s wrong with those defiant morning glories,” but rather to figure out what they actually need in order to bloom.
  2. Morning glories are what they are, and so it goes with people. You can’t change a morning person into a night person or vice versa, and there’s no sense in trying. It’s pointless and harmful to expect a living thing to be something other than what it is and to need something other than what it needs.
  3. Experimentation is necessary.  I was disappointed – with myself – and frustrated, and I really did feel that I had let the morning glories down. Because I understand that the learning curve here is mine – not the morning glories’ – I am continuing the experiment. Experiments are about formulating hypotheses and testing them out either to see what happens or to achieve a particular desired result. “First tries and next tries,” I call this, when I explain it to children, who often think in self-critical black and white terms of success and failure.  So, experimentally, I have tried to determine what it takes for this favored flower to grow and thrive.  Have I been giving too little water – or too much? Is the need for water escalating with the exponential growth of the vine, resulting in my not keeping up? Is the direction of the sun wrong for it – or inadequate? Are the vines overcrowded? Or have I not used a pot that is deep enough to accommodate the roots?
  4. I need some guidance from someone who understands plants – I was going to say “better than I do” – but, well, someone who understands plants at all : ).
  5. When morning glories bloom, it’s just amazing! I have had a taste of the potential for such charm and beauty from these vivid blossoms, and I now want to learn how to facilitate an absolute riot of morning glories.  In fact, I am so excited about what is possible that I know I will keep experimenting until I get it right.

 Do you sometimes lament the fading of your girls’ infant and toddler days, of their gap-toothed elementary school pictures; the passage from the innocence of childhood to the complex world of adolescence?  A close friend of mine experiences this very differently.  “I am so excited to see who they will grow up to be!” he says. He really means this, and he watches for what is developing with his girls and champions it; he waits with fascination to learn who they are becoming.

Girls are an unpredictable mix of mathematicians, scientists, artisans, athletes, writers, and gymnasts… They range from neat & tidy to laissez-faire; tone deaf to musical; serious to whimsical, each a seed of potential with infinite possible permutations.  That is why it is such a sacred pursuit to experiment, with first tries and next tries, to create the environment that will uniquely nurture each of your girls and allow them to bloom in ways you cannot now imagine.