About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, September 27, 2010

#70 - Ophelia's Mom

Ophelia's Mom: Women Speak Out About Loving and Letting Go of Their Adolescent Daughters, bu Nina Shandler (New York: Crown Publishers, 2001).

Summary: "'Why do I hurt so much when she pulls away?' 'What did I do wrong?' 'Are we ever going to be friends again?' 'Why is she friends with that sleaze and dating that fungus?' 'I know I'm supposed to let her go, but I don't know how and I'm terrified.' From the mother of the author of the bestselling Ophelia Speaks, this is the first book in which mothers of adolescent girls speak out about how the changes in their daughters' lives are prompting cataclysms in their own.

Reviving Ophelia and Ophelia Speaks explored the painful challenges faced by teen girls. But where's the support for the mothers of those teen girls? In Ophelia's Mom, Nina Shandler, Ed.D., gives the mothers the chance to speak out about feelings and uncertainties too often considered taboo.

"Culled from written submissions and interviews with hundreds of women from all walks of life and from every part of the country, the concerns voiced in these pages reflect the universal experience of mothers facing one set of life changes while their daughters are facing another. With humor, pathos, insight, rage, sadness, joy, and ultimately, optimism, these mothers talk candidly about rejection and separation, feminism versus Girl Power, love and sex, friends, school, drugs and alcohol, divorce, menstruation and menopause, the mother-daughter bond, and much more.

"As these mothers reveal how this life passage has reshaped them as well as their children, you'll realize that you're not crazy, and you're certainly not alone in your frustration, confusion, and exhilaration over raising an adolescent daughter."

Table of Contents:
  • Introduction
Backstage Moms
  • A Supporting Role
  • In the Wings
Part One: Into Adolescent Territory
  • Blood and Tears
  • Mirror Images: Hormones, Body Shapes, and Skin Conditions
  • Frozen Affections
  • Passing Storms
  • Limits of Power
Part Two: Disarmed Bodyguards
  • The Culture of School
  • The Influence of Friends
  • The Quest for Love
  • Sex: The Carnal Consequences
  • The Lure of Intoxication: Alcohol and Drugs
  • The Edges of Emotion: Depression and Eating Disorders
  • Minding the Body: Illness and Disease
Part Three: Tied in Family Knots
  • Fathers and Husbands
  • Daughters and Sisters
  • Broken Homes
  • Legacies: From Generation to Generation
Part Four: Transitions and Transformations
  • Holding On to Values
  • Pushed into Self-Discovery
Into the Limelight
  • On to a New Stage
My take: Interesting in small doses, but on the whole -- somewhat depressing and more than a little tedious.

Granted, some of this may be the result of selection bias. Shandler collected the interviews and essays that form the backbone of her book via the following invitation:
"An Invitation to Mothers of Adolescent Girls

"When adolescence takes possession of our daughters, we, their mothers, find ourselves in alien territory. Our familiar mother/ daughter bond is banished. Daily life swerves in unpredictable directions. We careen from emotion to emotion: confusion, laughter, hurt, relief, despair, hope. Still, the mothers' side of the Ophelia saga is seldom told.

"An unspoken heritage pressures mothers to remain silent. In Hamlet, Ophelia's mother has no part. In our youth-obsessed culture, a bittersweet limelight focuses on our daughters, while we fade in their shadow. Ophelia's Mom is an opportunity for mothers to emerge from backstage, to dispel a silence that keeps us feeling alone.

"I'd love to receive your thoughts, stories, or interview requests.

"Written Contributions: Please
see Ophelia's Mom as an opportunity to talk to other mothers about your own journey through your daughter's adolescence. ... Just dive into your experience and write honestly. Feel free to be funny or sad, angry or ashamed, worried or relieved, uplifted or grief-stricken. ... Focus on any topic that sheds light on your daughter-driven challenges."
Even if we assume the invitations were distributed to a fairly representative sample of mothers, I'd wager there were significant differences between those who took the time to reply and those who didn't. I'd even go so far as to suggest that the moms who'd found their daughters' adolescence particularly rough might have been more likely to respond, while those who shrugged and said, "Yeah, we've done some screaming and slammed some doors, but no big deal," usually didn't bother. Right?

At least that's what I keep telling myself. With my own daughter just on the threshold of adolescence, I'm well aware of the karmic dangers of smugly proclaiming "I would NEVER" or "My daughter just COULDN'T ... " To quote Vivianne in The Mists of Avalon, "Never name that well from which you will not drink." But even so, I'm amazed at the number of women featured in this book who were utterly gobsmacked when their teenage daughters dyed their hair blue; were embarrassed to be seen in Mom's presence; or became secretive around alcohol, drugs, and sex. (Shocked, I tell you, simply shocked.) And while I know there's often a big difference between knowing something in theory and putting that theory into practice, it seems obvious (at least on an intellectual level) that bad-mouthing your ex-spouse or his new wife in front of your kids is a Bad Idea, and that criticizing your child's friends/ boyfriends/ girlfriends is a surefire way to make your child cling to said friends all the more.

Perhaps I'm not being fair to Shandler or Ophelia's Mom. I've read some pretty over-the-top hysterical (as in overly emotional, not laugh-riot funny) parenting books, and this certainly isn't in that camp. Honestly, I'm probably reacting like my friend's then-preadolescent daughter did a few years ago when my hipMama friend bought lots of books and initiated conversations aplenty about puberty and all its ch-ch-ch-changes. I'm just too close to a somewhat-scary topic, and may as well throw my hands over my ears and sing loudly, "LA LA LA LA LA LA, I'M NOT LISTENING!"

I think this book is best appreciated, at least for me, by stepping back and putting my anthropologist's hat on. For the mothers of adolescents or near-adolescents, there are lessons or at least reminders to be gleaned herein: let go slowly, incrementally; don't take separation personally; get a life apart from your kids; and remember that eventually, this too shall pass. Beyond that, well ... ask me again in 7 or 8 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment