Ophelia may have drowned herself when Hamlet turned snarly, but she’s still very much alive in
several recent books about adolescent girls. The current wave started in 1994 with Mary Pipher’s
brilliant bestseller Reviving
offered a therapist’s perspective of the pressure girls feel to be perfect and their subsequent loss
of self-esteem. The book unleashed a storm of commentary and thoughtful prescriptions for the problem.
Then in 1999, Sara Shandler, a very young woman herself, felt enough non-teens were speaking for girls
and that they deserved a chance to speak for themselves. Her compelling collection of writing by and about
teen girls is found in Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self. Two
years later, Shandler’s mother, Nina Shandler, Ed.D. put together her own collection of personal
accounts in Ophelia’s
Mom. In so doing, she gavemothers
a chance to vent, cry, doubt, question and offer support and encouragement to one another.
This is a very compelling read that offers front row views of what it’s like for mothers when daughters
turn the corner from childhood into adolescence. The range of experiences is broad and yet an undeniable
thread runs through. Daughters as well as sons need to break away from their parents. It’s part of
what they should be doing during the teen years. Of course knowing that doesn’t always make
it any easier for the parent who feels rejected. I tell parents in my workshops “Don’t
take your teen’s verbal assaults personally. This isn’t about you even though it sure feels
like it.” Good advice and absolutely true. But you’re human and you love this child. How can
it not hurt when she, who once cried when you dropped her at preschool and ran into your arms when you
picked her up, screams that she hates you? Reflexively you want to withdraw to protect yourself from future
assaults. But you’re a parent and withdrawal is not an option. As one of the moms in Shandler’s
book puts it: “I was not wanted but I still needed to be responsible.”
Trapped between guilt and blame, we lose track of ourselves. While hoping to guide
our daughters through adolescent insecurities we can lose our way.
This book isn’t always easy to read. For parents who’ve been there, it’s likely to awaken
intense memories. For parents whose daughters haven’t yet turned the corner it might be unnerving.
I’d still recommend it. It will provide an uncompromising look at the journey into adulthood – a
sometimes painful transition but one as natural as the toddler’s determination to walk. As you read,
keep this in mind: Like other women’s tales of labor and delivery, your journey through Ophelia Land
with your daughter will be unique to the two of you. Remember also… you and she are just passing
through this rough spot… the road’s a lot less bumpy on the other side.
More Recommended Parenting Books »