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in the Mirror is addressed to mothers about to embark on the challenge of
raising adolescent daughters. It is
not, strictly speaking, a professional book.
Although one of the authors is a physician -- actually, a surgeon
specializing in otolaryngology -- she does not draw on her own professional
experience. Instead, she and her
colleague combine summaries of current literature on adolescent development
with reflections on their experiences, and those of friends and colleagues, as
daughters and as mothers. The result is
an optimistic, "you can do it" guide to "hands-on"
The book maintains a very valuable dual focus. Middle class mothers are typically going
through their own mid-life "changes" just as their daughters go
through adolescence. As their daughters
step into the prime of life, they face all the losses that go with age. Inevitably, tensions arise that must be
faced honestly. Any mother will react
to her daughter's emerging sexuality, and to her striking out for autonomy, at
least partly in terms of what these events say to her about her own past life
and future prospects.
On the other hand, the mother, as
the adult in the relationship, must be the responsible party, keeping her
emotional reactions in perspective in order to work for her daughter's
well-being. Self-reflection is in
The authors try to debunk or
re-frame what they see as distorted cultural myths. A "Good Mother," in their view, does not need to be a
cross between Mother Teresa and Martha Stewart; she is doing well if she enters
into an honest, flexible relationship with her daughter. Not all adolescents are prickly, rebellious,
or in turmoil, victimized by "raging hormones"--though it is
certainly true that adolescence is a time of radical change and a degree of
struggle. Peer influence is not uniformly
dangerous; mothers need to appreciate the value of their daughters'
The book takes positions in
opposition to several prevalent trends: an "age compression" that
forces children into adolescence earlier and earlier; an increased sexualization
of popular culture, and a feminine ideal that emphasizes bodily beauty at the
expense of other personal values. It
takes a stand straightforwardly in favor of close parental supervision and the
setting of limits. "Hands-on"
parenting includes knowing an adolescent's whereabouts; monitoring TV watching,
Internet use, and musical tastes; and establishing family rituals such as
On the other hand, the authors'
attitude is not entirely authoritarian.
They see the chief task of motherhood as engaging with one's daughter in
an extended dialogue, a real two-way exchange.
In this conversation, the mother's values and behavior will be open to
observation and criticism. However,
both parties will respect certain boundaries of privacy.
The book touches on an enormous
range of difficult topics, including divorce, step-parenting, adoption, sex
education and sexual orientation, and drug and alcohol use. Its extensive bibliography makes it a useful
starting point for an investigation of these issues.
The chapter on "Troubled
Waters" summarizes the standard scientific and public health literature on
such serious emotional problems as depression, anxiety disorder, social phobia,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders. It offers concrete advice, hope in the efficacy of treatment, and
compassion for the mother's suffering.
in the Mirror is an appealing book.
Its authors are strong in their opinions but not nasty, blaming, or
backward looking. They have succeeded
in conveying a unified vision of the crucial task of mothering an adolescent
daughter in today's world.
2003 Marion Torchia
Marion Torchia is a Washington DC-based writer and health care analyst.
She is particularly interested in the moral dimensions of our attitudes towards
health and behavioral health.
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