How mothers should raise their daughters

Your daughter treats you like an ATM and is growing up too fast. Here’s what to do.

How mothers should raise their daughters

Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

Susan Shapiro Barash’s two daughters are seven years apart in age. Her younger daughter isn’t inherently different than her older daughter, but raising her was far more of a challenge. “I felt my values and opinions were less effective,” she says. Curious about the change in seven years, Barash, a Manhattan teacher, began interviewing other moms about their mother-daughter problems. The result of her research is a new book called You’re Grounded Forever?.?.?.?But First Let’s Go Shopping: The Challenges Mothers Face With Their Daughters and Ten Timely Solutions.

Her advice covers all manner of mistakes made by today’s moms who are “much more involved with their daughters at the same time that they’re less certain of their roles.” Barash blames “celebrity culture” and the Internet. “Our daughters are informed in a way that we weren’t. You can’t sit down with a 13-year-old and say, ‘Things are going to change around here.’ It’s too late,” she tells Maclean’s from her home in New York City.

“Mothers need to start talking to their daughters from the time they’re very young.” Drugs and drinking should be discussed as early as Grade 5, she advises. Also, don’t make the mistake some moms make, those who think they’re being a friend when they tell their daughters, “You can smoke a joint at home with me. You can drink at home with me. You’re taking a big risk with your child because you’re giving tacit approval for something that still is not appropriate,” she says. “You’re not your daughter’s best friend. You’re here to keep her safe.”

The book also warns moms to stop making excuses for their poorly behaved daughters. The temptation is to avoid confrontations at any cost, she writes. One mom confesses that she’s made up so many excuses for her daughter she doesn’t know how to stop the train wreck she’s created. “When she hit 14, she’d call me on things, and say, ‘Why don’t you tell the neighbours the truth, that I don’t want to go to their boring barbecue, instead of saying I have homework?’ ”

These days, laments the mom, “she uses my laptop and can’t bother to charge it. She leaves dishes in the sink, she erases my phone messages when she’s searching for her own on our home line, she takes cash from my wallet rather than going to an ATM.” Mothers fear being blamed and judged by society for raising a nasty daughter, but daughters who hear their moms making excuses “are led to believe that the mothers themselves are deficient.” The daughter loses respect for her mother, and enters adulthood making excuses for herself, warns Barash.

As for “materially obsessed” daughters, stop indulging them with credit cards and allowances, advises Barash. Among the 300 moms interviewed, 60 per cent admitted to having “snobby” and “spoiled daughters.” One mom is appalled that her daughters “order three-course meals at the best restaurants like there’s no tomorrow. I was taught to order carefully and never from the most expensive side of the menu. I’ve mentioned this to my girls, who think I’m from outer space. I’ve never had the courage to say no.”

Tell your daughter, “You can have your own credit card but you have to take your babysitting money or your after-school money and you have to pay the bill.”

When it comes to weight, don’t harp at your daughter because she’s overweight, writes Barash. She gives the example of the “super-thin mother” who considers herself an excellent example of someone who has struggled with weight and overcome it by going to the gym, counting calories and eating a sensible diet.

“Your efforts have paid off,” Barash writes, “and it’s maddening that this hasn’t sunk in for your daughter. Haven’t you pointed out that we live in a world where people judge you by your looks and weight? You seethe as your daughter reaches for a Mars bar.” Yet, “when a mother is too absorbed with this, the daughter either discards and rebels, eating what she likes, or models her mother. Either decision can lead to an eating disorder.”

Despite the tough talk, Barash is sympathetic: “This is very hard for the mother. You’re always walking on eggshells and you don’t want to break a fragile spirit.”

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