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Review of "Ophelia's Mom"

By Nina Shandler
Crown Books, 2001
Review by Rose Sennett on Jan 5th 2002
Ophelia's MomNina Shandler, Ed.D., knows from whence she speaks. She raised two daughters who are both healthily out of their teens and survived the complete exposure of her parenting skills and her youngest daughters' graphic opinion of those skills when she published a book on the subject at age 17. Sarah Shandler's book Ophelia Speaks, was written in response to Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia which voiced the concerns of teenaged women as they struggled with depression, peer pressure, temptations of alcohol, sex, drugs and other issues that are both milestones and seemingly insurmountable obstacles for girls as they move from adolescence to womanhood. Sarah's mother Nina, a physiologist and family therapist outlines in her 13-page introduction how she went about soliciting information from some 23,000 mothers of adolescent girls encouraging them to share their side of the story. She discusses the process, and the statistics, the truths and the myths in this introduction and then begins to offer some of her own experiences emphasizing the difficulties that mothers experience, as they approach menopause just as their teenaged girls are beginning to blossom.

If this were the case for every mother of a teenaged daughter, then this book would be akin to an owner's manual, however only up and until page thirteen. While Nina Schandler has gathered a cross section of the population and organized their stories into sections with like stories, her attempt to flow them together with little introductory paragraphs filled with clinical observations actually detracts from the overall benefit of the book: listening to the shared stories of mothers like us. However, when the author shares her own stories in the role of participant rather than editor, I found them poignant and enlightening.

I'll be honest; this book is not about mothers like me. I am a single lesbian raising my daughter in conjunction with my ex -partner. My daughter is six at this time and I can't really say what will happen when she reaches puberty, but this book does not represent me demographically at all. It does not represent women of color (or at least that wasn't evident from the examples), it doesn't represent anyone with any consistent religious devotion (save the fundamentalist woman who showed 'tolerance' for her lesbian daughter) and not until half way into the book do we see a representation of mothers with daughters who are anything but 'stunning' and 'perfect', except that they have distanced themselves from their mothers. We also do not hear about the father's roles until the last few chapters in any great detail.

This book, as the introduction states, is supposed to be the mother's voice; the story of adolescent girls puberty and how it blindsides their mothers. And in fact, that's just what it is. The mother's side of the story. Perhaps it's my lack of experience as the 'victim' of this distancing that inspires my craving for the girls point of view in these situations. These mother's would shake their heads at me and say 'just you wait until she doesn't want you anymore!' and they're probably right. But in these stories I don't see resolution or resignation, I see mother's surviving any way they can until their daughter's reach seventeen. As a reader I wanted these women to be imparting wisdom. I wanted them to have learned from their experiences, but many of them didn't seem to have understood what had taken place. They often missed how their own reactions had heightened the anxiety and lengthened the distance between themselves and their daughters.

What they did teach me is that there's a big hurt coming up for me in about six years and I should be ready for it. So yes, any mother of a daughter would benefit from skimming through this volume. There are things that these women share, that will help prepare mothers like me, for what lies ahead. However, I'll warn any prospective reader, that there is some selfish, blind, and just downright bad parenting described in these pages and I was honestly astonished at how quiet the author remained throughout these interviews. I expected more insight into the psychologist's opinion regarding how these woman fared, how they handled the situations and perhaps a better comparison of different methods of approaching the same situation.

This book was inspired by Sarah Schandler's compilation of the voices of teenaged girls. It would have been better served by restricting it to the author's insights alone, which when she was talking about her own experiences, were enlightening, pleasant to read and honest. She shared with us her feelings about how she handled that period in her daughter's lives and how wrong she was on occasion about the nature of their relationship with her. She also shared the parts where it turned out she'd been right, and that was quite inspiring. She didn't seem to require or encourage that same honesty or awareness from the contributors and therefore the compilation is lacking in continuity and message.

Overall, the content of Ophelia's Mom has value as a glimpse into the future for mothers of daughters. But, it falls short of its stated purpose, which is to show women how and why, they must learn to let go of their daughters -- who will no doubt, grow up, whether we like it or not. If anything, I can now think of about fifteen ways I should not react when my daughter begins rolling her eyes and pretending she doesn't know me in public.

© 2002 Rose Sennett

    Rose Sennettis the mother of a six-year-old daughter whom she is raising in conjunction with her ex-partner in New York City. Rose is a writer, a classical vocalist, a Jazz enthusiast and by day, a Systems Engineer for Information Builders, Inc., a private software developer with corporate offices in New York City.

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