Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of nonfiction books on women’s issues and teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College in New York. Her expertise in the gender and relationships field is frequently sought by the media and she blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Her latest book, “You’re Grounded Forever…But First, Let’s Go Shopping”, explores the unique bond between mothers and daughters, and gets into why many girls are being robbed of their childhoods, why they are influenced by peers and celebrity culture, and what factors contribute to mother-daughter rivalry.
In the book Barash discusses a plethora of topics important to mothers trying to raise daughters today–a difficult task indeed! She dives into why mothers second guess their parenting abilities and why it’s sometimes so difficult for mothers to set limits with their daughters. She also frankly describes the dangers of making too much of food and dieting, why the 21st century mother is so invested in her daughter’s life, how daughters of divorce are influenced by their mothers’ experiences, and how moms are models for their daughters in every facet of their lives.
ModernMom had the opportunity to talk to Susan about why teenage girls dress in skimpy outfits, and more importantly, why their mothers allow it! Read on to discover her expert insight…especially if you have a daughter!
Why do some mothers allow their tween and teen daughters to dress provocatively?
Many mothers allow their daughters to dress this way because they worry that if they do not allow it, their daughters will be disenfranchised and not with the "it" group. Other mothers pick and choose their battles and view clothing as innocuous–an easy way to cave in and make a daughter happy. What they don’t realize is that their tween and teen daughters aren’t ready psychologically or emotionally for how they present themselves in these clothes.
How can we avoid being a mother who encourages a material life and overemphasizes beauty?
This is very complicated for moms because a mother’s voice today, regardless of her daughter’s age, tends to be drowned out by media influences, celebrity culture, and a herd mentality. Thus, the mother must repeatedly tell her daughter that this is her value system when it comes to materialism and beauty. Mothers themselves often have issues surrounding these topics, and should consider what kind of example they are setting for their daughters. If a mother is absorbed with her weight and appearance and designer attire, then the daughter gets this message early in her life.
Why do you claim in your book that the lines between childhood and adulthood blurring?
Boundaries are blurring between childhood and adulthood because young girls are encouraged to grow up so quickly. This isn’t healthy for girls, as they feel pressured and judged by their peers very early on. Also, our daughters are exposed to so much adult information through the internet and television. While many parents have rules for viewing or hearing this content, girls (and all children) are informed in a variety of ways–especially by their friends.
As parents, how can we help our daughters act and dress their age?
It is important that mothers take a stand, that they are strong enough to say no–to inappropriate clothing, to late curfews, or to a "fast" set of friends. If the daughter is insistent on these issues, then a compromise must be made. The mother and daughter should sit down and have a conversation, rather make a scene, about an outfit, a party, a daughter’s need to appear a certain way, or what curfew will work for both mother and daughter.
How do we reduce celebrity and pop culture influences on our daughters?
This is very difficult to do. As stated above, girls will learn about celebrities and pop culture despite a mother’s attempts to shield them. This means that a mother must continually discuss her values with her daughter. She needs to impress upon her daughter how important it is to learn, to have healthy friendships, and to be a moral person. There can be rules about internet time when daughters are still young, but mothers should be aware that kids get information from a variety of sources, including friends’ houses and even just going to the mall. Celebrity and pop culture info is available everywhere.
How are daughters of divorce influenced by their mothers, and how can a mom lessen the detrimental effects of divorce on her daughter?
In my book/study, I have devoted a chapter to all kinds of families, including divorced families, stepfamilies, single mothers, and never married mothers. In a divorce situation, a mother who shelters her daughter from any friction between her ex husband/the girl’s father and herself is doing her daughter a great service. Daughters many times feel torn between the two parents–some feel disloyal to their mothers if they enjoy their stepmothers. The daughters are watching their mothers closely–so whatever message the mother gives about the father and his wife or girlfriend, the daughter will undoubtedly take to heart. It’s best to establish a "greater good", in which everyone gets along and is civil and respectful. That way, the daughter won’t feel as if she has to choose and will feel more secure. We should not lean on our daughters during a divorce either. As one interviewee told me, she and her teenage daughter had a "standing Saturday night date". While on occasion this is fine, a weekly plan is not completely fair to either mother or daughter, and not the healthiest route. Daughters should be encouraged to have their own lives and to be with friends, not serve as a substitute companion for their lonely mothers.
How does a daughter overcome being exposed to her mother’s bad marriage or a bad relationship? How can her mother help her?
A daughter keenly scrutinizes her mother’s love life, whether she is married or single. In a dating situation the mother who is cautious about bringing a new boyfriend around until the relationship is very serious protects the daughter and also keeps it less complicated. If the daughter is exposed to her parents’ unhappy marriage, she will internalize it and might feel very burdened. To this end, it’s important to not confide your unhappiness in your marriage or in your love life to your daughter. And if the daughter witnesses a scene, discussing it with her afterward and reassuring her is helpful.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Being a mother today is more complex than any other time in modern history. Mothers reported to me that they often second guessed their mothering ability, said yes when they meant no, and felt powerless. They made endless excuses and hovered over daughters in high school and college, which can impair the daughter’s sense of independence. All of this is a reflection of what society expects of young girls and young women and mothers who truly want to please their daughters, even if it means they aren’t able to implement rules. But it’s never too late to say, "Things are going to change around here. I’ve been too lenient in terms of curfew, shopping, grades…And now I’ve decided to be a bit stricter. It will be better for both of us."