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My Girl

My Girl/Reclaiming our Daughters book covers

MY GIRL: Adventures with a Teen in Training

[Editorial Reviews] [Purchase Book]

Reclaiming Our Daughters: What Parenting a Pre-Teen Taught Me about
Real Girls
is available now from Seal Press. Originally published in hardcover
as My Girl, it’s a well-researched rebuttal to the mean-girl myth.

click here to read the Huffington Post article

“My Girl is a wonderful girl-guide—a gentle road map through the State of Adolescence.” Jamie Lee Curtis  

“We have read about the difficulties girls can face; now it’s time to talk about the solutions. My Girl is exactly the book we need—the tale of how one mother helps her daughter navigate her tween years with a powerful sense of who she is, what she can do, and what her relationships ought to be like. Karen Stabiner writes her story with crackerjack timing, and not just for the funny stuff, but for that single sentence that pierces the heart in ways that are unexpected, poignant, ironic, and wise.”  Peggy Orenstein, author of School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

“Okay, I admit freely that I am Karen Stabiner’s devoted friend and one of Sarah Dietz’s greatest fans, but as a mother who loves and admires her own daughters with great and terrible love and admiration, I applaud My Girl with all my heart—for its eloquent argument that mothers and daughters don’t have to fight and, indeed, may love one another as long as they all may live.” Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

“Any mother who is terrified of the early onset of adolescence and is convinced her darling girl will turn into a terrifying alien with a pierced midriff will be reassured and even delighted by this book. My Girl is both charming and heartfelt. And, for once, it seems that a parent is being honest about adolescence.”  Wendy Wasserstein

“At last! Karen Stabiner’s newest book is the perfect antidote to the mean teen-queen literature that has dominated of late.. Part memoir, part how-to-parent guide, My Girl points the way to the best parts of a keenly observed mother-daughter relationship. Stabiner demonstrates that hope and humor are just the right mix as one raises a daughter in today’s world.” – Whitney Ransome and Meg Milne Moulton, Executive Directors, The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

“Karen Stabiner shatters the Mean Girls myth! Although raising an adolescent is always a challenge, My Girl shows, with insight and heart, that the hardships have been greatly exaggerated -- especially when it comes to moms and their daughters. Strong, independent, and loving girls are the rule, not the exception, as Stabiner's experience so engagingly reveals.” Arianna Huffington

My Girl book coverGirls have gotten a bad rap. A wave of books over the last several years has given the impression that most girls lose their self-esteem during puberty, develop eating disorders, become bullies and lose respect for their parents. As a result, many parents dread the onset of adolescence and the teenage years that lie ahead.

According to acclaimed journalist Karen Stabiner, girls have become marginalized by a caricature that only fits a small minority of genuinely troubled girls. In her engaging new book, MY GIRL: Adventures with a Teen in Training Stabiner documents her life with her adolescent daughter, Sarah, digs deeper into the research on girls, and interviews many mothers and daughters. The result is a refreshing and honest account of what adolescent girls are really like and how parents can cope with the inevitable difficulties while also enjoying this remarkable time with their daughters. A winning combination of poignant – and often funny – memoir and first-rate journalism, MY GIRL reclaims our daughters and empowers mothers to create a better relationship with them.

When Sarah turned ten, Stabiner began hearing horror stories of what was in store for her as the mother of a pre-teen daughter. She began to take note, literally, of the changes in her daughter and in their relationship. Yes, her daughter began pushing her away, but Stabiner learned that girls push hardest against those they love the most. Yes, her daughter began to spend more time with her friends and less time with her parents and, yes, she snapped at her mother and rolled her eyes and gave her the silent treatment. Stabiner learned that it is the parents’ job to be the adult and not take this behavior personally.

Over the course of four years – from Sarah’s tenth birthday to her fourteenth – Stabiner and Sarah navigate the rough road of adolescence together even though, in reality, it is the beginning of completely separate journeys for both of them. For Stabiner, letting go of her only child and facing the “empty nest” years ahead with her husband is a transition she must make. Sarah, on the other hand, is launched happily and successfully into young adulthood -- in other words, she is a normal teenage girl.

MY GIRL is the right book at the right time, offering reassurance, inspiration, and a reality check for parents and for our society.

From the Book Jacket

Here’s a radical concept: Most girls are happy, and so are their mothers. Most girls are not destined for depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and raging fights with their parents – that’s just a very noisy minority, according to Karen Stabiner, who records life with her own daughter, Sarah, from age ten to fourteen. When Sarah reached sixth grade, horror stories of the coming teen-age years began drifting her parents’ way. The media reinforced the idea of mothers and daughters as adversaries, and the fashion industry promoted styles that fairly guaranteed a battle.  But as Stabiner approached that supposedly stormy time, she found something quite different. The world was full of mothers who "dismissed the embattled caricature" and daughters who were "fairly sick of the notion that they must be, or have been, wretched." Most mothers and daughters got along with each other, no matter how challenging adolescence became. Drawing on her resources as a journalist, Stabiner dug a little deeper, talking with experts who provided instruction (“Even when it’s difficult, the onus is on the mother to be an adult”); enlightenment (“Ninety-seven percent of girls do not have a diagnosable eating disorder”); and support (conflict is “an incredible compliment to a mother,” the “safe person” in her daughter’s life).

Sarah grows from a child who still likes to be carried to bed occasionally, into a teen mastering a challenging sport and navigating friendships.  Along the way, her mother must learn to adjust the balance of her own life. With warmth, humor, and sharp insight, My Girl charts those first years of adolescence—and engagingly debunks the prevailing assumption that they are inevitably miserable.

Let's Hear It for the Girls

Did the movie "Thirteen," with all its sex, drugs and recklessness, make you shudder at the thought your little girl would be a teenager someday?

Did "Mean Girls" make you squirm?

And did "Reviving Ophelia," an alarming book about our "girl-poisoning society," make you long for a drink yourself?

Then here's a tonic, just in time for Mother's Day: a new declaration that the dreaded teen years don't have to be hell.

Author Karen Stabiner argues that our culture's horror stories about teen girls descending into rage and dangerous behaviors are grossly exaggerated and insulting to most teenagers out there, who are doing just fine, thank you very much. Too often, Stabiner says, the many who are thriving are obscured by the relentless focus on the few in deep trouble.

"If you refuse to embrace the bad-girl stereotype,'' Stabiner says, "you stand to survive your daughter's adolescence intact, and even happy.''

Many mother-daughter duos say they are living out that upbeat message. They enjoy each other's company and expect to remain close. Yes, they may have door-slamming fights, but those blow over. They join book clubs together, go out for special breakfasts one-on-one and talk often about how to handle the class queen bee.

"When I tell people I have two teenage girls they say, 'Oh, you poor thing,' but I don't feel that way,'' says Helen Matusow-Ayres of Ridgewood. "You're not doomed to have a failed relationship with your daughter.''

Women who make such optimistic pronouncements tend to add a quick "knock on wood'' to avoid jinxing their futures. They do endure snide remarks and friction over schoolwork and chores. Overall, however, they are proud of their rapport.

Matusow-Ayres describes a day when she arrived at a coffee shop to pick up her 15-year-old, Genna, who was sitting with friends.

"She said, 'Hi Mommy! I love you, Mommy!' in front of all these kids,'' Matusow-Ayres marvels.

Genna and her 12-year-old sister, Marcy, often cook the family's dinner because their mother works long days as vice president of student affairs at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She, in turn, takes each daughter out for breakfast alone twice a month.

"We get a chance to talk about everything, how life is, and it keeps us close,'' Genna says. She's grateful that her mother encourages her independence and lets her take the bus into Manhattan with friends. "I want to repay her by being worthy of her trust,'' she says.

In her new book, "My Girl: Adventures With a Teen in Training,'' Stabiner chronicles her own daughter's rather calm journey into adolescence. (The author insists that her Sarah doesn't mind being under a public microscope.)

In Stabiner's view, assuming that the teen years will be a nightmare can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents need to be vigilant, but those who expect disaster may overreact to small missteps. "What does it do to a girl's sense of self to have her parents always anticipating the worst?'' she says.

After writing books on breast cancer and all-girl schools, Stabiner decided to write about teen girls because she felt they had suffered particularly bad publicity in recent years. In the late 1990s, several respected books came out about boys, such as "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys" and "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood.''

Stabiner thought it was time for the pendulum to swing toward the positive for girls.

"My Girl" follows Sarah from age 11 to 14 as she navigates puberty, academic competition and her exclusion from the "cool crowd.'' It ends before what might turn out to be her toughest phase, however. Stabiner says she focused on younger teens because it's important to establish a rapport early on, and girls grow up fast now. "What confused and scared me at 17 confuses and scares these girls at 13,'' she says.

Certainly girls can be messy, selfish and sarcastic, but most aren't in serious turmoil, she says. She cites studies finding that, for example, only 3 percent have diagnosable eating disorders and less than 15 percent have an unhealthy attitude toward food.

The rates of teen sex and drug abuse have gone down in recent years. (The National Survey on Drug Use and Health said 11 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 reported using illegal drugs - mostly marijuana - in the month they were surveyed in 2003.)

Many parents are determined to remain close to their teens despite the emotional roller coaster that can come with dramatic physical changes and social pressures. Donna Del Moro, an English teacher at Wayne Hills High School who lives in Pequannock, says wryly that how things are going with her 13-year-old, Annie, "depends on when you call me. ... It's a minute-to-minute thing.''

They're both strong-willed and fight a lot, but they always make up and talk honestly, they say. They clash over Annie's punk fashion tastes, her Marilyn Manson "shock rock" music, inappropriate language and grades.

"Often we'll have a knock-down, drag-out fight and then Annie will come into my room and say, 'I don't understand why I fly off the handle, I'm sorry,'Ÿ'' her mother says. "I'm willing to ride through that storm. Apologies need to be said on both sides.''

Annie understands that her mother worries she'll "fall in with the wrong crowd and they'll lead me into the wrong things.'' Annie says she has too much backbone to try drugs or alcohol, and she has told her mother that "a million times.''

Both want to feel close, and often do. "Sometimes when I feel we're growing too far apart I'll go over and ask about her day,'' Annie says. "She has a really interesting job.''

Many mothers and daughters join book clubs together to share a fun, eye-opening hobby. Lois Brodie, who runs several groups at the Ridgewood Public Library, says that in the club for girls in Grades 6 through 8, lively discussions have covered the power of cliques, prejudice and family dynamics.

"The book club is a perfect venue for touching on issues you may otherwise be afraid to go near,'' Brodie says. "When you're talking about them in relation to a book, it's easier.''

Linda Salzman, who's in the club with her 12-year-old daughter, Phoebe, says many parents worry aloud about the teen years but still don't try hard enough to understand their children's daily struggles.

"Parents here are consumed with getting kids to sports events at the right time, making sure they go here and go there,'' Salzman says. "There's no focus on just hanging out together'' and listening.

Nicolette Maggiolo, 12, another book club member, agrees that some families suffer from a lack of down time together. "A lot of kids in my school get in trouble because their parents aren't around, so they connect with their friends,'' she says.

Her mother, Robin Wittich, left a real estate job in Manhattan and launched a personal gift service from home so she could be with her two children after school.

Wittich says she's not daunted by the teen years ahead.

"Eighty percent of what you worry about never happens,'' Wittich says. "You should be aware you might face obstacles and tests, but ultimately you have to have confidence in your relationship."