c. 2000 Religion News Service

Some mothers of teen-age girls don't believe they have aprayer of understanding their daughters. Celia Straus, on the otherhand, has two girls of her own and two books full of prayers, a Web siteand a loyal following, all testifying to her ability to embraceteen-agers, angst and all.

Six years ago, when her oldest, Julia, was 12, Straus realized thather daughter was beginning to pull away from her. Suspecting thatadolescence was a time when girls might need their moms most and confidein them least, Straus searched for indirect but meaningful ways to stayconnected with her daughter.

One night Julia surprised her mother by asking her to leave a prayeron her pillow. Theirs was a mixed Christian-Jewish family that did notpractice a specific religious tradition. But God was--and is--areality in their lives, so Straus honored her daughter's request, overand over again.

"The project was my effort to bridge the gulf that was developingbetween us as she confronted the confusion, the changes and thepressures of growing up, and I confronted the accelerated pace of lifethat leaves many of us parents with little time for heartfeltconversations with our children," she said.

The nightly prayers became "a way to handle this time in our liveswith grace and courage and love," Straus said. "The prayers wereindirect expressions that let her know I understood how she was feelingand what she was going through, and they were attempts at finding pointsof entry into her interior life, which was closed to me."

In time, Straus' younger daughter, Emily, then 8, asked for prayersof her own. Again, Straus complied. Eventually, she gathered the best ofall those prayers into "Prayers on My Pillow" (Ballantine Books, $18.50,224 pages). A Web site,, followed, along with a CDof prayers read by celebrity moms and a second book, "More Prayers on MyPillow" (Ballantine, $18.50, 200 pages).

Straus, who answers at least 20 e-mail requests for personal prayersevery day, hears often from mothers and daughters who cannot seem tofind a starting place for the conversations they say they want to have. In a telephone interview from her Washington, D.C., home, Strausoffered some tips for mothers willing to make the first move. She didso, however, with one caveat: She doesn't know everything.

"Here in the Straus house (where Julia is now 18 and Emily 13),there's still plenty of complaining and miscommunication," she said. Butshe has learned a few things over the years. Here are a few of hersuggestions:

  • Try an indirect approach: "Adolescent girls don't necessarilyrespond best to direct, in-your-face communication," Straus said. Sherecommends finding nonconfrontational or neutral moments to talk andthen building on them, "so that life doesn't become a series of issuesto grapple with -- the too-tight tank top, not doing homework, too muchtime on the phone. It's picking your battles, of course," she said, "but it's alsowaging them in ways that are win-win for both you and your daughter."

  • Show, don't tell: It's old advice, but still the best, Straussaid. If you want your daughter to live with integrity, honesty,courage, the strength of her convictions and consistency, look to yourown life and be sure you are modeling those values.

  • Share the sacred: "Girls are always building sacred places,"Straus said. Often moms need look no further than their daughters' roomsto find out what is most sacred to their girls. Straus suggests thatmoms find places where they can share their own sense of spiritualitywith their daughters, beyond the usual places of churches, synagoguesand mosques. If nature nurtures your spirit, invite your daughter tospend time with you in nature, to experience the solace that you findthere.

    "Spending time together at a mall is a great experience," Straussaid, but it doesn't inspire conversation about emotions, values orgoals in life.

  • Share a journal: When mothers ask Straus for specific ideas onhow to begin more meaningful conversations with their daughters, sheoften suggests writing instead of talking. If your daughter is willingto give it a shot, choose a notebook and decide where the two of youwill keep it. One of you begins by writing something -- just a thought,an idea, a reaction to something that's happened, even just a line ortwo.

    Leave the journal in the designated spot, where the other writer canpick it up and respond to what you've written or record something of herown. Don't get hung up on whose turn it is to write, or whether sheresponded to what you wrote. "Think of it as an indirect sharing, ashared diary, a chance to communicate indirectly about your feelings,"Straus said.

  • Encourage solitude: Peace and quiet are hard to come by for bothmothers and daughters, Straus said. Don't assume because your daughtershuts herself into her room that she's alone with her thoughts. Chancesare she's got a CD player, the Internet and a telephone to keep hercompany.

    "I didn't have any of that growing up," Straus said. Girls todayhave a harder time finding solitude. "I do believe there is less timefor them to reflect on themselves. We overestimate theirself-absorption."

    Teen-agers need some time alone to attend to their inner lives,Straus said, just as adults do. A parent who makes her own inner life apriority sets a good example for a teen-ager to do the same.

  • Seek balance: "All we really want whatever age we are isbalance," Straus said. Spend too much time on our inner life and thelife we share with others suffers. "Only when one is in balance is oneable to see the face of God reflected all around," Straus said.

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