Some mothers of teenage girls don't believe they have a prayer of understanding their daughters. Celia Straus, on the other hand, has two girls of her own and two books full of prayers, a Web site and a loyal following, all testifying to her ability to embrace teenagers, angst and all.
Six years ago, when her oldest, Julia, was 12, Straus realized that her daughter was beginning to pull away from her. Suspecting that adolescence was a time when girls might need their moms most and confide in them least, Straus searched for indirect but meaningful ways to stay connected with her daughter.
One night Julia surprised her mother by asking her to leave a prayer on her pillow. Theirs was a mixed Christian-Jewish family that did not practice a specific religious tradition. But God was--and is--a reality in their lives, so Straus honored her daughter's request, over and over again.
"The project was my effort to bridge the gulf that was developing between us as she confronted the confusion, the changes and the pressures of growing up, and I confronted the accelerated pace of life that leaves many of us parents with little time for heartfelt conversations with our children," she said.
The nightly prayers became "a way to handle this time in our lives with grace and courage and love," Straus said. "The prayers were indirect expressions that let her know I understood how she was feeling and what she was going through, and they were attempts at finding points of entry into her interior life, which was closed to me."
In time Straus' younger daughter, Emily, then 8, asked for prayers of her own. Again, Straus complied. Eventually, she gathered the best of all those prayers into "Prayers on My Pillow" (Ballantine Books, $18.50, 224 pages). A Web site, www.girlprayers.com, followed, along with a CD of prayers read by celebrity moms and a second book, "More Prayers on My Pillow" (Ballantine, $18.50, 200 pages).
Straus, who answers at least 20 e-mail requests for personal prayers every day, hears often from mothers and daughters who cannot seem to find a starting place for the conversations they say they want to have."Here in the Straus house [where Julia is now 18 and Emily 13], there's still plenty of complaining and miscommunication," she said. But she has learned a few things over the years. Here are a few of her suggestions:
"It's picking your battles, of course," she said, "but it's also waging them in ways that are win-win for both you and your daughter."
"Spending time together at a mall is a great experience," Straus said, but it doesn't inspire conversation about emotions, values or goals in life.
Leave the journal in the designated spot, where the other writer can pick it up and respond to what you've written or record something of her own. Don't get hung up on whose turn it is to write, or whether she responded to what you wrote. "Think of it as an indirect sharing, a shared diary, a chance to communicate indirectly about your feelings," Straus said.
"I didn't have any of that growing up," Straus said. Girls today have a harder time finding solitude. "I do believe there is less time for them to reflect on themselves. We overestimate their self-absorption."
Teenagers need some time alone to attend to their inner lives, Straus said, just as adults do. A parent who makes her own inner life a priority sets a good example for a teenager to do the same.