Crib Notes: What today’s girls need
“Those girls are so nice to their mom,” my second-grade daughter innocently declared as we watched the original film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” recently. The classic film marks a sharp deviation from how most girls are depicted in shows today. My daughter then asked to watch it over and over again, reminding me how much I also loved the story as a child.
Set during the Civil War, “Little Women” is the story of four sisters coming-of-age under the guidance of their mother, whom they affectionately call Marmee. The film starring Janet Leigh and a very young Elizabeth Taylor was a favorite when I was a child too, but I always thought it was because we also had a family with four daughters. I see now that the heart of the movie shows what girls need most to thrive: lots of fun with other girls as well as positive, older female role models.
Marmee is deeply respected by her daughters. They witness her live a dignified daily life of humility, love and service. In one scene the girls decide to sacrifice their one Christmas present each, a $1 bill from a wealthy aunt, to buy presents for Marmee. In following their mother’s example they also donate their single lavish meal of the year, Christmas breakfast, to a family who needs it far more than they do.
Sure it’s just a scripted movie, but its timeless appeal is a reminder that girls are hungry for adult female guidance and they will emulate us more than we realize. We know that a mother influences her daughter’s own body image and can even shape what kind of parent her daughter will be herself one day. A recent study found that a mother’s (not a father’s) own drinking habits directly correlate with her children’s later drinking habits.
Dr. Leonard Sax, a family practice doctor and psychologist, as well as author of the recent book “Girls on the Edge,” argues a good chunk of what should be a precious phase of girlhood — that time between childhood and adulthood when girls should be having innocent adventures like riding bikes, playing in creeks and giggling with friends — is being replaced by sexually charged images and expectations that have made them leap to adulthood much too quickly. Losing their girlhood, thereby growing up too fast, is a detriment to their development, he says, and it’s causing unprecedented increases in anxiety, depression and loneliness in girls today.
Where are carefree, fun-loving girls like Punky Brewster, Laura Ingalls Wilder or the four March sisters when girls flip on the television in 2014? Those characters have been replaced with far more serious ones like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna (three of the most Googled young people today).
One antidote is to pair girls with older mentors. We saw this in quilting communities of generations past and in single gender organizations like Girl Scouts the benefits still occur today.
When I first became a mother I joined the Mad Hatters, a community of El Dorado Hills knitters who made baby hats for local hospitals. I was the youngest in the group by many years, yet those women welcomed me into a tribe of sorts by doting on my baby and doling out advice all while teaching me to knit. At different times in a girl’s or woman’s life it may not be possible for her to have her own mother as a mentor and that’s where other women can help, no matter what age she is.
Mothers have a responsibility to be role models to their daughters, but all women share in this endeavor. Girls really do want to hear our stories and our perspective on things. Good or bad, they are listening.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother of four children.