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Girls, Bedrooms and Growing Up

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When my daughter was little, I gave her baby dolls because I loved playing with dolls when I was a little. I’d play for hours with my “babies,” then for hours with my Barbies when I got a little older, creating huge mansions for them throughout my entire room. If American Girl dolls had have been around when I was a little, I would have been thrilled to indulge in all of that primping and hugging, dressing and decorating.

Alas, my girl didn’t play with dolls! I gave her one of those newborn ones … but it might as well have been mine. I gave her that uber popular Amazing Ally one year (searched everywhere, desperate for it one Christmas), but she was quickly abandoned. I gave her American Girls dolls, but they would sit there in my daughter’s room, often tossed aside, faces down, dresses off. At some point, unable to bear it, I’d set them right again, dressing and setting them up just so in their American Girl scenes, hoping it would catch on for my girl, but it never did. Today that delightful collection of dolls, furniture, clothing and accessories are stored in our attic … waiting … for the next girl who comes one day … who loves dolls … or doesn’t.

Was something wrong with my daughter? No.

Was I making the mistake of thinking that because I loved dolls she would too? Yes.

Is there a correlation between a mom who loved to play with dolls and the daughter she raises up? Maybe.

Is there a correlation between NOT playing with dolls and growing up into a sweet, nurturing and loving girl? No.

Playing with or not playing with dolls has nothing to do with it. My did-not-play-with-dolls daughter is a rubgy player. She’s also the sweetest, kindest and most loving girl I know.

Raising her, all we did was to support the things she was interested in and provide her unconditional love. I helped her navigate the prickly patch of adolescence that included questionable boyfriends, mean girls and an attempt to abandon her integrity, but we faced off enough to get her flying straight again. She would hole up in her room just like I did when things got difficult with my parents, and her room became her haven. Remembering how much I had loved my room, we told her she could do anything she wanted with her space, decorating wise, to express herself.

Now comes a new book called Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan (Reagan Arthur; $25.99) which delves into the miraculous way in which girls become women; the intense period of adolescence when girls begin experimenting with their independence, who they are exactly and their burgeoning sexuality. The need girls have to figure out who they are, on their own, in their own private way.

As a teen, I wrote my way to who I am. I’d hole up to scribble down the things I was thinking, make sense of the hard stuff I was going through with my parents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends, and always, always what I was feeling about everything. My bedroom was my sanctuary and it is absolutely there, in that private personal place, where I learned who I was. I too was allowed to make my room my own and I did so, with posters on the wall, the curtains I wanted, a special vanity I received one Christmas. I’d play the music I wanted, sing into a pretend mic, watch myself dance. It was here where I became an individual.

In Girl Land, Flanagan says parents would do well to preserve their daughter’s bedrooms WITHOUT the Internet, so girls can do the necessary growing up and self realizing without all of that outside noise and imagery the Internet brings. Girls today may not like that idea, but try letting them have their own space to decorate, try putting a diary in there, music … just not their Smart phone or Internet access.

The walls of my daughter’s room are an art piece in and of themselves. There is hardly an inch of wall space that shows between all of the things she expressed herself with as she created it. It is one gigantic 3 dimensional collage of what she loves … posters and photos, yes, but also letters, candy wrappers, framed art, flags, momentos, funny emails, giant letters spelling words made out of tin foil … it gives her tremendous pride and joy … and I think that’s where she came from.

Give girls a place of their own to grow in … even if it’s just a tiny closet … especially as adolescence approaches. Privacy and girls go hand and hand. Parents can do them a marvelous favor by insisting that space be unplugged. It should be meant for the necessary, individual work that becoming a unique, caring and wonderful young woman entails.

About Susan

As editor in chief of Day Communications, Inc.'s Nashville Parent magazine and editorial director of nashvilleparent.com, Susan Day brings vision, creativity and practicality to solving problems and providing service for local parents. As co-founder of Nashville Parent (along with Publisher Stewart Day), Susan has pioneered the local parenting category since 1993. She's Mom to four kids ages 18, 16, 14 and 9.

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