He continues: "Children with a true belief that there is something beyond themselves that has power and who see a God-given purpose for themselves are far more likely to become confident, productive, empathetic and loving than those who don't." Since 90 percent of Christians make a commitment to follow Christ with their lives before age twenty — you can see where I'm going with that.19

In short, your tween daughter is in prime time. She can absorb all that you, the faith community, and her own unsullied instincts offer her, with far more wisdom than her early-childhood sisters, and with far less cynicism and confusion than her teenage ones. In other words, get her now, before she thinks she knows almost everything and thinks what she doesn't know she sure isn't going to get from you. It is never too late for our daughters, of course, but it sure can be too hard if we wait.

Pick Your Parenting Style

So who's waiting? Most moms I've talked with in workshops have chosen a parenting style and are running with it as fast as they can.

From my observation, they — you! — seem to embrace one of three ways to approach the awe-full task of raising a tween daughter.

  • The Greenhouse Approach. Care for her like an orchid in a hothouse, sheltering her from absolutely everything "out there," beyond the glass walls, that might put anything negative or doubtful into her mind. The Greenhouse Mom's mantra: "If she doesn't know about it, she won't do it."
  • The Throw-Her-to-the-Wolves Method. It's a tough world out there and she's got to learn to deal with it eventually, so bring it on. The Wolf Mother's mantra: "She's going to do it anyway, and she might as well be prepared."
  • The Open-Handed Philosophy. She is still a young girl and should be protected, but not from herself. She needs careful guidance into the next appropriate thing so she can gradually go out into that tough world. The Open-Handed Mama's mantra: "She's going to decide what she's going to do someday, and I have to teach her how to do that now."

Do I need to point out which style I think gives a daughter her best chance of becoming the marvelous human being she was born to be? I'm all about Open-Handed Parenting, so I won't be giving you a list of things to keep your daughter away from. She isn't an orchid, but more like a tree, which needs to be exposed to the elements in order to grow. And I definitely won't be telling you how to "survive" parenting her as she goes out and does her own thing.

Instead, I would love to be your ally, encouraging you to be the most important influence in your mini-woman's life. I've brought together what I've learned from my work with tween girls and their moms, my training and experience as an educator, and my, shall we say, interesting journey as a mother, into a place you can turn for empathy, understanding, information, and suggestions. I would love to provide you with something like that instruction manual we all whined for when we got home from the hospital with our newborn baby girl and realized we didn't know what the Sam Hill we were doing. However, every make and model is different, so we'll have to rely on the truths that seem to apply to all of our tween girls and to us, and learn to know our daughters well enough to find the truths unique to each of them. In short, I want to help you open your hands, with confidence and joy.

Just So You Know Before You Read On

I am not a perfect mother. That's kind of like admitting I'm not a unicorn. Neither creature exists. Both are fantasies. As the mother of a tween girl, I was anxious, overcommitted, and anorexic. I spent what we used to call "quality time" with my daughter (a term I've come to hate), but on a daily basis I was often distracted and snarky and oblivious to the fact that my girl-child hadn't brushed her hair in a week. And yet, when I recently asked my now thirty-year-old daughter Marijean what she feels was messed up about her childhood, she pondered far longer than she usually does (she is seldom at a loss for words) and finally said, "About the only thing was getting my body image issues from you. But, Mom, I always wanted to be like you, and if you'd been perfect, I would have had to kill you." I'm going to take that as a you-did-many-things-right. I want to share those things with you, as well as what I learned from doing some things wrong. So it only follows that — well — you aren't a perfect mom either.