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Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women
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Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women

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by Joyce T. T. McFadden

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Your Daughter's Healthy Identity Starts With You

After psychoanalyst Joyce McFadden treated countless women who felt alone and isolated in experiences that they were unaware many other women were dealing with too, she began to ask what she could do to help them reach out to each other. The result was the launch of her Women's Realities Study in which she


Your Daughter's Healthy Identity Starts With You

After psychoanalyst Joyce McFadden treated countless women who felt alone and isolated in experiences that they were unaware many other women were dealing with too, she began to ask what she could do to help them reach out to each other. The result was the launch of her Women's Realities Study in which she interviewed hundreds of women from ages 18-105, about the most private issues as she sought to understand what events in a woman's life impact her future happiness and self-confidence. What McFadden found was truly revealing— the theme that most interested them as they explored their identities was how their relationship with their mothers influenced their understanding of themselves as sexual beings throughout their lives—from the time they were little girls straight through adulthood.

Drawing on over a thousand responses, Your Daughter's Bedroom offers a new and unprecedented look at the mother-daughter bond. McFadden argues that the type of womanhood mothers model for their daughters determines the young girls' comfort with their own bodies which, in turn, leads to confidence and satisfaction later in life. From the most mundane and everyday gestures—a reluctance to call body parts by their real name; an offhanded suggestion to lose weight— to how mothers introduce life altering events such as the start of puberty and sexual exploration, all of these have an impact on a girl's psyche. She found that in an attempt to protect and shield daughters, mothers withhold important information and leave girls to wrestle with their own bourgeoning sexuality and other challenges of growing up.

Offering a fresh perspective on the fraught mother-daughter relationship, McFadden shows how mothers can create the right environment for their daughters to grow into self-assured women. Your Daughter's Bedroom is an essential resource for women who want to establish a more open and positive relationship with their daughters.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Manhattan-based psychoanalyst McFadden had been listening to women's narratives in her practice for 25 years; in 2005 she decided to conduct an online survey called Women's Realities, having observed that many women feel alone in their emotional struggles or ashamed of their sexual histories and desires. Knowing that others are going through similar experiences, the author hypothesized, would be healing. Hundreds of women from all walks of life, of various ethnicities and ages, participated by anonymously sharing their stories with "raw honesty." This text represents a portion of McFadden's extensive findings, focusing in depth on three of the survey's most popular topics: menstruation, women's relationships with their mothers, and masturbation (she explains that current publishing trends prevented her from examining the entire online survey in book form). McFadden's mission is not only to give women an anonymous forum, but also to encourage women to become more candid in their discussions about such issues with their own daughters. The text not only validates women's shared experiences but also gives mothers practical suggestions for shepherding their daughters to womanhood. Emphasizing a mother's power to enhance or harm a girl's sense of identity and attitude toward sex, McFadden warns against outsourcing sexual education: music videos, ads, books, or the school nurse aren't a substitute for an open mother/daughter relationship. Despite the rather ambiguous title, this is a fascinating and empowering text for women of all ages. (May)
From the Publisher

“Offers insight and honesty in a discussion of the healthy ways mothers can help their daughters grow comfortable and knowledgeable about their sexuality…An empowering resource for mothers and daughters everywhere.” —Kirkus

“A fascinating and empowering text for women of all ages.” —Publishers Weekly

“What an amazing and insightful guide for mothers facing the huge challenge of supporting their daughters amidst the many "hate your body" media messages that assault all of us daily.” —Judy Norsigian, co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves

Your Daughter's Bedroom is loaded with the kind of insight, wisdom, and practical advice that all mothers need to know to raise healthy daughters who are comfortable with their own sexuality. I highly recommend it!” —Christiane Northrup, M.D., ob/gyn physician and author of the New York Times bestsellers: Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause

“Using thousands of intimate interviews with women Joyce McFadden argues that --despite ourselves and inadvertently--sexism comes, in part, from the unhealthy messages we send our daughters about sex and behavior. A groundbreaking look at sexuality, mothers, daughters, and the myriad subtle ways one generation of women shapes the next.” —Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Manifesta, Look Both Ways, and Abortion & Life

“Endless talk about women as mothers has focused almost exclusively on the question of how, and whether it is possible, to raise children and still fulfill adult aspirations to work. But an equally important part of adult womanhood that has to be integrated with the competing demands of mothering is adult sexual desire. While mothers often hide their sexuality from their children, the literature seldom asks whether this helps or hurts children, and what kind of sexual honesty might actually help children to develop their own sexuality. In this important book Joyce McFadden shows how mothers affect their daughters' sense of self through the sort of sexuality they model as well as their explicit communications and exhortations. It's an honest, surprising and compelling look at this crucial contemporary dilemma.” —Jessica Benjamin, Psychoanalyst, author of The Bonds of Love

“An important book that gets at the heart of the mother and daughter bond and finally explodes the myth that women have to turn themselves into sexless Stepford wives to be good mothers. Expansive, honest, informed, and real.” —Deborah Siegel, author of Sisterhood, Interrupted

“I couldn't put it down. This book is a revolution in mindful caring for girls. It tells us how to dispel our own mother/daughter myths and how to realize and support our girls in the recognition and celebration of their sexual selves to gain lifelong physical and mental happiness. This is THE book I would recommend to all my mothers of girls and to all their doctors, teachers and therapists. I wish I had this book when I started in Pediatric practice 20 years ago: from it I've learned that I missed so many opportunities to nurture my female patients as females growing into themselves. I love this book.” —Barbara H. Landreth, M.D., Clinical Instructor in Pediatrics, Weill Cornell Medical College, Pediatrician, The New York-Presybterian Hospital

Kirkus Reviews

Psychoanalyst and Huffington Post columnist McFadden offers insight and honesty in a discussion of the healthy ways mothers can help their daughters grow comfortable and knowledgeable about their sexuality.

In August 2005, the author launched the Women's Realities Study, a research project that aimed to take the pulse of modern women by asking open-ended questions about relationships, motherhood and mental health, among others. Her intended goal was to create a companion piece to the classicOur Bodies, Ourselves. Mission accomplished. The authorclears away the heavy clouds that overshadow topics many daughters do not learn about from their mothers (and which mothers often dread sharing with their daughters): menstruation, masturbation and sex. For generations, embarrassment, shame and even fear have kept this crucial information from being handed down to daughters. McFadden stresses that mothers must learn to value their own sexuality and to lead by example. This position is one many women may strain to achieve, however, as historically society has pigeonholed women into neatly gift-wrapped boxes with nothing "dirty" showing through the seams. "No matter how sexually alive [a woman] was before, as soon as she becomes a mother, we act as though her erotic life is over," writes the author. McFadden provides examples of mothers willing to take on and embrace these changes, and how they do so with trust, warmth and often space. There are hurdles to cross and backs to be straightened when it comes to this topic, but daughters need their mothers, and it's time they heard their voices.

An empowering resource for mothers and daughters everywhere.

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St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt

Your Daughter's Bedroom

Insights for Raising Confident Women

By Joyce T. McFadden

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2011 Joyce T. McFadden
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-10362-7


How Our Mothers Influence Us

This book's Introduction explained the importance of letting our daughters see us as full sexual beings, but, to date, sexuality hasn't been a comfortable part of the mother-daughter bond. We seek nurturing and understanding from our mothers. We lavish affection and support on our daughters. Knowing our mothers as real flesh-and-blood women with thwarted loves, desires, and disappointments can be more complicated.

Many of us don't want to think about our mothers having sex because doing so comes with a little mental movie we'd rather not see. One of my friends playfully refers to this phenomenon as The Ick Factor. Our resistance to contemplating such sexual images is understandable because the mother-daughter relationship isn't a sexualized one, so our thoughts don't easily wander there. This also explains why it works both ways, and we mothers can find it just as uncomfortable to envision our daughters having sex. But even if we're uncomfortable imagining these private acts, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because disregarding the importance of our sexuality is another matter entirely. A failure to honor in each other the vital role that sexuality plays over our lifetimes—in how we feel alive and in how we love—greatly inhibits our ability to have what mothers and daughters would both ultimately wish for each other: a life well lived.

So how do we honor sexuality without feeling like we're crossing boundaries we shouldn't be? Over the past few years I've lectured on the results of my study to groups of women. When I begin talking about female sexuality, and how it's passed on from mother to daughter, a light electrical current of something approaching panic usually runs through the audience and a woman will raise her hand and ask, "Are you advocating that we share the specifics of our sex lives with our daughters?" The answer is more complex than yes or no. Of course, sharing too much of the sexual detail of our lives would be inappropriate for our daughters. What I advocate is giving our daughters, slowly and in small doses, the informational and emotional support that will foster the same sense of well-being in their sexuality that we'd want for them in any other area of their lives. I'm advocating an openness that makes it clear to our daughters that teaching them about their sexuality is far from being something to fear, it is a privilege of mothering. As our daughters learn that they can trust us to be supportive and straightforward with them about sexuality, they'll gradually internalize this confidence and transform it into a deepening ability to understand and trust themselves. And this is exactly what they'll need to make sexually healthy choices and to experience the vibrancy of erotic love without shame.

Sadly, we often have the opposite effect on our daughters. We can be so afraid of venturing into anything sexual that we retreat too far, leaving our daughters out in the cold—confused and feeling unsupported. One woman in my study who wanted to be closer to her mother, who she wished had taught her about her sexuality, had so little faith in her mother that she'd have settled for any family member. I wish a family member had explained it—although I have yet to have sex explained to me by anyone and I'm 32 years old. Instead of being supported she was left alone. While she obviously would have done some learning on her own and on the fly, like many women, no one took the time to explain sex to her as she was growing into her sexuality over time, within the intimacy of familial relationships. Now, at 32, it would probably feel too humiliating for her to ask for input even from those closest to her. Of course she can educate herself through reading, but that won't necessarily feel less emotionally empty, and it certainly won't provide the warm bond she wanted with her mother.

If our goal is to support our daughters in the quest of a life well lived, we have to pay attention to the messages we give them along the way. Which messages help a daughter feel grounded and confident, and which introduce self-consciousness and shame? As I hope to show in the following pages, mothers still experience discomfort in educating their daughters about menstruation. If our own discomfort gets in the way of that, imagine the unspoken, often unconscious, fear of teaching them about their sexuality—which would by extension also be teaching them about ours. How can we expect our daughters to hold their own in the bafflingly complex world of sexual relationships, or against unrealistic images of sexuality in the media, when they sense our own impairments to being comfortable in discussing our own sexuality and making it part of the mother-daughter relationship?

Some mothers can try to hide the topic altogether in the belief that they are protecting their daughters by postponing "the conversation." I'll broach it when they're ten, they say. Then they promise themselves to get it to by the twelfth birthday. By the next promised benchmark, they realize their daughters have already been educated or miseducated by the media and their peers amid the turbulence and confusion of the teenage years.

The truth is, we're teaching them about sexuality whether we think we are or not. It's just a matter of what we're teaching. Our daughters observe and weigh our every move, conversation, silence, gesture, and relationship. One adult daughter reflects on this reality. She says that the most complex facet of her relationship with her mother is her lack of living in her sexuality, and her resentment of men, which drives me up the wall. It compromised my ability to make good decisions and to have confidence in relationships with men. I have had to learn just about everything by trial and error—what a mess.

It's true that daughters have to learn from their own experiences, but they're still always influenced by their mothers' views and behavior. Examining our impact on them from the time they're little will help us focus our efforts on trying to affect them in ways that enhance their growth rather than detract from it. It will be harder for our daughters if we only start seeing them as sexual once they're adults. We need to be there with them from the beginning of the journey as they start to have questions about body parts and where babies come from, and as they need help understanding their desires. And to better understand how crucial that journey is, we need to see the value in psychological and sexual development—how our daughters' sense of self will develop as our baby girls, day by day, grow into the women they will be.


How we become who we are is a process that begins at birth, or some would argue, in utero. In psychology this is known as the development of a personality, and it's been the foundational theory of the human mind ever since Sigmund Freud opened it for the Western world around the turn of the twentieth century.

The pertinence of studying personality development for therapists is that it helps us understand what leads to a more or less healthy personality, and what leads to one that suffers to the extent that healthy functioning is interrupted. Once we understand what caused a person's emotional hardship and how they dealt with it, we can have a better sense of how to help that individual. Centuries of clinical and medical practice have taught us that our minds and our bodies are interconnected and that personality development and sexual development can't be separated from each other. When people try to divorce the two, it's often at a great emotional cost.

And yet we live in a society where women are taught to neglect half of who we are—half of our very existence. In case studies from Harvard Medical School, psychologists have noted that trying to make female sexuality conform to male sexuality has led to a misunderstanding of women and kept us from seeing the unique nature of female sexuality. And this is where mothers can use developmental theory the same way therapists do. If we understand the ways we can have a negative impact on our daughters' growth—their personality development and their sexual development—we'll be in a far better position to raise happy, healthy girls who become happy, healthy women.

Here's a brief history of how the understanding of female sexuality has progressed. Although Freud began his career listening to women's reports of inappropriate "seduction" by men, he abandoned his seduction theory and instead mapped the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind and delineated the psychic structure of the ego, superego, and id. As a thinker of the Victorian period, his stages of psychosexual development—oral, anal, phallic, and Oedipal—were designed around the centrality of male sexuality, mainly, the assumption that girls envied boys their penises. However, even though this focus on male sexuality was accepted, and both parents were acknowledged as affecting their children's psyches, since women have traditionally been the ones in charge of child rearing, the power of the mother-child bond has always held the focus of theorists' attention. As time went on, other psychoanalysts and doctors stretched Freud's ideas as the science advanced, but updating notions of female sexuality didn't make much progress, due to the old-guard resistance encountered whenever someone attempted it. Since the second wave of feminism, though, more of the female experience has been studied, with later writers bringing in gender theory to balance out the early male-heavy perspectives. Now, in the third wave of feminism, the movement to construct a fuller appreciation of women continues to build steam. Adding to our growing understanding of how female sexuality differs from that of males, the field of sexology is garnering more respect than ever. Female psychologists are conducting sexual research on women, and in addition to their measurement of psychological data, they're enlivening it with biological and neuroscientific data as well.

This convergence of psychology and gender theory, influenced by neuropsychology, feminism, and sexual research, has created a space where the psychology of both male and female sexuality can be understood and valued. We're entering an exciting era in which these studies will inform our understanding of how girls become women and a mother's role in that unfolding. The next frontier—female sexuality from women's own perspective as they experience it —is ours for the creating. This book is an offering to that end, an exploration of the undeniable link in the personality and sexual development of both mother and daughter.


We're all a product of the balance between nature and nurture—the interplay of raw material we're born with and how it's either cared for or compromised by our parents. The forces that shape female sexuality come from all directions: family, culture, social environment, schools, political and religious beliefs, the media, physical and mental health, the presence or absence of trauma ... the possibilities for what influences us are vast. Each of them carries great weight, but my focus is the relationship between mother and daughter and its impact on sexual development. As mothers are typically the ones who do the lion's share of caretaking, even in households with working mothers, their impact on daughters is powerful—their common gender makes this impact complex and formative. Jessica Benjamin, of New York University, finds in her work and research that girls assume their gender identity in the first two years of life by identifying with their mothers. We are our daughters' model of what it means to be female from the time they're born. No matter whether they embrace elements of us or reject them, as mothers, our behaviors and perspectives are forces to be reckoned with.

This is true about many aspects of our lives, not just in sexual development. Take, for instance, shopping. If your mother loves to shop for herself and you've seen it bring her pleasure while you were-growing up, you probably won't feel guilty shopping for yourself. That new book or those new shoes will feel like a small celebration you're welcome to enjoy. On the other hand, if your mother felt guilty whenever she shopped for herself and you saw it distress her—maybe through fretting beforehand, hiding new purchases, or lamenting how much money she'd spent—you'll likely grow into a woman who finds it hard to pamper herself in this way. Even if you work to overcome it, its imprint will linger on your psyche.

The more things we observe about our mothers, the more we develop an understanding of them as women, including their sexuality. And since our understanding of our mothers as women informs our understanding of ourselves, its meaning is doubled in strength, and its influence on us becomes that much more powerful. Much of this understanding of women and sexuality is fully in our conscious awareness, but some of it is experienced on a preconscious or unconscious level, and things that are preconscious or unconscious are sort of like the air we breathe; we can't see it, but its presence is constant.

To capture the phenomenon of inherited traits, I offer a representative sample of what women in my Women's Realities Study reported in response to the question: "What personality trait did you inherit from your mother that you love or respect?" Many of the statements quoted here reveal how, over time, inherited traits become a part of our daughters and inform their futures.

Responsibility. My mother would make us go to school every day. We always had perfect attendance. Even when I didn't want to go she motivated me to keep my commitments. I went to school with chicken pox when I was 11 because she was determined to teach us responsibility. She felt bad when she realized it was the chicken pox, but it is still a story that is told repeatedly.

* * *

Independence. She was in business for herself from when I was pre-school age, and I eventually became an entrepreneur myself. I am sure I got that gene from her.

* * *

I am a caring person to strangers. I became a nurse. Perhaps I became a nurse because I thought then people would love me too, like strangers loved my mother. Of course, it did not work out that way, but I did enjoy my profession and was good at it.

* * *

I too am tenacious. We are both fighters.

* * *

I am warm like my mother. She had a welcoming and warm home ... everyone loved being there ... she knew how to nurture people.

* * *

Wit and kindness ... and love of people and conversation. It's part of me.

Responses to the question "What personality trait of your mother's do you have that you hate or disrespect?" included:

Critical of others.

* * *

Vanity, self-loathing.

* * *

Letting people walk over us. She doesn't say no and takes shit from everyone. Especially men.

* * *

Making people feel guilty.

* * *

There are several: Knowing something is hurtful or petty and saying it anyway; excessive, unproductive worrying; self-criticism; self-sabotage; self-loathing. I tune into a lot of negative things, like my mom, and I believe I would be more focused, more ambitious, and more accomplished if I could get out from under these behavior patterns.

* * *

I can say cutting things to my daughters that I know she said to me.

Daughters begin absorbing our patterns of interaction earlier than many of us think. It wasn't too long ago that our culture believed babies were little bundles largely incapable of anything. The ground-breaking infant researcher Daniel Stern found that actually the "first two months of life the infant is actively forming a sense of an emergent self ... that will remain active for the rest of life." Stern has a beautiful phrase for this. He calls it "coming into being." He found that babies are predesigned to be capable of much more than was previously thought. Three-day-old infants can discern the smell of their own mother's milk from that of other mothers'; newborns can be trained to suck to get something to happen, like getting a slide carousel to click through pictures; and blindfolded three-week-old infants can visually recognize whether the nipple they just sucked was smooth or nubby. Each of these amazing discoveries shows that babies have the ability to "know" things. And Stern's findings were just the beginning. In the most current infant research, Alison Gopnik, psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, shows in her book The Philosophical Baby that the more we study babies the more astoundingly sophisticated they reveal themselves to be. Among their complex capacities, for example, are the ability to detect statistical probability and a young but innate understanding of empathy.


Excerpted from Your Daughter's Bedroom by Joyce T. McFadden. Copyright © 2011 Joyce T. McFadden. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joyce McFadden is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York and East Hampton. Author of the ongoing anonymous web-based Women's Realities Study, she is a faculty member, clinical supervisor and training analyst at the Training and Research Institute for Self Psychology, as well as a faculty member at the Woodhull Institute and the NYC Open Center. She is a featured writer on intent.com and a columnist on Huffington Post.

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Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only does McFadden open hearts and minds to an underdiscussed topic, her insights into raising sexually confident women transcend sexuality. She suggests ways in which females can be nurtured into confident women, sexual or otherwise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hoping for something on communication with my 7-year-old. I saw the title and cover, but the description made me think this may be the book for me. Based more on sex than I was ready to read.