Kate Conner likes making lists. The author of Enough—a book I truly enjoyed despite my initial, low-slung expectations—uses lists throughout her work. Her new book’s subtitle, for example, is: 10 Things We Should Be Telling Teenage Girls. And the lists don’t stop there.
To celebrate her 29th birthday, she listed of 29 kind acts she plans to do before 30. On her blog, she uses a pair of clever bulleted lists to explain why she used to hate women’s ministry—and why she no longer does.
So, to honor her penchant for list making, I’d like to respond to Enough by means of two numbered lists. First, may I present:
The Five Reasons I Thought I Wouldn’t Like Enough
1. Conner is mother to exactly zero teenagers herself; I am mother to three (almost four).
Imagine me sitting up a little straighter here, noting with authority that I am the mother of four children, three of whom are teenagers. My daughters are 12 and 14. After dropping those particular bombshells, I’ll point out that I’ve written two fairly well-received books on family life and worked as parenting columnist for one of the nation’s top newspapers.
So… you think you can school me about raising teenagers?
2. I am deeply wary about Christian books in general.
Although several of my favorite and most esteemed friends write Christian books and shatter this notion on a regular basis (and I’ve written what I hope are good books for people of faith myself), I often assume that most of these sorts of titles will be predictable, humorless, and—to employ the “spell-it-out rather than offend” method of delivering unwelcome news—not very S-M-A-R-T.
3. I thought Enough would probably be a bit sexist.
I am happy to call myself a feminist, and I wrongly supposed, given the book's focus on teenage girls, that Conner might direct parents to politely, or even surreptitiously, put women in narrowly defined, “God-given” places as supportive and appealing accessories to men’s gifts and passions.
4. I don’t like being told what to do by someone I don’t know.
I have always been a bit contrary; when people I don’t already know and deeply trust tell me what I “should” do (again, see subtitle: What We Should Be Telling Our Teenage Girls), I bristle.
5. There is a difference between understanding teenagers and raising them.
Ask any parent you know: it’s a relief when our children are assigned a teacher who is already a parent. Yes, a teacher, fresh out of college might have a handle on the most creative and cutting edge teaching philosophies, but when that teacher has navigated his or her own child’s glittering defiance, shattering moments of self-doubt, or other Herculean challenges that make a parent’s heart bend and break, there’s generally much deeper understanding.
The Five Reasons I Was Wrong About Enough
1. Although Conner is not the mother of teenagers, she uncannily seems to “get” them.
Conner has worked with adolescent girls for more than a decade and, all too often, seems to identify more with them than with women her age. When, early in the book, she describes the noise adolescent girls make when they hear the word modesty as a “perfect marriage between a scoff and a gag,” she won me over.
“Talking to a teenage girl about her wardrobe is like playing Taboo, that party game in which you have to describe an apple without using the words ‘computer,’ ‘iPod,’ ‘fruit,’ ‘red,’ ‘Mac,’ ‘pie,’ or ‘Snow White,’” Conner writes. Say the forbidden word or phrase—whether it’s appropriate or neckline or you’re really going to wear that?... and you lose.
I love how Conner cuts through the typical discussion on modesty to address the heart of the matter: girls should dress in a manner consistent with how they want to be seen, respected, and known. After stating that girls and women who dress provocatively never “deserve to be disrespected, degraded, or violated in any way,” Conner writes:
If your teenage girl wants to be known for her humor, her kindness, her thoughts on social issues, her athleticism, or her confidence, she must put those things on display more prominently than her breasts.
2. Enough is easy reading layered with keen insight.
Conner writes articulately about a number of issues relevant to the way teenage girls live today, all without being prudish, hypercritical, or predictable. Nathanial Hawthorne reportedly said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” This book speaks to Conner’s gifts as a writer. It’s a Christian book that is both funny and smart. She cleverly quotes everyone from John Green to Tina Fey to St. Paul.
“Teenage girls mustn’t live by the praise of strangers on the Internet—hits on a blog, likes on an image. It’s a trap,” she writes. “Here’s what I learned when I started a blog: a lot of people don’t like me—and most of them are on the Internet.”
3. It’s a book for strong women of faith—even for those of us who proudly call ourselves “feminists.”
Conner is not about girls concealing their bodies because they feel shame about their physical beauty. She’s not about silencing girls or women or pretending that sexual violence, gender-based discrimination, or other injustices don’t exist. She speaks to these matters, but also to the power, passion, and calling that girls and women have—and our responsibility to take ourselves seriously.
On adolescent girls acting “dumb,” (yes, this unfortunately is a real thing), Conner writes:
The world is vast and big and bright for teenage girls—and too many women have worked too hard to see women esteemed for girls to act like a bunch of flirtatious twits to get what they want.
4. The book carries a positive message of grace and empowerment.
It’s hard to maintain a contrarian approach when you discern Conner’s moderate tone. Like this passage:
We’re overcorrectors. We are kids on a balance beam, just trying to get from one side of life to the other uninjured and unembarrassed. We wobble one way, then the other, trying to find a balance that’s sustainable—a way of living that will get us to the other side without all the violent back and forth…I believe the balance is grace. Grace for ourselves…Grace for others…Grace for everyone. There is no other way.
As a mother, I won’t jump to conclusions when I see an adolescent girl I know posting suggestive pictures of herself on Instagram. In conversation with my own daughters, I can mention—avoiding as much as possible the taboo words—that I don’t know if this girl is aware of the message she is sending. I can help my daughters choose clothing that reflects their personalities and makes them feel free and at home in their bodies. But what I should never do is cast aspersions on other girls’ choices or sum them up based on their choices.
5. It’s worth noting that I do think Conner would have written this differently (or not at all) were she the mother of teenage girls herself.
When I was reading this book, carrying it around the house, getting a few pages in as pasta water boiled, tucking it into my bag to read when I was waiting to pick up kids or sitting in a waiting room, I got pushback from the adolescent girls in my life.
“Teenage girls? Like all of us are the same!” one of my offspring may or may not have said.
It’s hard to write about teenagers when you have them; I’m glad Conner got this book done before her daughter starts noticing boy bands or feeling inexorably drawn to shopping at Forever 21.
Teens need their parents both to notice and to pretend not to notice when they are navigating some of the slings and arrows of adolescence. I know my own children—my sons and my daughters—would (to say the very least) not appreciate my writing a book about raising teenagers.
(So I don’t.)
But as wise and funny as I know Enough to be, my hope is that women of faith will read this book before they have daughters—or at least well before those daughters hit the tween and teen years.
The little secret—or maybe it’s no secret at all—to Conner’s book is that our daughters learn from the way we live, not from what we say or proclaim to be the truth. Or, as the witch sings in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, “Children will listen:”
Careful the things you say, Children will listen.
Careful the things you do, Children will see. And learn.
Children may not obey, But children will listen.
Children will look to you, For which way to turn, To learn what to be.
Careful before you say,"Listen to me." Children will listen.
If we as mothers (however imperfectly) know that we are “enough” simply because God loves us, our daughters will get that message and be less likely to live lives that are defined by how advertisements, unhealthy cultural messages, or “mean girls” treat them.
They will know in their bones, as Conner so passionately hopes they will, that they are beautiful, valuable, and enough.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More, MOMumental, Disquiet Time, and Wholehearted Living. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.