Daddy's Little Girl
It's the most requested father-daughter dance song at American weddings, so it's no surprise that most fathers and daughters fill these dual roles. Every dad wants his daughter to be “Daddy's little girl.” And for the first years that's a snap. It's when they begin to grow into young women that things get dicey.
It's easy when daughters are prepubescent for fathers to not obsess about the physical issues of any male-to-female relationship. Little girls are not that much different than little boys, and while dads do realize they'll someday develop, it's easy to put that out of mind.
So when the first flush of breast growth or other female signs of maturity begin to show, some fathers can feel challenged.
It is usually at this time a father will begin to pull back physically from a daughter. Ironically, in this time of transformation and personal confusion, a daughter may need to feel her relationship with her father stay steady more than ever. So what's a father to do? It's all about adaptation.
As your daughter learns about her body changes from her mother and from school, make sure you are part of this education as well. Open discussion from day one will make things more comfortable for you two as you head down the road to her female maturity.
While you once bounced her on your lap every day after work, there comes a time when this is simply not acceptable anymore. But that does not mean you cannot show physical affection. A hug hello and a peck on the cheek each day after work is always a good choice — even if she begins to pull back. Show her you love her, and that you can express that properly to her even as she grows. If she starts to be standoffish about this, discuss a “secret code signal.” A quiet hand squeeze or something else as unviewable to the public can serve to remind her you do love her and do want to tell her.
Dads are not supposed to talk and communicate just like moms. Let your own way and relationship develop with your daughter, and leave the mom role to Mom.
Some girls are willing to let their fathers know they've gotten their periods; others are embarrassed. It's the father's lead that will make the difference here. Make sure she knows you understand the changes she is going through, and that while you respect her privacy, you also care about her well-being, both physically and emotionally, in this changing time.
Single fathers will want to make sure they have all the supplies their daughter will need on hand well before they are needed. Place sanitary supplies in an easy to access spot and then let her know the items she might need are there. Find a close female relative or friend — anyone your daughter respects and trusts — and ask her to serve that role for your daughter at this time. Let your daughter know this woman does not replace you as the parent in this situation, but is there to support her as you perhaps cannot.
Every dad, married or single, needs to keep an open line of dialogue with his daughter about her changes, such as periods. Even if it feels awkward, just let her know you understand. But don't ever do it in an embarrassing way, like talking about it in front of friends and even other relatives. Let her know you respect her privacy, but that you indeed are part of that private world. At the same time, give her space. While she once used to come out of the shower with you standing there, she will now need privacy. Make sure she has robes to wear and a lock on her bathroom door. Everyone deserves that safety net.
When girls are small, they are still emotional, but their emotions are less complex and easier for fathers to navigate.
When they experience fear, Dad is there to make them feel safe. They get their feelings hurt in simple ways and Dad is there to boost them up again. Being left out of a play date can be solved with an ice cream trip or even a few pushes on the swings. But as she grows into the mysterious world of girls and their actions, Dad may begin to feel clueless.
If your daughter ends up in a situation in which you fear she may be physically harmed, it is time to step in. But always do it with the other children's parents, and teachers, if possible, involved. Do not take on teen girl issues with just the teen girls.
Fathers may find, as their girls grow into the era of peer pressure and cliques that they want to lash out to protect their daughters. It's important to find a balance. Let her know you care but don't step into the fray of girl nonsense. Weigh the situation and then deal with it by helping your daughter figure out how to work things out on her own but with your insight. She'll see you care and that you understand, but most of all, that you trust her to work it out.
And what of the emotional changes that you just plain don't get? A girl's hormones can wreak havoc on her in these years, and that's something it is near impossible for a father to empathize with. Don't explain every action away by saying “it must be hormones.” Rather, try to help your daughter learn to find ways to work out her feelings without lashing out or freaking out. Walks, throwing the ball, even suggesting some quiet time alone in her room until she calms down can all help her learn to cope with feelings in a positive way.
Making suggestions on how to vent anger might be met with another screech, but in time, she will hopefully catch on. If you have to, drag her out to do something to relieve the stress. Your knowing what to suggest will show her that males can be sensitive and understanding — a good example to set for any girl.