A Message For Dads And Daughters
by Nancy Rue with Jim Rue
You’ve obviously had a relationship with a woman or, uh, you wouldn’t be a father. You know about periods and bras and PMS and leg and armpit shaving. But it probably never hit you that it would all happen to your little girl when her hormones kicked in. Maybe it occurred to you in some vague, her-mother-will-take-care-of-that-stuff kind of way, but seriously? Single dads raising daughters are the exception, but for the most part, tween girls hear about menstruation and breast development and all the other manifestations of puberty from their moms, so dads don’t worry about it too much.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to know what’s going on with your daughter’s body. She is, as we’ve said, experiencing more physical changes between the ages of eight and twelve than at any other time in her life except for year one. If you think you’re confused by the things you can see — little pre-breasts, hairier legs, the beginnings of curves, pimples dotting her forehead — think how bewildered she probably is by that and the things you can’t see. So, yeah, in the midst of the what-is-happening-to-me angst, she needs a ton of support. Which means you need to get the necessary information so you’ll feel comfortable and be accessible — should her brother put her 32A in the freezer or you are called on to run out for feminine hygiene products.
Here, in brief, is what you can expect in your daughter’s tween years.
Puberty begins anywhere between the age of nine and thirteen these days. Younger than you thought, probably. That means breast buds, more hair on legs (and pits), a thicker waist, and wider hips. You might see a growth spurt, even in her face and definitely in her feet. Don’t be surprised if you’re footing the bill for new shoes every couple of months.
That often seems to happen literally overnight. One day she can still curl up in your lap — the next her legs are dangling over the side.
All that sudden growth means she may go through a klutzy stage while her brain figures out what to do with those extra inches in length. Five-point landings in the middle of the kitchen floor are not unheard of. She may go through a period when her athletic ability wobbles. She might even no longer be suited for a sport she’s loved — gymnastics and dance being the two most obvious. On the other hand, she may suddenly be a natural for basketball or volleyball.
While she’s looking more like a woman — or some facsimile thereof — she may act more like a small child at times. If she’s scared by the stranger she now sees when she looks at her body, or she’s getting peer pressure to be sophisticated when she’s still into Webkins, or it’s dawned on her that she’s starting to separate from you and Mom — she’s bound to experience some sleep problems, maybe a little separation anxiety, a lot of unexplained tears. We’ll talk more about this in the next chapter, but just keep in mind for now that the hormones that are wreaking havoc (or will soon) affect her emotions as much as they do her physical self.
As if the normal changes of preadolescence weren’t enough, your daughter is also vulnerable to society’s general view of the female body. She’s seeing print and broadcast ads where every desirable woman is stick-figure thin, blonde, and endowed with a C cup — traits obviously necessary for selling motorcycles, yogurt, and pain relievers. Movies and TV shows, including the animated variety, depict wasp-waisted women wielding weapons or corporate power while showing cleavage that rivals the Grand Canyon. There is pressure everywhere for women to be sexy, to be physically perfect, and to deny themselves basic nutrition to stay that way. When you get right down to it, about 2 percent of the female population actually looks like that, and even those are liberally Photoshopped.
All of that’s coming down on your impressionable ten-year-old who has either no bra in her immediate future or feels like a heifer because she’s filling out before she makes that growth spurt upward. It doesn’t help that the boys her age are experiencing their own awkward puberty — which means they’re likely to blurt out whatever comes to mind to cover their embarrassment when they realize the girls are getting breasts and waists and hips. And that they kind of like it.
Every bit of that is affecting your daughter’s attitude toward her body and her relationship with food. Every bit of that — and you. Even if you never say anything to your tween girl about her weight or her height or her shape, that’s a statement in itself. (“I must not even be worth noticing.”) What you do say can make the difference between a healthy body image and a lifelong battle to be like the emaciated models being paraded before her. Do you really want her fighting a war she can never win — and shouldn’t have to?
Your actions speak as loudly as your words. Stuff you might not even have thought about:
If and how you respect her privacy.How you respond to the demeaning of women’s bodies in the media.How you handle her brothers’ teasing. The way you treat your wife physically.Your own fitness.
You don’t think she’s paying attention to all that?
This whole body thing is huge for women. (Like you haven’t picked up on that.)
It’s hard, though, for guys to remember the huge difference between boys and girls when it comes to their physical selves. While for boys it’s more important to act a certain way, for girls it’s far more important to look a certain way. Ask any guy who’s fifteen pounds overweight how he feels about himself and he’ll probably say, “I’m good.” Ask any woman who could stand to lose maybe ten and she’ll say, “If I could just take off twenty-five pounds I’d be happy.” I wouldn’t advise actually asking her, however. Purely hypothetical.
Taken from What Happened to My Little Girl? Nancy Rue with Jim Rue. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Zondervan.