The Perils of Puberty

Several years ago, a father came in for counseling. All he could talk about was what a hard time his wife was having with their thirteen-year-old daughter. He said that his wife's feelings were hurt continually by his daughter's rebuffs. The next week, the mother came in. We very compassionately asked about how things were going with her daughter. Her response was, "Oh, I'm fine. I'm tired of her attitude, but I'm fine. Her dad, however, is having a really tough time."

Actually, this happens a lot with families. As little girls outgrow (for the most part) the laps of their dads, they also grow bodies that look more like women than little girls. It happens simultaneously. The result is that dads often feel the combined loss of their daughter and discomfort with this new pubescent creature living in their home.

What sometimes follows is that the discomfort of these dads turns into painful situations with their daughters. They don't know what to do, so they tease. They tease girls about their developing bodies or about their weight. These fathers mean well and are trying to connect but end up making a girl feel worse about herself and her body.

During puberty, however, dads' roles become even more important in helping draw out a girl's femininity. She doesn't want to hold his hand anymore, but she still needs him. She needs him to help her feel valued as a woman, to show her what it looks like to respect a woman, and to continue to connect with her.

The next section is written expressly for dads:

Fathers, your daughters still need you as they reach puberty— they may even need you more now than ever before. It is a painful time to be a father. She may not look quite like the "daddy's girl" she has been—but that girl is still lurking somewhere underneath.

There are a few things specific things we believe you have to offer your daughter in this confusing time. As a man, you have a unique ability to draw out her beauty — deeper beauty — than possibly anyone else in her life. Tell her that she is beautiful. Encourage her and tell her when you see her kindness toward a friend or her tenderness toward an animal. As you do these things, you touch on the femininity that is growing inside her.

You can also continue to be affectionate with her, even when she pulls away. She will be embarrassed by this, but that is all part of the adolescent ruse. It's embarrassing for your dad to do these things. But she still enjoys them —even when she acts like she doesn't. Put your arm around her at church. offer her your arm when you are walking into an event. This kind of affection helps her feel cared for and valued.

Your daughter will look to you to determine what kind of man she wants to marry and what a marriage relationship should look like. If you are married, she needs to see you value her mother. To see you care for her not only helps your daughter understand what a loving relationship looks like, it also helps her feel more secure.

As she moves into puberty, it will be harder to find ways to connect with her. Please don't stop trying. Teach her to dance. Take her rock-climbing if she has outgrown some of the other adventurous activities you have shared. Take her shopping or out to dinner by yourselves. As she gets older, teach her to drive a car. Girls tell us they love to drive with their dads. Wash the car with her. You can also teach her to change a flat tire. There are many ways to connect with older girls; they just require a little more creativity. Remember that your daughter's distance is not a rejection of you but an absorption with herself that characterizes the Narcissistic Years. She is still daddy's girl—it's just buried beneath a lot of makeup and hair products!

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