My soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter recently confided to me that she doesn't like it when her dad asks her about boys or talks about pimples. She said she doesn't want to hang out with him and wants her space but doesn't want to hurt his feelings. I asked why it was different with me and she said because I am her mom and a female. Is this normal? They have always been close before. Is this a faze of growing up and becoming a teen?
Wife of Sad Dad
While I'm generally reluctant to use the word "normal," in your case, I'm going to say, yes, it's quite common for a 12-year-old girl to feel uncomfortable discussing boys or puberty with her father.
The truth is, it's often awkward for tweens and teens to talk about these things with either parent. Consider yourself fortunate that your daughter is confiding in you. As she moves further into the complexities of life as a teen -- physically, psychologically and emotionally -- she will benefit greatly from knowing that she can turn to you, rather than her peers, for advice and support.
As for her father, here are a few things to consider:
• Understand how hard it must be for her daddy to take a back seat. Perhaps she was his little princess; his pride and joy. For many fathers, it's excrutiating to feel marginalized and unimportant in a daughter's eyes. Offer your husband empathy and acknowledge how difficult it must be for him to be removed from the intimate details of his daughter's life. Reassure him that it isn't personal, but a normal stage of your daughter's development.
• Suggest to your daughter that, while she may feel awkward talking to her dad about certain topics, it is still important that she include him in her life. Ask her to think of things she particularly enjoys doing with him -- whether it's movie night, dinner out, playing music or rollerblading.
• Remind your husband that during your daughter's adolescence, he plays a vital role in helping her develop a healthy sense of herself as a young woman. Some fathers are uncomfortable with their daughter's emerging womanliness, but if he can continue to let her know that she is lovable, beautiful and strong, it will have an important influence on your daughter's relationships with the opposite sex. By receiving positive feedback from her dad, she will be less inclined to seek it from her male peers.
• Ask your daughter if she would be comfortable letting you share with your husband some of the things she tells you. In other words, while she may not want to tell her dad that she got her period or has a crush on Robert, she may be all right letting you pass on this kind of news, allowing him to feel less excluded from his daughter's life. But remind your husband that if she's using you to deliver updates about her life that she's embarrassed to discuss with him, it's best that he avoid bringing them up with her.
• Help your husband look for other ways to stay close with your daughter. While she may not want to share information about boys or acne, this certainly doesn't mean that he is no longer important in her life or that he can't help her feel more comfortable around him. Whether it's a weekly chess night, a game of Gin Rummy or cooking dinner together, he and your daughter can continue to solidify their connection.
As a friend of mine's daughter approached her adolesence, she told him that there was something important she had to share with him: "Daddy, I'm breaking up with you."
As heart-breaking (and adorable) as her declaration was, he understood that his baby girl was establishing important boundaries for herself, and that it was important that he accept that she needed to create some distance from her former "main man." His heart was broken, but once they got through that particular phase of her teenage years, their relationship became stronger than ever.
If your husband can hang in there, he'll come to see that he isn't losing his little girl, but that she's simply doing the developmentally appropriate work of individuating. Support him, offer your understanding, encourage them to find ways to stay close and do whatever you can to remain a safe confidante for your daughter.
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Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.
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