by Lisa Marsh
Part of a sereies on Single Fathers Raising, Caring For and Talking To Pre-teen Daughters About Their Bodies
Way before breasts begin to appear, like little soft hills on the flat landscape of a girl's flat chest, she will have an awareness that she is different from her brothers and male classmates. It might seem that awareness has always been present, from when 3-year old girls dressed up as fairy princesses and 3-year old boys showed a preference for any game that made a lot of noise. That's a completely different thing, due in part to the way they were treated by adults and gifted with dolls or trucks. Physical awareness of gender is inseparable from the child herself. Most girls and boys know innately who they are and identify strongly with members of their own sex, without knowing anything about breasts, vaginas or penises.
The self-consciousness that comes with a girlish growth spurt, dictates that you mustn't run around topless with your boy-friends on a hot day because someday there will be breasts on your torso and not on theirs. Probably at about six or seven, a girl no longer wants to take a bath with her brother unless he is still a baby, but she'll still fall about in a fit of giggles after streaking naked through the house with a hat on. By eight years old, she will close her bedroom door to get dressed and will hide if you open it. At nine, she is likely to want to wear a pretty half-undershirt that resembles a bikini top, regardless of the fact that there is nothing there to cover. But, by ten, she wants it so that she has another layer between her body and the boys' glances.
If you are raising your pre-teen daughter without a woman in the house, you are also likely to be buying her clothing. If you haven't noticed a change in your daughter's figure, you probably think you are safe for a little while longer; before undershirts give way to bras and shoes get heels. That's a mistake: At about ten years old, (Year 5 in the UK, th grade in the US) your daughter is observing other girls for clues as to what is expected of her. She is trying to figure out how she can be similarly equipped without having to ask you outright.
Wake up Dad! This is the most confusing time for a girl and even more confusing for both of you if her mother is absent. Puberty brings moodiness; emotional swings and round-abouts. Girls sneak peeks at each other at school or swim practice, curious to discover their level of physical maturity, their place in the social hierarchy and their style, including:
Whose first hint of breasts shows through her top;
Who turns away from the others to undress for PE;who wears an actual bra;
Whose bikini underwear has come from the teen department rather than the Disney store; andwho is wearing a coveted label (Thank G-d for school uniforms).
If you're open-minded about what you will find for her, and sensitive, there's no reason not to take her shopping yourself, but if you feel out of your element, why don't you ask her to nominate someone else to help her.Your daughter needs a confident guide for this particular journey. It's not as simple as just buying your daughter the first training bra you find. If you lack confidence in relating to your girl about her body and/or her clothing, find someone who has it to spare. This is where my Single Father's Toolkit comes in handy again. The second tool on the list is "friendship with the Mom of at least one of her friends." Talk to the nicest Mom-friend you know and ask whether her daughter has brought up the subject, and what "grown-up" activities she is doing, i.e. shaving, wearing a bra, using deodorant, experiencing the odd pimple or getting greasy hair. Ask her to keep you in the loop so that your daughter isn't left behind. She may not be the right person, though, to talk to your daughter or take her shopping.
Ask your daughter to which Mom it's easiest to talk, or whose style she admires. If you feel comfortable with her choice, ask her if she will take the girls shopping and help your daughter pick out what she needs or wants at the same time as her friend. There has to be a trust between them; that she will give it generous attention and help her find "the right things," right not necessarily having a literal definition.
This is still about breasts; visible and undeniable emblems of being female and of femininity. This can be very difficult for a father to accept. There is the sense, that she is yours to protect until you feel she is ready for a relationship with a young man. It's a shock to realize that her body will proceed with its development, with or without your approval. Likewise, you won't want her body to draw male attention, but it will. If you try to keep her in little girls' clothes or display any disapproval of her body, you are in danger of undermining her efforts to accept the changes she is experiencing. She needs to feel proud of herself, inside and out.
It's about acknowledging that she is growing up, while understanding that she will still act childish sometimes. It's about her feeling confident that she will always be loved no matter how she changes. It's about accepting why she has to have whatever the other girls have. Peer pressure is a big influence to a young girl; she doesn't want to be the only girl with discernible breasts, but doesn't want to be the last girl to get them either. By all means, have those heart-to-hearts about anything she wants to discuss. Positively acknowledge the changes in the rest of her body: her face, waist, hips, legs, etc... so that she can see her breasts as part of the entire, nearly teenage package. The goal is to help her stay positive, accepting, responsible and confident; actually that is your goal too. Tread carefully, and keep love in your voice.