Something went bump in the night

No.3 in a series: Single fathers raising, caring for and talking to pre-teen daughters about her body

As your daughter approaches puberty, changes are bubbling and brewing under her skin, waiting for a chance to erupt: pimples and breasts. OMG!!! That would be a typical reaction on her part..."I can't go to school. Daddy, please write me a medical absence note." Hopefully, she isn't the first child in her class to get either of them. You may want to start praying now that she is neither the first, nor the last of the girls in her class for either type of new growth. At lease, let someone else's child go first, pleeeease. Today I'm talking less about pimples, than about how you, as a single Dad, can help your daughter cope with some of the less welcome aspects of growing up.

If there aren't any women or older sisters in your daughter's life and it's all down to you to help her through this coming-of-age trauma, G-d bless you. Think back to your own pre-teen time and try to remember how you felt when your very first, red, shiny and possibly painful pimple took up residence on your face. I think it's fair to say that most of us approached the mirror with a mixture of curiosity and disgust and then checked every 5 minutes to see if it had gone yet.

She may try to deal with it on her own first. You may find "pimple" in the history of her Google searches. She may be whispering into the phone a lot. I advise you to pretend ignorance before she brings up the subject herself, no matter how glaring the mini-mountain. If she pretends that the pimple isn't there, you would be best to ignore it too. The positive message you are giving her is that if she's not bothered, you're not bothered.

But, what do you do if your daughter reacts as if Mt Vesuvius is erupting on her nose? Panic. Evacuate. The sky is falling. The way that you respond is crucial to this second test (first was hygiene) of your new relationship. "What new relationship; nothing's changed" you might ask. It surely has. Before, you were the father who picked her up from a fall, kissed the bruise and put a Band-Aid on it, reassuring her that everything would be fine. That will not placate her now. Instead, you must be careful:

  • Don't use more negative or exaggerated words than the ones she uses;
  • Don't react emotionally. Do not say "you're growing up. You're not my little girl anymore," because that will confirm her worst fears (that comes in my next post about breasts). She wants you to help, protect and support her; or
  • Don't laugh, say she is over-reacting or call her silly. Her face has been smooth, soft and unadorned all of her short life thus far. Now she has a Christmas tree bauble on it.

Equip yourself with both emotional and practical tools for parenting in this area, traditionally the domain of mothers.

In your Single Father's Toolkit, make sure you have:

  • familiarity with a good search engine,
  • friendship with the Mom of at least one of her friends,
  • knowledge of which pharmacy and/or supermarket is open late,
  • familiarity with trusted names in skincare,
  • calm, patience and wisdom, confidence; and most of all
  • time and attention to devote to your daughter.

Back to that pimple now. If she is hysterical, or extremely low, comfort her. Look your daughter in the eyes and keep calm, speaking to her with a soothing voice. Be patient. Don't drop away. Eventually, she will calm down too. If she seems able to listen, tell her what causes a pimple. If you know what something is or how it works, explain. If you don't, it's not necessary to bluff. You will earn much more credibility by being honest, so look it up together, or ask if you can talk to her a little later. Patiently, explain to her how to keep her face clean and not to scratch, pick or otherwise attack her pimple.

The most painful part of having pimples is the social aspect of it. She still has to go to school. She will probably worry that she will be stared at, teased or called a name. Even if there's not a boy-crush to worry about, other kids can be insensitive or even cruel when they see a sign of vulnerability. It's not necessarily going to be bad, but you can't promise her that it won't happen. Remind her that she has friends there, who care about her feelings. Reassure her...if her classmates haven't had one yet, their time will come. She will have an opportunity to be kind toward them, adopting a stance of blemish-blindness; what you pretend you don't see becomes invisible.

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