Tor Constantino has two preteen daughters, and he shares surprising parenting insights he’s learned from them.
Every child is a blessing, but dads carve out special places in their hearts for their daughters.
This truth is born out in songs like Butterfly Kisses or My Little Girl; in wedding rituals such as father-daughter dances or dads walking their daughters down the aisle; as well as idioms such as “being wrapped around her little finger” or “daddy’s little girl.”
It’s been my experience that raising daughters is different than raising my son.
Those differences are becoming more pronounced as my girls are poised to become fully-fledged teenagers in their seemingly ever-accelerating future.
Here are the most surprising parenting insights I’ve learned thus far about raising preteen girls.
1. Dad is the Most Important Male in Her Life
On a daily basis I see the significant influence I have with my daughters, either positively or negatively. It makes me very aware of what I say and how I act to both of them as well as to their mom.
Like it or not, I’m setting the baseline for them as to how they should expect men to treat women.
Some may try to downplay the critically important role of a dad in the life of a preteen, but I know enough women raised with a distant or absentee dad who wish they had a more meaningful relationship with the father figure in their lives.
While I recognize that my influence with them is likely to yield over time to their respective peer groups, I believe my actions and words will have a lasting impact in the long run.
2. Despite Her Maturing Body, She’s Still a Little Girl at Heart
Both our girls are going through puberty—a necessary part of growing up. But the truth is that their bodies are changing faster than their maturity levels.
Even though they both are very aware of their physical changes that are occurring, they’re virtually oblivious to the fact that they both still play pretend with Polly Pockets, Legos, Barbies, and stuffed animals.
The point being that even though they are looking more and more like young women every day on the outside, they are still young girls who don’t have all the answers on the inside.
3. Now More Than Ever She Needs Appropriate Physical Contact From Dad
Over the past few months, both my daughters have been much more—there’s no easy way to describe it—clingy to me.
Around the house they’ll flop on me while I’m reading, they’ll cozy up next to me while watching TV or come into my home office while I’m working and wrap both arms around my neck and just “hang” there.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s great and I love it. It’s just that they’ve never spontaneously initiated such a high-level of physical contact before.
I know they’re trying to communicate and connect with me through familial touch. But honestly, there are times I’m tempted to wriggle out and tell them I’m busy or say “stop hanging on me like that, it’s weird”—but I don’t because there’s no such thing as a bad hug.
I recognize that I need to help normalize and reinforce appropriate physical affection for them—not just for our own relationships but for their own relationships they might someday have with children of their own.
Perhaps the most surprising insight from raising preteen daughters is that I find myself maturing and changing as a father right alongside them.
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