One meaning for the name McKenna is “Out of The Fire.” This is the name I chose for my daughter. Being twelve is the current fire I’m trying to help her get to the other side of. This age is a big reality check for any dad. Here are a few ways I choose to respond to my blossoming daughter:
Remaining Physically Affectionate
When little girls start morphing into little ladies, dads tend to withdraw their physical affection. This is a bad move, and daughters notice it. Unfortunately, it gives the impression that their bodies are gross; as if this stage of their life isn’t awkward enough. Things like holding hands, hugs, and even wrestling are crucial when a preteen isn’t yet comfortable in her own body. A lot of people suggest telling your little girl every day that she’s beautiful will affirm her. Don’t count on it. They’re not as naive as you might think, and no longer buy your passing comments. But being physical affirming speaks loud and clear to them.
Accommodating Her Interests
Significant points of connection change very suddenly at this age. It used to be a cartoon, a board game or a tea set that served as the platform for connection. But that was then, and now it’s up to the dad to be innovative and keep up with her ever-changing interests. At twelve years old, a girl’s natural gifts become more obvious. Therefore, I’ve found that activities together that elevate and sharpen her gifts are a great starting point for connection. For instance, McKenna and I are exploring more illustration and even a little music together. Anything creative will do. For instance, she’s highly into cosplay (short for costume play). This means that this Halloween Dad will be dressed as Finn from Adventure Time to complement his daughter’s Fiona costume. She’s pretty stoked, and she’ll never forget it.
Letting Her Like Boys
I roll my eyes at dads who say that when the first boyfriend walks into the house, they’ll be busy cleaning their gun. Girls have crushes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Being reactive or prohibitive will only lead her to withhold the truth about her feelings. It’s weird to share your daughter’s affections with another “man” in her world, but it’s something you can navigate through without threatening someone’s life. Although I don’t allow her to have a boyfriend, so to speak, or spend time alone with the opposite sex, I absolutely bless her feelings toward someone, as well as cultivating a friendship with them. She’s going to get confused and hurt along the way, and when she does I want to be the one she reaches out to.
Tempering My Expectations
I consider myself to be a pretty intentional dude. How I perceive the world and where I’ve landed in life is born out of my own experiences, mistakes and risk-taking. This can be pressuring to my daughter, however. I’ve expected her to learn these lessons now without having to go through the hard work of it all. That’s ridiculous. And to be honest, McKenna reminds me of this on a regular basis. She has her own experiences, mistakes and risk-taking scheduled along her own path. Instead of telling her the lessons she needs to learn, I’ve chosen to walk alongside of her, help her interpret the world as she goes, and give her a place to return to when she becomes frightened. I was granted my own self-discovery growing up. She deserves it, too. And so will her own children.
Everything is so new and intimidating to my daughter. It is for me, too. I guess we’ll both just have to learn along the way as we’re thrown headfirst into her coming-of-age. I need to rely upon is the fact that McKenna will spend most of her life as an adult. So, instead of protecting the child, I choose to encourage the woman she is becoming. I trust this trajectory will inform my fatherhood as she continues to grow up.
Photo (Flickr CC) by JD Hancock