Ultimately, we want all of our children to keep growing, learning, and maturing until they are fully functioning and healthy adults. This is possible, even as we make countless mistakes as parents or have to usher our sweet girls through inevitable hardships.
For whatever reason, I always thought we would have daughters. There were no good reasons for that assumption. It was just what we had always imagined.
Then the day came for our first ultrasound to determine whether we were carrying a boy or a girl, and you can imagine our surprise when we found out it was a son.
It was initially intimidating as a mom to think about raising a little boy. I haven’t ever been a boy and started wondering what he would be like and how on earth we would figure this out. I bought a couple good books and asked my friends with boys lots of questions and tried as best as any parent can to prepare for our world to be rocked.
Of course, he was just exactly the little boy we never knew we needed. Still is. Totally a mess and totally all boy, but sweet, tender, and crazy too.
Just as I was getting the hang of some (key word: SOME) pieces of raising a little boy, our world got turned upside-down all over again. Next baby: all pink and bows. Except this time, I found myself nervous about all the things I felt so confident about before. Girl things.
Girls and boys are so different in so many ways through their growing-up years. It seems like even from birth, their temperaments are different and their activity levels are different and their interests are different.
So, what does this mean for when big life changes occur? Do boys and girls handle things differently regarding divorce and family changes? You bet!
To some extent, sure, all kids are different. Yes, there will certainly be exceptions. However, like many things we do, this will be a general set of guidelines, tips, and ideas for MOST girls. We hope it’s helpful for you and your sweet daughter!
First of all, it is important to talk about the R word when talking about our girls: relationships, relationships, relationships. When little boys are focused sometimes more on games and competition from an early age, little girls are focused on relationships.
As far back as early elementary school, maybe even preschool, this rings true for me. Relationships in the home, relationships with friends, relationships with classmates and teachers, relationships with teammates, relationships with boys. A hallmark trait of our girls from the get-go is her need for and draw toward relationship.
So, imagine how scary and intimidating it can be when you are a girl, wired for relationship, and the pivotal relationship you see modeled in front of you breaks apart before your eyes. No matter how you slice it and how she seems to be handling it, her inner world is feeling the aftershock and needs extra love and care!
If you have a little girl, the next sentence will come as no shock to you: little girls are typically more sensitive and emotional than little boys. It’s just in the way they are made. So, what that can mean right now is that your daughter, whether she has told you or not, is absorbing and likely upset by the parental conflict that has been in the home.
As a little girl myself, I believe I absorbed and was affected by my divorcing parents’ conflict from infancy. Small children, particularly small little girls, can sense the conflict way earlier than we anticipate. Where my older brother seemed to hold his cool and move on unaffected in a moment (or so it appeared) when my parents were fighting or arguing or even just unhappy, I could physically feel the tension and anxiety in my body and wanted to make it all alright. More times than not, you could see it cascading down my face in tears as well.
Anxiety can be a big issue for daughters of divorce. Likely, your girl will not know what to do with the emotional turmoil inside of her on her own. She is going to need some guidance from both parents and maybe trusted others. Without it, the relational struggles will simmer inside unattended and could internalize as anxiety for the long-haul. (We have featured a blog before specifically on anxiety if you think this is happening in your own home. You can access it here. INSERT LINK.)
Now, as we did with our featured blog on boys, we wanted to break it down into some specific notes for parents individual. First to Dad and then to Mom:
Your relationship with your little girl is typically the most impacted by the divorce. It makes sense, you know? Statistics show that the majority of dads do not have joint custody, so their time with you is simply less. Also, moms and daughters have more in common, typically, and it is challenging to continue closeness as your little girl grows, particularly if you don’t live in the home.
It does not change that she needs it though, Dad. She needs you. She needs your closeness. She needs time with you. Even if it takes more effort than before. It may take some extra creativity too! It is not always natural for a dad to know what to do with a little girl, but creativity and good question asking (of your daughter and of other moms and dads) can go a long way to boosting your time with your girl.
Women who grow up to be more self-confident individuals are the ones who enjoy a close relationship with their dads. Not only that but a daughter’s relationship (good or bad) with her dad directly affects the way she will relate to men throughout her entire life. What gifts you can give your daughter simply by staying involved and engaged in her life!
Your ever-sensing, intuitive little girl may carry the weight of the guilt and sadness you are experiencing with her as if it is her own. She may even feel responsible for you and your happiness, though we both know how backward that is.
Now, more than ever, it is essential for you to be managing your own issues and setting boundaries with your daughter emotionally. She cannot help that she is intuitive and sensing just like you. What you can do is help her understand what is hers to carry and what is yours to carry. Then help her carry her stuff, like a parent should do. Enlist other adults to help you with what is yours – friends, therapists, pastors, other family members, etc.
A couple practical tidbits for both parents:
- Make sure your daughter is still eating and drinking well. Nourishment is key always, of course, but sometimes it can be an early thing girls let go of when emotions and turmoil runs high.
- Encourage her to keep spending time in healthy friendships and relationships. Because girls are so wired for relationship, it is always important to notice if she is withdrawing socially.
- Watch how your daughter is doing at school. At any age, you may be able to notice how she is doing emotionally by how she is doing academically. This could show up anywhere on the spectrum from getting more perfect and exhibiting rigidity in that way or letting studies fall by the wayside.
- Be aware of your daughter’s relationships with boys. Promiscuity can begin earlier than expected in adolescence and can be a sign your daughter is trying to make up for something she is missing in her relationship with her father at home.
In Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff’s book All You Need To Know About Raising Girls it says, “Often, trauma in the life of a maturing girl can cause that child to stall – to never move beyond a particular developmental stage. This can be crippling in their later lives.”
None of us hope our children get stuck in developmental phases and never move beyond them. Ultimately, we want all of our children to keep growing, keep learning, and keep maturing until they are fully functioning and healthy adults. This is possible, even as we make countless mistakes as parents or have to usher our kids through inevitable hardships.
Personally, I am thankful for good community and resources as we wade through all kinds of murky waters with our son and daughter at home. We hope the same is true for you with us. We are glad to be your online community and resource as you are parenting your sweet girls through these tender times as well.
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