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What to Do if Your Daughter’s Puberty Terrifies You

My little girl is growing up, and I’m not okay with it

Daughter leaning on her dad's lap.

Two bumps are coming between me and my 10-year-old daughter. My wife keeps calling them breasts, but I refuse to use that word. Not yet, and sure as hell not about my baby girl.

The bumps aren’t big. Not yet. But I know they’re on their way. Soon, I’ll have to watch where my hand rests if my arm is around my daughter on the couch. I won’t be able to tickle her without worrying where my finger might land if she squirm-shifts position.

I already saw the training bra my wife tossed on our daughter’s bed the other day. I would’ve been only slightly more freaked out if she’d handed her a loaded handgun.

I know I shouldn’t consider breasts on my daughter to be one of those “mom” things I can’t broach, like tampons or the sex talk I know they probably already had without me.

I know I’m supposed to be open with her about the changes that puberty ignites, to ensure that she’ll never feel insecure about no longer being my little girl.

And I know that when I indicate my acceptance toward everything happening in her life, she will feel acceptance toward it, too.

I know all these things. But I also know what this is really about, and it’s not breasts. This is really about the march of time. This is really about losing my little girl.

We have the best relationship in the world, my daughter and me. We boogie-board. We hike. We listen to Olivia Rodrigo and then I play her Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” and explain how Olivia based her whole act on that one song.

We share secrets. I teach her about science. She teaches me everything I say that Gen Z now considers offensive.

We are best friends.

All my guy friends with daughters have told me not to get used to this, that it’s just a phase that adolescence will put a harsh stop to, making her realize what an embarrassing douchebag she’s been hanging out with this whole time.

“That may’ve happened to your relationship with your daughter, but not mine,” I tell every one of them. “We’re different.”

I think the real reason her breasts freak me out is because it’s physical proof that I’m going to lose her someday. In the blink of an eye, my best friend will leave for college and never come back.

She’ll only come home for holidays, or call us occasionally, for those awkward conversations all 20-year-olds have with their dad before I finally say, “Well, I’ll hand the phone over to your mother now.”

Something my own father once told me gives me comfort, though. When my younger sister, his little girl, was about to leave his house an empty nest, he said: “If they can leave you to begin their own separate life, if they can achieve total independence, only then will you know that you did your job as a parent correctly.” 

I look forward to arriving at that healthy milestone … at least by the time my daughter turns 30.