Dads—wasn’t it easy to parent your little girl? Now that she’s a teenager, are you frustrated, occasionally frightened, and confused about your new role in her life? That was certainly my reaction as my two daughters entered their teens, and it prompted a research project that led to my book, In Search of Fatherhood.
Many dads check out when their girls hit adolescence. Don’t. The father-daughter relationship is essential. Girls need strong, loving, connected dads to guide them through the whitewater of adolescence. Here are snapshots that testify to the importance of the father-daughter relationship.
1) Stay Involved
Being a good dad takes time and effort—sometimes exhausting amounts of both. If you feel too tired or discouraged to stay connected, remember that your decisions will echo throughout your daughter’s life.
Wendy’s parents divorced when she was four; she lived primarily with her mother until high school, then with her dad. At first, it was a disaster: “I was pretty mean,” Wendy admits. “One day, I saw this stack of books on his desk. One was titled, How to be a Good Father, How to Talk to Your Teenager. All these books. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s trying. I need to lighten up on him.’” Thirty years later, they have a close, loving father daughter relationship because he stayed involved when it was hard.
Tara, on the other hand, had a workaholic, emotionally distant father. “When I was 12, he said, ‘I can no longer hold your hand.’” Tara tells her brother, “Hug your daughters at every age. Be a safe, loving man and let them feel comfortable with your physical presence.” Tara shared, “I couldn’t discern that just because someone wants to sleep with you doesn’t mean they love you. I associated physical touch with love because I craved warmth and affection.”
2) Believe In Your Daughter
Your consistent and thoughtful support can help your daughter develop a solid sense of self-worth, while frequent criticism can set the stage for a life of self-doubt.
Hana grew up in Somalia with a harsh father. “My dad criticized us in front of other people. It was very painful. I felt like nothing I did was good enough for my father.”
TK remembers bringing home good grades and feeling really excited, but her father would say, “What’s with the B, what’s with the A-minus?” TK was so frustrated—“It’s never good enough for him. I still find myself doing things for my dad’s approval.” Contrast their experiences with Amy’s. “My grandfather and my father were pretty much like, ‘You guys can do anything men can do and even better. Don’t ever think any different.’”
3) Make Time for Her
Surprisingly, teenage girls want to spend time with their dads. They just don’t want to make a big fuss over it. Find something low key that you both enjoy, like walking the dog, riding bikes or cooking dinner together. And when you’re home, be available for spur-of- the-moment conversations and questions.
Lucille grew up in the Great Depression. “I was always welcome in Dad’s workshop and could ask any questions. He taught me how to refinish furniture. I learned patience from him.”
Tara, though, felt like she never knew her father. “I wish we’d had more time to have fun – just more one-on-one time. I wanted his attention, his counsel, his focus. It’s important to take the time to let your children know they matter.”
4) Let Her Make Decisions and Mistakes
Teenagers don’t want to be told how to do things. When possible, let your daughter decide how she spends her time and money. Help her work through the decision-making process about big things—which colleges to apply to, what summer jobs to pursue—but don’t hang your ego on the end product. This is her life, not yours.
Sindhu had a close relationship with her father, but he made the decisions. “My father decided I would go to medical school. I realized it was not what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to make the right decisions for myself. I wish my father had taught me to weigh pros and cons and investigate things before making a decision.”
5) Stand Strong, Be Flexible
You want to be firm; but you also want your daughter to have a voice. Striking that balance requires a daily commitment to your goal of raising a well-adjusted, independent daughter with the tools to live her own life.
Leilani’s stepdad was loving and firm— a difficult combination to master. “Once, when my mom said I couldn’t have this pair of shorts, I asked him, and he got them for me. There was a blowup when my mom found out. He didn’t get pissed at me; he said, ‘I am here for you, but you cannot do that again. I’m not going to allow it.’ And that was the end of it. Because he set clear ground rules, I felt like I could talk to him about anything.”
6) Be Her Dad!
She doesn’t need another friend; she needs a dad—and you’re hers. So hang in there. Be committed to a healthy father daughter relationship. The rewards will be well worth the effort.