by Focus on the Family
Fathers may be able to identify with the movie Father of the Bride, where in one scene, the father (Steve Martin) remembers his daughter as a small child, then a preteen, an early adolescent, a high school beauty, and finally a woman. You may have shed a tear. Maybe even wept! Fathers have a natural sense to want to provide and protect their family. As a daughter grows up, change presents one of the most difficult aspects of being a daddy. Inevitably, little girls become big girls, then young women, and eventually, fully grown women. The father who understand this and has the resolve and emotional energy to accept life’s changes and prepare for them will be able to build a deeper, more powerful set of memories of life with his daughter. And he will send her off into the world of adulthood a healthy, capable woman.
Several studies have demonstrated that today’s fathers want to be better at the role than their own fathers. Even as early as 1986, psychologist Stanley Cath discovered that most men felt that their own fathers had let them down, and many were determined they wouldn’t do the same with their children. Research has also shown that while men may desire to be better fathers than their own fathers, their behavior has not caught up with this desire. If a father is unaware of how his children – especially daughters – perceive him, as well as what they are going through and need from him, he will be unable to fulfill his desires as a father.
Taking Your Daughter Seriously
When a child enters early adolescence, the key word for her is independence. This is the essence of the adolescent quest – to be treated as and to feel like an individual who matters. Fathers tend to forget that daughters honestly need fathers to care about them. That means caring about the things they care about. Daughters need to know that they are not just interruptions – to work, a sports game on TV, reading of newspapers. At this point, your daughter doesn’t really know what she needs or even wants. She’s caught between two worlds. She feels a sense of comfort in the world of childhood. But the new world of imminent adulthood is frightening and overwhelming, even as she intuitively knows it is right and exciting to enter it. She needs to know that she is one of the highest priorities in your life and that you take her seriously.
Caring About What She Thinks
The second way you can begin to be the kind of father your daughter needs is to let her know that her opinions and ideas are important to you. This can be a difficult task especially in early adolescence as she swings from bring a logical, rational-thinking girl to an incoherent, emotional bomb moments later. Does this scenario sound familiar? Your thirteen-year-old gets off the phone after talking to her best friend. All smiles she comes to you to tell you about the conversation. She speaks calmly and clearly and is able to sift out what is important and what she values. You hear her out and tell her it sounds like she’s doing a good job of thinking through issues. The next day, she is quiet at dinner. You ask her what’s going on and she stares at her food, her chin quivers and suddenly explodes into a hysterical outburst of anger towards you. She storms away and slams her room door behind her. Stunned, the family looks at each other. “What did you say to her?” You’re completely baffled. Now is not the time to take her words personally or get angry and tell her to “grow up!” Obviously something has hurt her and she needs a place where she can express her pain, fear and insecurity. Now is the moment that marks the kind of father your daughter wants and needs. She needs to know that you care about what she thinks, even if it’s contradictory, confusing or illogical. Her desire is that you will take the time to listen and try to understand what she’s thinking and feeling. She doesn’t want answers or advice. She wants you to care about what she thinks.
Walking with Her through the Journey of Adolescence
Studies show that while fathers tend to be extremely attached and involved with their young daughters, the closeness diminishes as girls reach puberty and adolescence. Girls talk to their fathers less, tell them less about their lives, spend less time with them, and in return receive less support and encouragement from them. You can be a different kind of father. She needs your respect, acceptance and understanding to guide her through her growing up years.
Meaningful conversations are crucial to connecting with your daughter. Dates with her are a great way to enhance the relationship. This may be difficult and may not come naturally for some men, but having one-on-one time to bond with your daughter is an investment worth spending.
Things to Keep in Mind when Dating Your Daughter
1. Do something different. Surprise her by doing something you may not typically do. Ask her for her opinion on what she would like to do.
2. Set a positive tone. This is a time for fun, not an opportunity to discipline or teach.
3. Turn off your mobile phone. It applies to both of you.
4. Don’t interrupt. Be open and listen carefully, especially if she starts sharing a problem she’s having. Let her talk freely and resist the urge to problem-solve or fix things.