It is no surprise that most parents who are active and involved in the lives of their children want to protect them. It’s instinct: any parent should care for their offspring. But as children blossom into young adults, the role of parent can become very difficult and confusing.
How much should I intervene? What should I do? Where is the line?
One significant barrier to being a good parent of a teenager is a change in mindset. As much as you may think of this person as your baby, the truth is that they are developing a mind and sense of autonomy. They still need the boundaries, guidance and support you provide, but they also need space and respect.
Parents often feel pressured to be a beacon of light and reason at all times. Many feel that sharing their flaws and vulnerability with their children will undermine their authority and provide a bad example. While children and teens do need good role models, the idea of the “perfect parent” is an unattainable fantasy.
Finding the balance is not easy. Discussion versus ultimatum. Punishment versus leniency. Independence versus protection. Each situation is different and each approach has its place. It will take trial and error to find out what works for you.
Perhaps one of the most difficult adjustments is the relationship between a daughter and her father. In this relationship, the protective instinct can be especially strong, and dads have been known to go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their daughters.
While this dedication is commendable, dads need to understand that good intentions do not always yield healthy results. Take the stereotypical example of a dad with a gun sending his daughter off to prom.
This is just a stereotype, and there are many offshoots and variations that can be found in everyday popular culture from references and jokes on television to t-shirts you can find at the store. However, any dad who threatens a boyfriend with physical harm or jokes about it or generally asserts himself as the physical protector of his daughter must understand that his attitude is not only outdated, but potentially dangerous. What he thinks is helping her may be hurting her.
It is true that, at the appropriate time and place, a joke can be just a joke meant and received in a lighthearted way. Additionally, we cannot expect any parent to be perfectly sex-positive or allow their children to act without discipline. However, there are nuances to this conversation that we can’t ignore. The message behind these jokes can be damaging to young girls when it is pushed too far and taken too seriously. Where there is room for improvement, we must improve.
To me, the important idea here is that fathers should view their daughters as people, not property. That they teach their girls that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. Young women should grow up knowing love is not rooted in possession or violence. Dads must step up to be a part of the solution.
I was lucky enough to grow up with an amazing father, who raised me with a lot of grace and compassion. He has always been there for me without stifling my personality, and though I’ll always be his “little girl,” he understands that I am an adult and treats me as such.
There are many things dads can do to build and improve their relationship with their daughters. While it is ideal to start as early as possible, it is never too late to make a meaningful change.
To all of the dads and dads-to-be reading this article, here are a few things you can do to foster your relationship with your daughter today:
Pick an activity to do with her
This can be going out to lunch, going to the movies, or simply a phone call once a week. Spending time together regularly is important, and doing a shared activity will strengthen the bond between you. Don’t assume she only wants to do “girly” activities. If you like camping or fishing, invite her along!
Involve her in discussions
If you have a concern, let her know how you feel about it. Be open and honest and listen to what she has to say. Kids rebel or act out when they feel disrespected. Let her know her voice is heard. Be proactive and make your expectations clear. Initiate discussions when you are both calm and level-headed. Remember you won’t always agree on everything, but at least she will know where you’re coming from.
Don’t treat her differently than her brother
It’s not fair when boys are allowed to stay out late and do whatever they want, but girls are expected to stay home and out of trouble. These differences in how we raised children based on their gender have an impact on how girls view themselves. If you have a rule, stick to it regardless of gender. Teach boys AND girls that “No means no.” Your daughter should feel like an equal to her siblings and peers.
Compliment her and lead by example
Positive male interactions can be invaluable to young women and developing girls. It is important that you set a good example for your daughter by being cognizant of the way you speak to and treat the women in your life. It is also helpful to compliment your daughter, whether it’s on her looks, or even better, a comment she made or something she has been working hard on. Well-deserved rewards and compliments go a long way in building her self-confidence and reinforcing good behavior.
When you’re a dad, letting your daughter go can be the hardest thing in the world. Even though it’s hard, allowing her learn and find her own strength is often the best thing you can do for her. With a good relationship, she will always come back to you. The special bond between dads and daughters is forever.