Being a teenager is hard. Being a parent is hard. Be the Dad that bridges the gap.
All teens go through what we refer to as ‘wall banging’ years. My husband says, “They just want their cage bigger but don’t know how to earn it yet.” At times the wall banging is so loud, our natural tendency is to tighten down the rules and shorten their leash to protect them, but we often forget to train them how to cross from child to adult.
Dads can be involved with sons through sports, hunting, cars and guy stuff. If your daughter isn’t into stereotypically male activities, Dads will have to stretch themselves to find other common ground. Dads have some of the strongest influences with daughters when it comes to their self-esteem and who they see themselves to be. Dads strongly influence the kind of guys they’ll date and how they will allow themselves to be treated.
In our home, just before our daughter’s 13th birthday, we set aside time to talk about what might be coming as a young woman. We shared how her feelings would intensify, and that there would be times that we might not even like each other, but we would always love each other. She would probably not like the rules her Dad and I would make and enforce. There might even be times she would feel like she just didn’t want to live under our roof anymore; and that all those feelings were normal.
We encouraged her to feel free to talk with us about anything, at any time, and that we would give her the straight truth. We also suggested several adults we thought she could trust to give her good advice if she felt she couldn’t talk to us. We went on to explain that she might begin to question our beliefs and that was normal too.
We told her, like we had many times before, that there was nothing she could do ever do that would cause us to love her more and that there was nothing she could do that was so bad, that we would love her less. Our love for her was a gift—and it was permanent. So, if she made mistakes (which we shared she would or we would wonder if she was living her life too safe), no matter how bad a mistake it was, that we were family and family goes through tough times together.
We encouraged her to bring her problems home to us and we would stand with her. We further told her that if she chose to break the law, we would not disown her, but that we also would not rescue her. If she was old enough to choose wrong, she was old enough to experience the consequences. But that ultimately, we loved her and that she was much stronger than she knew. We shared that we will stand on the sidelines and cheer you on, but maturing must be done within herself.
Although at thirteen, she didn’t comprehend all that we said to her, she did understand that changes were coming, she would survive them, and her dad and I would be on the other side waiting for her. She remembers it as an important day and began the process of embracing being grown up.
One of the things Dads can do is to spend time with daughters. Sometimes Dads shy away from daughters when puberty sets in. This is a time when girls need their Dads to treasure them, and support them. Start dating your daughters when they are young. Set the tone and expectations for what a great date looks and feels like.
I remember spending the day helping our daughter get ready for her Dad Date. She got all dressed up, and waited in the kitchen in anticipation. Dad knocked on the door, greeted her with flowers and whisked her off to a fancy dinner date and a movie. They talked and laughed. He opened doors for her, and offered his elbow. This took place often through the years.
On Valentine’s Day, my husband always brings me flowers and chocolates, and he makes a point of doing the same for our daughter. He would often surprise her at school with flowers or a corsage. Although she was at first embarrassed, she was the envy of the other girls who thought her Dad was pretty special. Today, as a grown woman, she still looks forward to her Dad dates.
Some of their best times were and still are fishing dates. Dad makes a big fuss out of taking her fishing — just the two of them. Some of their life surviving conversations, during the best and worst of her life, happened in the boat or on a Dad Date.
What our daughter learned from these times together with her Dad was to value herself and to set higher expectations on how she was treated on a date because she had already experienced what a ‘great’ date looked like. And because we often quote, “We’re family, we go through it together,” we have and we’ve earned the right to speak wisdom into her life when she might need it most.