Having a son would be so much easier than having a daughter, right? I mean, really, how many of us men actually know how to put our daughter’s hair into a pony tail, how to paint nails, or what color of shirt can only go with which pair of pants? And that’s just the early years. You all have seen that as our daughters grow into their teenage years, the gap between us and them only seems to grow larger. Interest in boys. Periods. Unlimited texting plans. Endless hours on Facebook. Justin Bieber.
Herein lies our dilemma as fathers. As our knowledge of how to relate with or what to do with our daughters shrinks, the need for us to be solid, present figures in their lives increases. As they grow older, no longer do our daughters look up to us as the infallible heroes they once did. We are now full of errors, only there to either make their lives miserable or fund their various activities.
Yet the more we remove ourselves from the picture, or the less we try to relate with our daughters, the more damage it has on their ability to make good choices. Studies have shown that daughters who lack a strong relationship with a father figure are more likely to be sexually active earlier in adolescence (Mendle, et al., 2009), experience greater symptoms of depression (Reeb & Conger, 2009), have lower stress tolerance levels (Byrd-Craven, Auer, Granger, & Massey, 2012), and are more likely to abuse alcohol (Patock-Peckham & Morgan-Lopez, 2007).
So, dads, what can we do? How do we relate to our daughters when we can’t tell the difference between Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake? It’s not easy, but there is hope. As I’ve lived with and worked with dozens of teenage girls over the past few years, I’ve learned that it’s possible to build a solid, positive relationship with these girls. And the good news for the fathers is that not only does research show most teenagers want a good relationship with their parents (Moore, Guzman, Hair, Lippman, & Garrett, 2004), almost every single one of the girls in my home has told me at one point or another that they want to take what they learn at Alpine Academy and strengthen their relationship with their own fathers.
In working to strengthen our relationships, here are a few things I’ve picked up that have been effective:
- -Make time. As fathers, we often have very busy lives to juggle. Work demands, home projects, dedicating time for our wives or significant others, and finding ways to relax and stay sane often seems a difficult task to balance. However, time with our daughters should never be at the bottom of that priority list. Schedule time for “daddy-daughter” dates, ensuring that you are spending some quality one-on-one time with your daughter. Go see a movie, go get ice cream, go to a ball game. It doesn’t seem to matter what the activity is as long as your daughter feels you love and care about her and are making her a priority.
- Find common interests. This can be difficult, as it has already been noted that teenage-girl interests don’t often align with our own. However, finding related interests with your daughter can help build a positive relationship. If they love to play soccer, learn about soccer. If they like the outdoors, find some hiking trails. If they love to act or dance, find a local theater or dance performance to attend. By showing our daughters that we are willing to take an interest in what interests them, their love and respect for us will only increase.
- Talk openly, empathetically, and honestly. As fathers, it may be easy to shy away from certain subjects that we feel best suited for “girl talk.” But if we want to be an important part of our daughters’ lives, they need to feel that desire is sincere. While it may be a dad’s nightmare to listen to our daughters talk about the tattooed-up boy with the double-lip piercings they met at an alcohol-fueled party last weekend, we shouldn’t be quick to condemn or forbid our daughters from having this crush. If we restrict too much, they will likely fight back and pursue those relationships out of defiance. However, talking openly, empathetically, and honestly about it may lead to our daughters realizing themselves what is right and what is wrong. There have been countless times over the past few years that I’ve been amazed at how insightful and able to make healthy choices the girls in my home are.
Yes, dads, as I said before, there is hope. We have a unique opportunity and ability to influence our daughters to do good and live positive, happy lives. By working on our relationships through taking time for our daughters, finding common interests, and talking with them openly and honestly, our relationships with them will grow stronger, helping them feel the love and support that can motivate them to make good choices in their lives.
Byrd-Craven, J., Auer, B. J., Granger, D. A., & Massey, A. R. (2012). The father-daughter dance: The relationship between father-daughter relationship quality and daughters’ stress response. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(1), 87-94.
Menle, J., Paige Harden, K., Turkheimer, E., Van Hulle, C. A., D’Onofrio, B. M., Brooks-Gunn, J.,…& Lahey, B. B. (2009). Associations between father absence and age of first sexual intercourse. Child Development, 80(5), 1463-1480.
Moore, K. A., Guzman, L., Hair, E., Lippman, L., & Garrett, S. (2004). Parent-teen relationships and interactions: Far more positive than not. Child Trends Research Brief 2004(25), 1-8.
Patock-Peckham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviors: Mediational links between parenting styles, parental bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21(3), 297-306.
Reeb, B. T., & Conger, K. J. (2009). The unique effect of paternal depressive symptoms on adolescent functioning: Associations with gender and father-adolescent relationship closeness. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(5), 758-761.