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The Importance Of The Father And Daughter Relationship

Bailey Family + Sophia - Summer 2012Yesterday, our whole family attended the We Are Girls Conference hosted by GENaustin. If you’re a parent living in Central Texas and don’t know much about either the conference or GENaustin, I highly recommend you check out their website for more information.

We have two girls who are 13 and 10 and the kinds of issues they’re currently dealing with are intimidating: healthy body images, healthy friendships, improved self-confidence, being safe online, and the list goes on. It’s tough being a kid right now, but it’s particularly daunting to be a girl. As a parent, there are days when we feel completely overwhelmed by our responsibilities to be their guides and inspiration; to know when to give gentle comfort and to administer tough love. It’s made even more formidable when we – as parents – are struggling with our own feelings of self-worth, hopefulness, security…how are we supposed to give to our children what we sometimes can’t adequately give to ourselves? Okay, so I guess being a parent is pretty tough these days, as well.

I vividly remember the day when we first talked about attending the We Are Girls Conference. When Carrie, my wife, mentioned the conference, I thought (maybe even said), “Well, that sounds like a good thing for you to do with the girls.” I heard that whole “girls” thing and instantly figured that as a “boy” I didn’t have a part to play, that I could get a free pass out of spending a day learning about issues affecting the lives and well-being of my daughters, that moms are uniquely qualified to deal with all this tough stuff. Yep, nice try Dad…you dumbass.

Here’s the problem with that whole way of thinking: We fathers are a critical factor in the health and happiness in the lives of our daughters. To disregard this role is to ignore our own gifts and do our girls a disservice. In this blogpost by Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick at SheKnows Parenting called How Fathers Influence Daughters, she writes:

A dad’s involvement in his daughter’s life is a crucial ingredient in the development of a young woman’s self-esteem. [Professor Michael] Austin identifies positive elements of ‘common sense’ parenting for dads so they can help support their daughter’s self-image and curb any possibility of low self-esteem: Verbal encouragement, being consistently present in her life, being alert and sensitive to her feelings, taking time to listen to her thoughts and taking an active interest in her hobbies. ‘It’s important to actually do these things, which can sometimes be quite challenging,’ Austin adds. Direct involvement and encouragement by her father will help diminish a girl’s insecurity and increase her confidence in her own abilities.

Yes, we fathers are pretty damned important and we need to step up in the lives of our girls.

If I have one challenge to make to GENaustin and the We Are Girls Conference, it’s that there must be more for fathers. There were no sessions that addressed the crucial role of the father in a girl’s life. Each of the breakouts that involved parents were primarily devoted to the mother/daughter dynamic. For the handful of us fathers who did show up, we found our way through sessions on how girls interact online and in social media, how today’s media culture is impacting their self-images, how to help them find their own sense of empowerment. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot of insight through these sessions. It was equally important for my daughters to see me there and trying to better understand the issues they face every day. But, we dads need to be a visible presence at conferences like these and in order to attract more of us, there must be programming that speaks to our own questions and aspirations.

So, here’s what I’m doing: I’m making an open, public commitment to advocate for more father and daughter sessions at next year’s conference. I believe I’m not alone in looking for help, for resources, for networks in order to be a better father. Because here’s what I know: the father/daughter dynamic is special. We dads can offer their girls things that will contribute to their success in life.

Other Father/Daughter Resources:
5 Ways Fathers Influence Their Daughters
Daughters Need Fathers, Too
Supportive Fathers Help Reduce Stress in Daughters

PS. The above photo includes my daughters – Leah (far left) and Katie (far right) – along with my wife, Carrie. The little gal in the middle is my niece, Sophia. This raises the positive role that uncles can play in the lives of their nieces, too. So even if you don’t have daughters of your own, but you do have nieces, you can still be a strong male role model in a young girl’s life.

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On Nine Years Of Fatherhood

Yesterday, Leah – my oldest child – turned 9 which means that I’ve been a father that long, as well. I remember the day when I first learned I was going to be a dad. I remember the terror. I also remember the elation. Talk about your roller coaster experiences…it was like the first time I took on the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I didn’t know if I wanted to puke or ride it again.

As I reflect on these past nine years, I’m amazed at how much she’s grown (wasn’t I just changing her diapers not that long ago?) and how much I’ve grown. Parenting is true on-the-job experience where no amount of book learning will honestly prepare you for the unique adventure. Being a father has taught me to…

See the big picture. I recall how I stressed over each decision I made thinking that it might have some consequence for the future. What if I picked her up when she cried…would she be a clingy adult? What if I let her go down the slide…would she hit her head and be an amnesiac for her whole life? What if I didn’t capture each precious moment on film…would I regret not being able to watch her first turnover when I’m 50? What if…dad just relaxed and realized that there’s a bigger picture to be observed here. After a while, I did realize that while these small decisions do carry some weight, it’s far more important to keep the grand scheme of things firmly in the front of my mind.

Be patient. If kids don’t reinforce the value of patience, there’s not a whole lot of hope for you. I’ve learned to allow for extra time to get to places. And I’ve learned that wake-up and bedtime routines need to be adhered to as much as humanly possible. But I’ve learned to be patient in other ways. Sometimes I’ll help Leah with her homework and we’ll arrive at a problem that has her a bit stumped. My knee-jerk response, from my formative public school days, is to tell her how to solve the problem. But I’ll restrain myself and look at her…she’s already trying to formulate a solution. Most of the time it’s a solution she develops her own way.

Be curious. Imagination, wonder, creativity…all great qualities that are built into us as children. Along the way toward adulthood we tend to misplace these traits. In most cases, our public schools do a great job of helping us put these qualities in a black box so we can focus on more important things like metrics, tests, and instant recall. But watching Leah and her younger sister Katie explore their world only reinforces how vital a rich inner life is to their development.

Be fierce. This isn’t the same as being an overprotective dad. This is about being a fierce advocate for my kids. And this is about teaching my girls how to have a fierce confidence.

Trust myself. When I was a new father, I sought out all the books, advice, and resources I could get my hands on hoping that someone could offer me that magic bullet that would answer all my parenting questions. I gave doctors and experts exalted status where their word was gospel truth. Until I realized that these folks, while knowledgeable in their subject, we’re clueless about the specifics of Leah. They didn’t live with her. They didn’t feed and bathe and sing her to sleep. Her mother and I did. And we had far more knowledge and insight into our little girl than anyone else in the whole world. Turns out we were the experts about Leah and the secret to being a great parent to her was trusting ourselves and our intuitive grasp of how to be a mom and dad.

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