Even top therapists admit that their own daughters roll their eyes, sigh, and shudder at them during the teenage years. Rude backtalk also infuriates even the most patient and teen-savvy parent. Add in a divorce, new mates for mom and/or dad, location moves, and parenting teen daughters can seem impossible.
It’s at this time that fathers must step up and re-double efforts to connect in positive ways. If you’re struggling with your temper at this time or feeling tempted to pull away because you can’t seem to connect with your daughter, do not hesitate to reach out to a parenting coach or therapist. It’s the brave fathers who seek insights from experts. These professionals help dads avoid falling into a manipulative teen’s drama or pulling away due to confusion and feelings of uselessness.
The following tactics work well to keep you connected to your teen daughter. Even when some activities or attempts to connect seem to fail, your consistency and determination make a huge difference. Researchers agree that teenage girls who enjoy continued connection with their fathers throughout adolescence end up in healthier relationships, enjoy increased self-esteem, and report fewer mental health issues.
When your daughter seems hostile or closed off, soothe yourself with the warm memories from when your little girl thought that you knew everything and could fix everything in the whole wide world.
All teenagers alternate between freezing out and lashing out at parents… unless they need or want something, at which point they revert to the sweet things they did when they were 11. This Jekyll & Hyde behavior helps them go through the necessary emotional work of becoming an individual, or separating to some extent from the family. Psychologists tell us that teens can resemble toddlers, in the sense that they break away from a parent’s reach to explore a new environment. Once the toddler has realized they’ve gone a bit too far, they startle and run back to the safety of familiar legs. Arrange your schedule and your time so your daughter knows you’re always there even when she’s out exploring. Keep tabs on where she is at all times and, just as important, let her know where YOU are.
As you stay consistently in each other’s orbit, this is not the time to be your daughter’s best friend. She needs limits now as much as any time in her life. It’s far easier to be the cool dad/friend who doesn’t enforce limits, but expending this consistent energy now and actually being the bad guy puts your daughter on a far better track.
Typical mistakes dads can make include:
- Siding with their daughter against their mother (the primary target for female adolescent angst). No matter what state she is in, insist that your daughter treat her mother with respect. When you treat your ex with respect, your daughter will learn men must treat her civilly as well.
- Becoming the cool-friend-dad. No matter what she says, she needs your protection and wisdom, far more than approval from her friends. Who cares what they think? They’re immature and clueless for the most part. While she may holler about curfews and other limitations, just put on your ear-muffs and hold the line. You are one of two primary people she’ll have to always provide the supervision and guidance about how to operate in the world and how to treat people. She’ll have lots of friends, but only one father.
Drive Her Places, Even If She Has a License
So, she has her license and can get to her athletic events and other activities by herself, you should still tell her you want to go. In-the-car-time is some of the best times fathers and daughters can talk and connect. Ask her to run errands with you or run her errands with her.
Try to spend at least one hour each day fully present with your daughter. This could be at dinner or even television time afterward. Do chores together. Spend time without any laptops, or cell phones for either of you. If there’s a television show on, discuss it. Mindfulness experts encourage us to be fully present by consciously locking out thoughts of the past and future. For this hour, just concentrate on your daughter, the meal, the dishes, or the road ahead. Learning how to be present in the moment can take some getting used to, so practice when you’re not with your daughter. Recent studies from Harvard and others reveal that mindfulness has all kinds of mental and physical health benefits.
Designate a Doctor or Other Medical Service You Will Handle
While your ex handles the orthodontist, you may handle the dentist. Let grandma get her to her chiropractor appointments, but you go to the yearly physical. Divide these tasks and don’t let another family member or even the mother take all of them.
Keep the Reassuring Hugs and Pats Coming
Even if your daughter stiffens up now when you go to hug her, hug her anyway, especially when she’s sick. Run your hand over her head, pat her back and tell her it’s good to see her or congratulate her for the B on that math test. Tell her you love her before you hang up the phone. If these gestures feel uncomfortable, do them anyway and consider exploring why they make you uncomfortable with a therapist. The American Psychological Association reports that consistent affection has proven to protect children from all kinds of physical and mental illnesses AND especially from peers who don’t have their best interests at heart.
Connect Through Notes and Texts
Find the ways you can connect better with your daughter. Send sentiments regularly, especially when she’s had a test, a special dance, game, or meet. You can simply put encouraging notes in her backpack. Even if you’ve had a recent disagreement, she still has that nerve-wracking oral presentation in chemistry, or her first turn as forward in the field hockey game.
Ask Her Opinion on Your Work, Friends, or Decorating Matters
Demonstrate that you respect her burgeoning maturity by letting her weigh in on adult matters. You don’t have to take the advice, but asking for it indicates you recognize she’s maturing.
Know that it’s Never Too Late
Even if you have made some mistakes with your daughter and/or her mother, know that it is NEVER too late to tell her you want to work on your connection with her. Lots of great things have come from fathers admitting their mistakes and telling their daughters they are working on their attitudes, behaviors, and efforts. Too many daughters in their twenties and thirties are still waiting for better communication and a warmer bond with their fathers. Start now by using the tried and true tactics parenting experts suggest. We’ve seen it over and over again: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!
Be On the Lookout for Threats to Your Connection
Hold the line and insist on time with your daughter, even if your daughter resists. When fathers aren’t sure how to spend time with daughters, they may reduce their time with them. Do not fall into this common pattern. Instead, keep seeking out things the two of you can enjoy together. Your local newspaper’s events sections will have plenty of activities. Not all activities have to be full-on fun, however. As mentioned above, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and errand running together serve as great activities to share. If she’s doing homework at the table, you can sit with her quietly while you work, surf the Internet, or do your bills.
Do you have a teenager daughter? What are some of your favorite activities to do together?
Featured photo credit: portrait of one sad daughter hugging his father/shutterstock via thumb7.shutterstock.com