Daughters and dads have a unique relationship. There is that moment in the hospital when a dad first holds his daughter and his eyes and heart go soft with love and a promise to be there for her always. The toddler years are filled with chubby hands clasping onto dad’s finger as she begins to take her first steps; playing in the park; airplane rides on the carpet; and curling up for afternoon naps.
Fast forward to the tween years when mood swings, eye-rolling and changing bodies can make for strained and awkward relationships between dads and daughters. The tenderness and intimacy of father-daughter relationships often disappears at this time as some dads begin to pull away, feeling their daughter needs time to be independent and to figure things out for herself. Wrong! This is exactly when your daughter needs you the most.
Generally speaking, dads have an easier time connecting with their sons – after all, you already understand ‘guy stuff.’ But the time you spend with your daughter and the relationship you create will have a lasting impact on her as she grows up. Research continues to show that a daughter’s confidence, body image, and career and higher education aspirations are influenced by the amount of time a daughter spends with her father. “Fathers help daughters become more competent, more achievement-oriented and more successful, says Meg Meeker, M.D., pediatrician and author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
Men often have a very different parenting style than women do, which helps their children acquire different skills and see things from an alternative perspective.
Some examples of where parenting styles differ are:
Fathers generally have high expectations for their child and hold her to those expectations consistently. They are not as concerned with making their child feel good and instead, focus more on challenging her and by preparing them for situations that might arise in the real world.
Fathers tend to react slower to their child’s frustration, which helps her work on developing problem-solving skills.
When fathers discipline their child, there is again a focus on what she needs to be successful in everyday situations. So, rather than focus on the child’s emotions, there is a tendency to emphasize the lesson learned so that next time she is better able to help herself.
One of the best ways to begin to reconnect with your daughter is to spend time with her. Find time once a week to do something with your daughter.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Share a meal. It might be breakfast at the diner Saturday morning; coffee and bagels on a park bench; dressing up to go to a new restaurant; or whipping up a new recipe together. The time you spend connecting over food can be a low-key way to start having father-daughter time.
“My daughter and I started sneaking out for bagels when she was a toddler and the rest of the house was asleep,” says Evan. “Now that she is in middle school, it’s still our special time and has become a part of how we kick off our weekend.”
2. Connect over a hobby. It can be your hobby or hers, but finding an activity that you can both immerse yourself in can be another way to add depth to your relationship and gives you something to talk about when other topics might not be so comfortable.
“I have always been an avid woodworker and used to spend Saturdays with both my children in my shop,” says Hugh. “My son has moved on to other interests, but my daughter and I still spend time planning and working on projects. It’s a whole different way for her to use her creativity. We have not only made some interesting projects together, but we have also had some interesting conversations.”
3. Learn something new. If there are no hobbies where you can find a mutual interest in, try an activity that is new for you both. This can start with taking a class together or renting equipment to try out a new sport, like snowboarding. “One thing that really brought my husband and daughter together was when they started playing racquetball together on Saturday mornings,” says Liz. “She was about 10 or 11 at the time and there was some awkwardness to their relationship. Racquetball was something new for both of them and they always had fun.”
4. Travel together. This doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be as simple as planning a camping trip, or a road trip to the next town. “Trips with my dad were always special,” says Karmen. “We used to travel a lot together when we were in high school, and he always wanted to do different things than when I went on trips with my mom.”
5. Challenge yourselves. Uniting around a common goal where both you and your daughter work together is another way to deepen your connection. Work on raising money for a charity, train together for a 5K or commit to volunteering at a soup kitchen for a year.
Jim and Kristen Brozina challenged each other when they made a promise to read together for 100 consecutive nights. They found they enjoyed the ritual so much they ended up extending their ‘streak’ for eight years, until when Kristen went away to college. Read about their adventure in The Reading Promise (written under the pen name, Alice Ozma.)
Whether you are the father of a toddler or the father of a daughter who is set to graduate from high school, making it a priority to spend time together will build memories and bonds that will last a lifetime.
While there are no hard and fast rules for father-daughter time, here are some guidelines that will help make your time together run more smoothly:
1. Make it a regular part of your routine. It doesn’t have to be the exact same activity every week, but by taking the time to spend with your daughter, she will realize how important she is to you.
2. Make a date and stick to it. While stuff does come up, do your best to commit to a date and activity once it is chosen.
3. No phones allowed. That goes for both of you.
4. Be persistent. Depending on the age of your daughter and your relationship, it might take a few tries before you both get the hang of it. If you both hang in there, barriers will eventually come down.
5. It’s never too late. Just because your daughter is a senior in high school doesn’t mean that you can’t start to spend time together. It might take a few more tries, but it will be worth it. Father-daughter dates can continue on university breaks.
Krystyann Krywko, Ed.D., is a writer and education researcher who specializes in hearing loss and the impact it has on children and families. Krystyann’s writing has recently been featured in Volta Voices, Education Review and Brain Child. She blogs about supporting families of children with hearing loss on her website, www.lateonsethearingloss.org.
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