Walking the Tightrope of Raising a Strong Daughter
Raising a daughter is a great joy and a great challenge…especially for a father. A father’s active involvement provides a key ingredient in helping his daughter grow into a woman of integrity, character, and confidence. Most fathers find active involvement in their daughter’s life comes with some challenges. Mark McMinn has identified 3 challenges every father will experience while parenting a daughter—three tightropes every father must navigate between “my little girl” and the mature woman she will become. These areas of tension provide fertile opportunities to grow a strong daughter.
First, fathers support their daughters and know when to let their daughters go. Our daughters desire an emotionally intimate relationship with us…and our daughters struggle for independence. Fathers walk the tightrope between both. On the one hand, we nurture an intimate relationship with our daughters by learning the language of emotions (something that does not come easily to men in our society). Rather than hiding behind our cultural training to “be tough,” we maintain our toughness to offer protection while developing our “softer side” of emotional expression. Doing so, we gain an emotionally open and intimate relationship with our daughter. We honor our daughters by spending time with them engaged in activities they enjoy. In a sense, we follow their lead as we participate with them in activities of their choosing. As we do, they often return the favor. On the other hand, we nurture independence by encouraging them to become involved in challenging activities. We lovingly step back and allow our daughters to take risks as they try new things and grow more independent of us. Any father who has dropped his daughter off at college has experienced the tension of letting go and encouraging her to take her next step in life while nurturing an intimate connection with her by expressing the complexity of emotions that accompany this event.
Second, fathers remain a loving authority in their daughter’s life while allowing her the “voice” to speak her mind. Fathers provide limits and boundaries to protect their daughters as they grow. As their daughters mature, fathers allow choices to replace directives. They allow their daughters to make choices and voice those choices. Wise fathers will even allow their daughters to experience the consequences of poor choices. A father may find his daughter saying “no” more often as she matures—not in a disrespectful way but in a growing independent way. She may say “no” to some of the father-daughter activities you enjoyed with her as a child. She may say “no” to an activity with you so she can enjoy an activity with her friends. Allowing her to say “no,” hearing and respecting the reason behind her “no,” and perhaps negotiation around the “no” helps her find her voice and learn to speak her mind respectfully. Discussing the reason behind her “no” encourages her to think for herself. Fathers also encourage independent thinking by listening to their daughters explain what interests them and what does not interest them.
Third, fathers tolerate the tension of disagreement with their daughters. If you have a child, you know that many opportunities will arise to disagree. Disagreement is good…frustrating, but good. Disagreement allows our daughters to think for themselves. It provides us the opportunity to learn about our daughters by listening intently. Disagreement also provides the opportunity to teach respectful ways to voice our disagreement. A wise father will allow disagreement, even discuss the disagreement. During that discussion, a father can model respect. He can model how to disagree while keeping the relationship a priority. One more thing…realize that some disagreements occur because of differences in maturity and experience. Do not expect your daughter to think like you—they lack the maturity and experience to do so. And, let’s face it, sometimes we are wrong and they are right. So, allow the disagreement. Allow them to think. Allow them to be right and accept it when you (the father) are wrong.
As you can see, walking the tightrope of raising a strong daughter provides a great challenge. But, we are men. We love a challenge. Step right up, enter the fray, and engage your daughter. Support her and let her grow up. Remain an authority in her life and allow her to speak her mind. Tolerate disagreements and even enter into the disagreement with her knowing she may teach you a thing or two. Most of all, love your daughter and show her the depth of your love every day!