The Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Group Blogging Project continues. Chapter 3 – You are her first love – is brought to you by author, designer, consultant, speaker, & adventurer (and everything else you ever wanted to be) Chris Marsden.
My girls are still young. The older two talk about boys occasionally, but more in the abstract “we’re supposed to like boys” kind of way. They obsess over the Jonas Brothers and we don’t even have cable, so they might have seen the show once or twice. I know that a time is coming, though, when talking about boys will shift to actually liking (and eventually loving) boys.
With that in mind, the introduction to this chapter was incredibly encouraging. I am their first love. No matter who else is in their life or how cute they are, I am still the one that they will compare them back to (hopefully not the cute part). Except that means that I am also the one who is setting the standard for how they give and receive love as well. And while that, too, adds a bit of boost to the ego, it is also a bit challenging and frightening.
Meeker talks about five things that dad’s need to do/focus on to help their daughter’s get a healthy dose of and view of love.
Men and women are different. Women like to talk, most guys don’t. And it isn’t even really a like issue. Women need to talk. With our wives, it is easy for them to explain that to us and it is just as easy for us to explain to them, “not right now, I’ll talk to you in a little bit,” but it is harder for our daughters to understand. They don’t know they need to talk, they just do. And they don’t know they need to hear you talk to them and encourage them, they just do.
We need to tell our daughters that we love them. Regularly. Genuinely. We need to mean it and we need to be able to explain it, especially as they get older. They need to hear those words from us.
It is our job, as dads, to build a series of rules and boundaries around our children’s lives that guide them and protect them. These fences are not permanent installations, they shift and are torn down as our girls age and mature. They are about safety.
There is a part of me that struggles with this. Part of me loves the idea of building a wall of rules around my girls and keeping them safe from the world and part of me thinks that if I build this restrictive rule structure they will either rebel or become co-dependant homebodies. Meeker points out a couple things that I think help.
It is not about trust, it is about safety. The rules we create have to be about keeping them safe and moving them towards their future. It can’t be about control or our whims.
Girls who rebel don’t rebel because there are rules. They rebel against the rules because the rules aren’t balanced against anything else. Love has to be the center of the relationship and the rules have to be created and enforced with love in mind.
Silence goes along with words. Yes, I daughters need to hear us tell them they love them, but they also need us to be quiet and listen. The catch, that Meeker points out, is something I am definitely guilty of. We’re busy or we’ve had a long day and we “just want to unwind” and we tell our girls, “just a minute” or “not right now.” For me, this is going to be one of the biggest challenges. To listen to the random story that is completely non-sequitur, even when I am tired or distracted.
When my wife ignores me, even for a good reason, part of me feels dismissed and less loved than when she pays attention to me. Why would my daughters feel any different.
This one felt like the most obvious on the list. We need to give our daughters time, right? Of course we do. We need to do it without resentment or begrudgingly? Again, yes. But the good news is this. That time you need to spend with your daughter isn’t as big of a deal as you might be thinking. It is about taking the time to consistently give her your attention, not about coming up with a huge event, just to spend some time together.
The question is, who is the focus on. Daddy/daughter dates are great, if you are showing her your love and attention just like on a date (I once witnessed a Dad out with his daughter where they both spent the meal playing on their phones). A grocery shopping trip with one of the girls might be necessary at times, but I can tell you from personal experience that inviting one of the girls along to help run Daddy errands to Best Buy or Lowes is huge. When they are “helping” me and I am focused on them, we both win.
Love is hard. Sometimes it’s not, life is easy, kids are behaving and we’re living a Hallmark card kind of love without any work. But usually it’s hard. It is going to take hard work.
My daughters are 1, 5, and 7. Right now, we have our bad days, but loving my girls is still pretty easy. I’m hoping that reading this book and the hard work I’m investing now will make the teenage years all smooth sailing (is that even possible), but it takes me saying to myself and saying to my girls that no matter what, I will love you.