As dads and stepdads, we are often the initial male influence in our daughters' lives, setting standards for what they expect from boys and other men. Perhaps even more important, we convey what men--and the world outside our front doors--value in girls and women.
Yet, we often are confused about how to parent our daughters; they seem to think, act, and communicate so differently than our sons and other men like us! We sometimes think that we can't connect as well as moms can. We worry that daughters are too fragile for the familiar rough-and-tumble ways we use to bond with our sons.
Despite our doubts, daughters hunger for connection with their dads and stepdads. When we act to feed that hunger, we help transform our daughters into wonderful women. Dads and stepdads play tremendous roles in the social and emotional development of their daughters. There is simply no excuse for dads remaining distant in our daughters' lives.
Here are 10 tips for leveraging the power and potential of your dad-daughter relationship:
- Listen. Focus on what she thinks, believes, feels, dreams and does—rather than how she looks. Take her seriously and you give her confidence to use her talents in the world.
- Encourage her to love her body and who she is. See her as a whole person, capable of anything. She is likely to choose a life partner who acts like you and has your values, so treat her and those she loves with respect.
- Be affectionate. Healthy touch nourishes and grounds our daughters, showing them that they deserve comfort, joy, and closeness.
- Be physically active with her. Find ways to play with your daughters. Enjoy playing catch, challenging your daughter to a game of tag or hide and seek, jumping rope, shooting hoops, playing hockey, kicking around a soccer ball, or simply taking walks. This helps her learn the great and powerful things her body can do and is beneficial to her physical and emotional well-being.
- Get involved at her school. Volunteer, chaperone, read to her class, attend the PTA meetings and stay involved. Make sure the school proactively addresses sexual harassment (of boys or girls), bullying and helps girls succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math activities).
- Get involved in her activities. Drive the carpool, coach, direct a play, teach a class—and demand equal opportunities for girls and boys. Appalled by the gym his 9-year-old daughter’s team had to use, Texas businessman and volunteer basketball coach Dave Chapman successfully fought to open the more modern “boy’s” gym to the girls’ team. Dads make a difference!
- Help make the world safe & fair for girls. Work with others (especially men) to fight violence against females, hyper-sexualization of girls, ultra masculine stereotypes of boys, pornography, and all gender inequity.
- Share your work and interests with her. It's a great way to bond and demonstrate that she, too, can be passionate about her work and her life.
- Learn from other fathers. Together, we are walking encyclopedias of experience, expertise, and encouragement. Share what you know and listen to the wisdom of others in our fellowship of fathers.
- Be proud of being a dad of daughters. Staying involved in our daughters' lives doesn't lessen our love for our sons--or our masculinity.
May you find joy, challenge, and purpose in your own dad-daughter bond every day!
Joe Kelly is author of six fathering books, including Dads & Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter. A father and grandfather, he trains fathers, mothers, and professionals on the lifelong importance of father-daughter relationships.