As a father of two girls, I’m often scared. Scared about what to say, what not to say, and what to teach them so they will become confident, independent, empowered women. In honor of Father’s Day, even though I know it has passed by for this year, I’m sharing my goals for fatherhood based on what I’ve witnessed and heard in the years since becoming a daddy. I know many dads are currently helping their children to get ready to go back to school. I’m no expert and I don’t think any of us can make that claim. I find peace in simple, honest principles to guide how I raise my daughters.
DADDY DUTY #1 – BUILD THEM UP WITH TRUTH
The truth is a critical component of every child’s foundation. Every parent, or person with influence in a child’s life (relatives, teachers, adult friends), plays a part in helping to build a child’s confidence and self-esteem through our words. It’s important to do so with truth, instead of lies and exaggerations.
TELLING A CHILD THEY’RE “AMAZING” OR “THE BEST”, AS GOOD AS YOUR INTENTIONS MAY BE, SIMPLY ISN’T TRUE.
I try to be honest and specific. My eldest daughter loves to dance and often makes me watch her shows. Instead of telling her she’s the best dancer, I say, “I love watching you dance, you look so happy and free.” When my two-year-old hands me her drawing I don’t say it’s amazing, but I do thank her for the gift and praise her creativity. Honesty is more important than superlatives and will contribute to a stronger foundation for my daughters’ self-esteem.
Untruths, as innocent as they may seem, are unhealthy. They jeopardize the invaluable trust between parent and child. The parent risks losing credibility and worse, the child will be more disappointed when they learn the truth for themselves. As a daddy to girls, I realize the tremendous responsibility I have to build them up with the truth.
DADDY DUTY #2 – FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE RESULT
I try to focus on the reasons why my girls do things, rather than the thing itself. Using Tessa’s dancing as an example again, the truth statement points to the why: her freedom and joy. If I only focus on the what, then my words are reduced to judgment, good or bad, like or dislike. The child then focuses on the outcome or worse, the affirmation of it. It no longer matters what they do because they know you’ll say they’re amazing regardless. To me, it’s the verbal equivalent of a participation medal (and please don’t get me started on those).
UNWITTINGLY, WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO PURSUE PRAISE FOR WHAT THEY DO, RATHER THAN HELPING THEM TO UNDERSTAND WHY THEY DO IT.
This also applies to behavior. When my girls do something nice for others I could say, “You’re a good girl”, but that omits the most important part. My focus can’t be limited to the nice action, I should draw attention to the reason for it, like loving others. I can say, “I love how you care for your friends. I saw you share with that one and give another a hug when they were upset.” It’s important my girls understand the process. The why, not the what.
The what—the circumstance—will change, but the why–the heart behind the action—remains the same. I hope they learn about themselves this way. If I can help them to understand why they do things, then it allows them to embrace their unique identity. When I can see their heart and call attention it then it will help them see it as well.
DADDY DUTY # 3 – GET THEM INVOLVED
I want my girls to be care-free and enjoy their childhood but I also need to gradually prepare them for life as an adult. It’s a delicate balance. Children need to be involved in household tasks and given opportunities to contribute. It’s important, not only for self-esteem but also for awareness and preparation, to allow children to take part. This can include laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking, and groceries, among many others.
This is difficult for me because I love efficiency. I also have a specific way to fold towels that my toddler hasn’t yet mastered. I’ve heard parents complain about children slowing them down and I understand completely.
WHEN MY TWO-YEAR-OLD FOLLOWS ME INTO THE LAUNDRY ROOM TO SWITCH LOADS, IT REQUIRES A LOT OF PATIENCE TO HAND HER CLOTHES FROM THE WASHING MACHINE, ONE BY ONE, FOR HER TO PUT IN THE DRYER.
It’s worth it though. One day she will do this by herself. I need to find ways to involve my girls in household tasks as they grow because it will always be part of their lives. They need to gain a sense of responsibility in order to become autonomous adults. My mother always said, “I’ll know I’ve done a good job as your mom when you no longer need me in your life but you choose to have me anyway.”
Even though I want to do things faster, I realize it’s beneficial for my girls to learn these tasks at an early age. Sometimes daddy needs to step back, teach, and allow them to do it themselves. Besides, I can always re-fold the towels when they’re in bed.
DADDY DUTY #4 – BE PREPARED TO LET GO
Perhaps the most difficult daddy duty but one that repeats at various stages in the child’s life. I need to prepare myself to let go and release my children as their next steps arise. Too often we hold on too long (out of fear for the child or because of our own insecurities), which isn’t helpful for the parent or child.
Protection is a parent’s natural inclination but there are times we must trust that we’ve done enough for the child to excel at their next step. It is difficult to watch them struggle but it’s necessary for their character development. As I prepare for my eldest daughter to start school later this year, my commitment to this principle will be tested.
I WILL BE SAD TO SEND HER OFF BUT I HAVE PEACE KNOWING SHE’S READY FOR THIS NEXT STEP.
I asked my mentor at his daughter’s wedding what he felt as he gave his daughter away: “It’s difficult but it’s also something I’ve been preparing myself for. I have to let go because she’s no longer my child. She’s my daughter but not my child, and now she’s a wife.”
My role will continue to change over time and I need to prepare myself for the day when I’m no longer needed. I won’t have the same influence, I won’t be able to dictate my involvement in their lives, I won’t control their decisions or be able to make plans for them. My girls will be independent and empowered, free to live as they choose. They will no longer need their daddy but I hope they still want me around.
DADDY DUTY #5 – SNUGGLE OFTEN
This last daddy duty is self-explanatory. Hold my girls whenever I can, for as long as they’ll let me because they won’t be little forever. I need them to know they are deeply loved and fully accepted. My girls must never doubt whether their daddy loves them with all he’s got. I have a job to do, an important one, and snuggle time may be the most critical part of this calling.