Gary was trying to have a serious talk with his 14-year-old daughter. He asked her what she would do if she were at a party and a boy pressured her to drink. Her response was, “Well, Dad, that would depend on how hot the boy was.” Zing! Gary knew that she was intentionally pushing his buttons, yet she succeeded spectacularly. He felt angry and confused.
Our daughters have an incredible capacity for triggering gasket-blowing responses, and for very good reasons. With them, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We’re open and gentle with girls because we don’t get caught up in silliness about making them tough, like we do with sons. Besides, our daughters’ early years of father worship lull us into a false sense of security. But a daughter’s perspective is different. She needs to declare her independence, and she has lingering anger over the discovery that her dad isn’t perfect. Mix these highly combustible ingredients, and, at some point, you’re almost sure to get a sucker punch direct from daughter to dad.
What can you do? First, be careful not to tempt her into made-for-shock-value responses. Gary did this by asking, “What would you do if . . .?” His daughter translated this as, “Can I trust you?” Hypothetical questions work well with girls who are 10 or 11, but once a girl gets older, you may need to be more direct, as in, “I want you to be safe. Let’s brainstorm strategies for situations you might face.”
Second, try very hard not to react immediately when you get hit with a zinger. This is a perfect time to employ one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned as a father—take two steps back and three deep breaths. I mean that literally. Back away far enough and long enough to remember that this is your precious daughter, the one you love so much it hurts. The one who is trying as best she can, albeit awkwardly, to grow fully into herself.
Thirdly, figure out how to repair the connection. Because if things have broken down, you need to fix them before you can move on. Gary was able to do that. He told his daughter, “I think I might have put you on the defensive.” And they began to talk again.
Learn more in my book The Collected Wisdom of Fathers.
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