It started as an ordinary business call. Quick. Efficient. But then a casual "So how's the family?" became a 30-minute therapy session between Rick and Jim, two overwhelmed fathers of teenage girls. They discussed their inability to connect. They pondered parenting strategies. They discussed everything from their daughters' attitudes and makeup to whether sighs and eye-rolling qualify as conversation.
"We used to have tea parties, and I'd get hugs around the neck," Rick recalled. "Now all she wants to do is mope, paint her nails and text her friends. I don't know how to connect anymore."
Even loving, intentional dads can get blindsided by the paradigm shift of adolescence. We can feel like the football coach who spent three glorious quarters moving the ball and scoring at will, only to enter the fourth quarter unable to move the ball at all. Now we have to adjust. And the clock's ticking.
Although the task can feel overwhelming, preserving a strong relationship with "Daddy's little girl" becomes more manageable when we focus on a few key areas. Here are three big ones for me:
Communication. Our daughters still need us to affirm their value and remind them that they're beautiful — even if the opinion of some boy seems more important. And instead of lecturing, I try counseling — asking questions, expressing faith in my daughter's ability to make good decisions.
Connection. As our daughters mature, we struggle to find activities to share. Rather than mourn the piggyback rides my daughter has outgrown, I look for new bonding opportunities, such as cooking, serving at church or watching movies that let us explore deeper issues together.
Spiritual growth. Family Bible reading is important. By high school, however, most girls will probably transition to more independent study. That's healthy, though it may feel like we're losing a platform for sharing with them. I think that even more vital than opening God's Word with our daughters is living it for them. Modeling an authentic faith helps us maintain our daughters' respect and gives us an opportunity to speak into our daughters' lives when we need to.
Tall order? No question. But we don't need to be perfect. In any big game, a few key plays can make all the difference.
Bob Smithouser is the co-author of The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions, designed to help dads build stronger relationships with their 10- to 14-year-old girls.
This article appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2012. ThrivingFamily.com.