Last week my youngest daughter informed me it had been way too long since our last daddy-daughter date.
I should have been delighted that my 11-year-old daughter still enjoys her one-on-one time with dad.
Instead, all I could think about in the moment was here’s “one more thing” I need to fit in with all the other demands on a busy husband, father, provider, grandpa, active member of my church, lawyer, entrepreneur, neighbor…
Luckily, I didn’t voice any of those thoughts and had the presence of mind to tell her that she’s exactly right and we need to do that soon.
As the chorus in Trace Adkins’ song You’re Gonna Miss This came to my mind (honestly…it really did!) I became motivated and resolved to make that happen within the week.
Yesterday morning I realized the week was quickly getting away from me so I decided to push a late morning appointment back so I could take my little girl on a date.
We had brunch at IHOP and then went to Walgreen’s and bought a stuffed animal she had been eyeing for several weeks. We held hands and I opened her doors for her.
I wish I could say I always respond like this and do the right thing. I don’t. But when I do I’m reminded how little effort it takes sometimes to take care of the most important people in our lives.
Just like “the door of history turns on small hinges“, after 29 years of marriage and 28 years of parenting I believe so does the door of family relationships.
Our Discomfort With Our Daughters’ Changing Bodies Is Hurting Them
When my oldest daughter, now married with 4 children, hit puberty I read about a study that had a lasting impact on me. The study talked about how as our daughters begin to develop physically into young women, it’s common for fathers to stop showing physical affection for both awkwardness and an effort to avoid even the appearance of inappropriateness due to the prevalence of sexual abuse in society.
The study concluded how even this well-intentioned pulling back from our daughters as their bodies change feels to them like rejection; it can damage their sense of self worth and can cause them to seek male approval and affection in unhealthy ways.
I took this information to heart and made a conscious effort to continue to be appropriately physically affectionate with my two oldest daughters throughout their adolescent years as I had been when they were little girls.
Though not the study I remember reading, a Psychology Today article titled “Fathers, Daughters and the Touch Taboo” offers some helpful insight:
” ‘Father hunger’ is what psychologist Margo Maine calls the emptiness the daughter of [a physically or emotionally absent father] feels. Often this longing for a close daughter-father relationship involves the worry that dad might love her more if she looked a different way.”
“Some fathers are not quite sure how to react to their quickly developing daughters, and may withdraw as a result. The danger is that the daughter may internalize this retreat and assume that her changing body is unacceptable.”
The article goes on to talk about the importance of continuing to be appropriately physically affectionate with our adolescent daughters – hugs, kisses, cuddling, and holding hands are all still appropriate; but if this already feels awkward or unnatural with your adolescent daughter the article says you can re-discover an appropriately affectionate relationship with your daughter by building up to it:
“Start with things that are small and non-threatening, like gardening together, riding bikes. Start spending intentional time in one another’s presence… There’s value in girls experiencing men’s way of living in the presence of their fathers. If a daughter puts up plywood flooring on top of the garage with her dad, they may spend two hours and he may say virtually nothing, but that camaraderie and bonding is a valuable thing for girls to learn.”
All this said, the article offers a caution which I second. Give space in your relationship with your developing daughter for the inevitable ups and downs that accompany adolescence.
There may be times when she wants nothing to do with us. These are the times when we need to take what the relationship gives us and continue to offer our unconditional love, affection and acceptance.
Connecting emotionally and physically with our adolescent daughters communicates male acceptance of their soon-to-be adult self. This helps counter body-image pressures imposed by society and will help our daughters to seek out male companionship in healthy ways.
By expressing appropriate affection for our adolescent daughters, we significantly improve their chances for a strong self image and healthy male companionship throughout their life in a way only a father can.