When your daughter is very young, staying connected is sweet. You pick her up, play with her, tickle her and carry her on your back. She is in awe of everything you do and say. She loves spending time with her daddy and you love being with her.
Dads in their own words
For my daughter’s 12th birthday, she wanted to get
manicures/pedicures and then go see a movie. My first thought was
this is a girl’s gig, but then realized this is what she wants to
do and I want to be a part of it. I had a great time getting my
nails and toes done, but the best part was hanging with daughters
and 15 other ladies. Had I just met them at the movies I would have
been the one that missed out! Doing my best to stay connected with
my daughters is not only a gift for them but a greater gift for
Chris Forte, Chicago
I have an open door policy. My daughter can talk to me about mom
troubles, school, homework, body changes, whatever. There are some
things that are difficult to hear, but as her dad I still need to
Jerry Evans, Aurora
Every Sunday morning is my time with my girls. We go to church
and get pancakes, sometimes we head to the forest preserve or park.
My daughter also loves to garden so I make sure we do that
Chris Hansen, Park Ridge
As a first-time parent, I will say that I don’t know exactly what
I am doing, but my approach has been to get down to her level and
spend as much time as I can with my daughter. We have a lot of fun
together and I hope she will associate that fun with the deep love
I have for her and the fact that I will always be there.
Matt Scarsi, Chicago
To stay connected I get involved in the things she’s interested
in, even though I may not know anything about them. For example,
gymnastics. I stay connected by learning the terminology and
nuances and encouraging her to keep her toes pointed, even though
I’m not sure of the relevance of toe-pointing.
Charlie Donlea, Cary
I am at my best with my daughters in the day-to-day moments-when
I put my phone down, look them in the eye, listen intently, and
validate whatever it is they are feeling (even if it’s anger or
sadness). I not only tell them I love them, but why I love them-and
it’s not external things (accomplishments, good grades, physical
characteristics), but the things I see everyday-how they laugh,
play, smile and show love to others.
Todd Adams, Elmhurst
But as your little girl grows and matures, it can feel challenging to relate to her and her experiences. Her joys may move from play time and toys to Justin Bieber and headbands. This can leave you feeling out of the loop.
Regardless of your daughter’s age or interests, she needs a connection with you as she ventures out into the world and tries new things. She needs your love, assurance and attention. Girls are deeply influenced by their relationships with their fathers. Her relationship with you can shape the way she feels about herself, future relationships and men.
While that can feel daunting, it doesn’t have to be. It takes patience, creativity, and possibly a willingness to move outside of your comfort zone as your daughter grows, but it’s an investment that will pay off for both of you.
She may move from toys to shopping or from soccer to boys, but it’s important to stay interested in what makes her happy. You may not understand her interests or why she has them, but this offers a perfect opportunity for you to ask questions and learn.
Ask her to play you a song from her new favorite band or show you how she does her hair that way.
She just wants you to notice, to see her and validate who she is. She wants to know that you are excited for her as she finds new interests and she wants to know she can share them with you.
Keep a physical connection
When girls are little it’s easy to pick them up, hug them, and kiss them, but as they age it can be more difficult to stay connected on a physical level. The physical connection may need to change or evolve as your daughter grows up, but it’s still a necessary part of your relationship.
It can be a quick hug in the morning or an arm around the shoulder as you watch TV together. Any kind of physical touch will remind her that you will always be a warm and caring presence.
Make dates, don’t break them
If you really want to stay connected, plan a date with her and make it top priority. It’s helpful to begin one-on-one dates when she is young so it becomes a common experience. One-on-one time creates an opportunity for deeper conversations and a chance to catch up, ask questions, and reconnect on things that get lost in the shuffle. These dates need to be the most important thing on your calendar, not something you push off to another time.
Trust her and teach her to trust herself
Some dads do everything for their daughter or threaten others in an attempt to “protect” them. While the intention may be heartfelt, you are teaching your daughter that she needs your protection rather than teaching her how to protect herself.
Show your daughter how to fix the flat tire on her bike, or suggest taking a self-defense class together. Teach your daughter to trust and take care of herself, and let her know you trust her thinking and respect her judgment.
Be open to questions
Many dads want to pass the difficult topics-sex, boys, drugs, alcohol-to mom, but girls need their dad’s input, too. Inevitably your daughter will experience insecurity, questioning or fear. If she knows you are comfortable discussing difficult topics and that you listen instead of judge, she will be more likely to come to you when she is in need.
Focus on her inner traits, not her outer appearance
All dads think their girls are beautiful, but let your daughter know she is much more than her appearance. Be authentic in your approach and point out when your daughter is strong, brave, caring or considerate.
And don’t just compliment stereotypical feminine traits, recognize and remark on her ability to speak her mind and make decisions for herself. Teach her she can trust her inner voice and you believe in her ability to be whatever she wants to be.
Don’t wait for her to reach out-it’s your responsibility
If you feel that you are already drifting away from your daughter, make the effort to reconnect. It’s your responsibility to initiate time together.
You probably will need to be creative to get her attention, and you may need to initiate over and over again. All important relationships take patience and care. She will learn how to engage and maintain relationships by watching you, so demonstrate what it means to reach out.
Cathy Cassani Adams is a certified parent coach and freelance writer, mom of three girls and author of two books.