Guest post by Jenny Hart
Any parent – moms, dads, stepfathers, stepmothers, single moms and single dads alike – will tell you that having a child is one of the greatest joys in life. Every parent also has a unique dynamic and relationship with their kids. The relationship between a single dad and his daughter, for instance, can be complex, scary and also deeply special.
Research has shown that kids with fathers who are involved and present in their lives are more likely to excel in school and have fewer behavioral issues. However, there are still challenges that any father/daughter relationship will inevitably encounter.
As you walk through puberty, social activities and her developing emotional maturity together, consider these 4 tips to connect with your daughter and build a strong relationship that will last a lifetime.
#1. Listen before offering a quick fix
As young girls get older, they begin to develop a lot of complex, unexplainable emotions that will be new territory for both of you. As a child, you could probably fix everything with a bandage, a kiss and a treat, but your pre-teen daughter will not be quite as easily pacified. It’s important to learn how to care for her in ways that don’t always “fix” it right away.
As much as you can, try to understand her circumstances with compassion and hold off on offering solutions until she’s gotten through her initial emotions. Practicing restraint in this regard is extremely difficult for parents who are used to making everything better. However, as a part of growing up, your daughter will likely just need to know she’s not alone.
As she begins to see that you see her, hear her and love her, it will boost your connection and help your daughter understand that her emotions are normal at her age. She’ll learn how to cope with obstacles as she faces them more and more in her life, whether it’s a bully, her first break-up or her own self-esteem.
#2. Be present and engaged
As a single dad, you’re likely the sole provider for your family. Juggling your work and home life can be tough. As much as you can, carve out intentional time to spend with your daughter without distractions. Also, make it a point to attend her school plays, dance recitals, soccer games, music performances and parent-teacher conferences with undivided attention. This is crucial if you want to foster a strong connection with your daughter and have honest, meaningful conversations. If she thinks you don’t have time to invest in her life and activities, she won’t want to share them when you do have time.
Being present also means you’ll be aware of her personal choices, her friend group and her influences. You don’t have to enforce overly strict rules in order to protect her; staying open with one another will hopefully save you from being a helicopter dad.
#3. Learn as much as you can
Single parenting requires a lot of learning on your own. Whenever you can, research all things fathers and daughters. You can find countless resources for single parents – books, websites, podcasts, videos and support groups to help you learn how to connect.
Whether you’re looking for general parenting advice, tips on talking to your daughter about her interests, or a community of new or experienced single parents to confide in, there’s something out there for every circumstance. Your continual research will show up in your conversations, your day-to-day life and your unique relationship with your daughter.
#4. Ask for support
Perhaps the most important way to connect to your daughter is to ask for help. If and when you need to know how to identify common illnesses, how to throw a birthday party for her and her friends, or how to have the period talk with your daughter, don’t be afraid to consult friends, family members or your daughter’s pediatrician to get some advice.
There also may be a handful of topics that she’d feel more comfortable talking about with a female figure in her life, such as what to expect during puberty, birth control options, the best types of tampons for beginners, or how to handle her first crush.
Understand that your daughter may want to have these conversations with someone else in order to uphold her connection with you. She may be stressed or embarrassed to talk about those topics with you, and would rather keep your relationship intact. Connecting her with a mentor or a medical professional doesn’t mean you are less important in her life or that you should stay hands-off. As her dad, you can help break stigmas surrounding men and these conversations. Just know that involving others may help make your relationship even stronger.
Single parenting can be intimidating, but with the right approach, it can be the most wonderful part of your life. No matter what, stay involved with your daughter and invest in your relationship to build a lifelong foundation of love and trust.