Whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough.

26 Feb

Every so often, my wife makes me read non-fiction books. If she’s read them as well, then they’re pretty good. Then there are the books she suggests “you should really educate yourself.” So reading a book about raising daughters turned out to be an exercise in futility.

Naturally, I want to be a good father to my daughter. She’ll be hitting puberty any day now and it’s important to be prepared for lots of things. So I ended up reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker, MD. I mean, after all, she has an MD after her name, she must know something, right? And she does cover a lot of different topics. Things to do, things not to do. How to be supportive, but allow her to independent. Girls are different than boys (I know, radical statement), so naturally how they approach different milestones is different than how I would approach it with my son. Plus, since he’s my clone, I can understand him a whole lot better, because I’ve been through most of the same situations.

But with girls, I don’t have the same experiences, so I read this in order to be ready. After a few chapters, I noticed a pattern. The chapter would start off with 1) Here’s what you do, 2) here’s what you don’t do, but as they get older, 3) something outside your control might screw up all your hard work. For example, a father “is the first man a daughter falls in love with.” Model healthy relationships, treat her with respect and love, show her how she should be treated with friends and family. However, they might fall for a guy who treats them like crap, and this causes emotional scarring that will undo a lot of the work you did before.

Thanks, Meg.

So what you’re saying is “the only thing you can really control is how your daughter perceives you.” Life has a way of taking you places you weren’t expecting to go. (That really should be one of my maxims.) Fair enough. Often when I don’t feel like playing with my kids, when they prompt me, I do it anyway. Because I think of it as an investment in the future. “Remember that guy who took care of you and played with you the first 20 years of your life? You don’t want to throw that old guy out on the streets, right?” 🙂

So putting Meg’s advice aside, perhaps the best advice was one that I read was a post that said, “I want you to have bad sex.” (I wish I could find it.) It was beautifully written, but it was a father writing to his daughter saying, “I want you have all these experiences. Some of them will be bad, some will be good, but I want you to have them all.” So if all I can control is my own actions, then I’m going to do the best with my daughter… but accept I can’t control what happens when she goes out the door.

I don’t wrap her in bubble wrap, but comfort her when things go wrong. I have to accept things will go wrong. That’s the true strength of being a father–seeing your kids go on without you. And the easier you make that at the beginning, the easier it will be when they finally leave.

But I could be talking out of my behind–what do you think? Is there a better book that gives advice to fathers? Is there advice you wish your dad told you? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Responses to “Whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough.”

  1. rebecca s revels February 26, 2021 at 10:06 am #

    I think you hit right on target. All you can do is guide and teach as they grow, but when they go out that door, all you can do is be ready when things go bad. Be there to comfort and encourage, but allow them to discover their own way and strength.

  2. Silk Cords February 26, 2021 at 10:05 pm #

    Rebecca summed it up nicely. FWIW, Meg Meeker is also very highly thought of among those who still believe in common sense parenting.

  3. M Harold Page February 28, 2021 at 8:53 am #

    I think that’s the key insight: It’s modelling all the way down.

    So you’re modelling both how it’s OK to behave and how it’s OK for somebody to treat them. Thus if you set boundaries and create space for yourself, that’s actually a good thing because you’re showing them it’s OK to do that. At the same time, you need to e.g. respect the boundaries they set, because otherwise they’ll think it’s OK to be in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t. (One reason why I’m against corporal punishment: bad to teach them it’s OK to enforce your will through violence, worse to teach them to stay still while somebody hits them.)

    There’s a couple of other maxims that intersect with this.

    Respect the relationship.

    Feed the adult track.

    Now I think I’ll have to write my own blog post to unpack those… but I’m curious if the the ideas might be obvious to you?

    • albigensia March 1, 2021 at 5:41 am #

      I’d love to hear your insights. When you write your post, let me know!

      • M Harold Page March 1, 2021 at 3:03 pm #

        Suddenly snowed under so I’ll jot down my thoughts here if I may (I don’t have to be quite so coherent if it’s not a post):

        Respect the Relationship: Though you are the parent and in charge, you also have a relationship with your child, and it’s important to be clear which hat you are wearing (there are humorous ways of doing the parental override: I would pretend to be Daddy Barbarian who didn’t speak English but knew when a child needed the toilet). So, for example, if a child says, e.g. “Please stop being noisy when I am trying to sleep” then that’s a relationship moment when you have to take them seriously and engage in negotiation, or even apologise. Similarly, it’s important to tell them when they are causing *you* problems and in the first instance settle that through a conversation – they love you and want you to be happy. And when external factors impact your mood, it’s important to be honest with them, partly to model good relationship practice, but also because they will see through deceit and possibly blame themselves. Thus, when my best friend died, I told them that I would be sad and possibly grumpy for a while and that it wasn’t there fault and please tell me if I was being an ass. Finally, respect shut doors, even if the child has stormed off.

        Feed the adult track: Kids don’t mature in a linear way. They seem to sun different tracks in parallel, e.g. when they hit 12 it can be like having a 10 year old and a 15 year old inhabiting the same body and bedroom – Warhammer 40K jostling for space with Lego. So in any given situation, a child may respond in an adult way and/or a childish way, and sometimes you get the childish first. The thing to do is to help them backtrack and articulate in an adult fashion, and ignore anything they said when they were shooting their mouths off.
        Me: Can you do the dishes please?
        Child: No. Go away.
        Me: I think you mean (silly voice) “Daddy I’m playing online and the game is going on for another half hour I’ll do it later.”
        Child: Yes, that. We’ve been playing for an hour I can’t leave the game right now.
        Me: OK.
        Child: Thanks dad.

        That’s the other part of it: all other things being equal, when a child makes a reasonable request or states a reasonable preference, just go with it. This includes wanting to dine alone – just like adults, kids, especially teens, are sometimes peopled out. It’s better to let them manage their space than set up situations where they generate rows so they can storm off to have that space. Feed the adult track.

        And all of the above is also modelling good relationship skills…

        Here endeth my thoughts.

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