Does the following conversation sound familiar?
“What should we get Debbie for Christmas this year?”
“I don’t think we should get her a phone yet. Other parents have bought their girls phones at her age, but it just seems too early.”
“Yeah, I agree …”
(Usually followed by dead silence.)
If you have a teenage daughter or stepdaughter in your home, you’ve probably had a similar discussion. Or you will before too long. As your daughter is growing up, you don’t want to give her too much too soon.
Maybe this is a good time to start thinking: what does our daughter need? It’s easy to buy what our daughters want … they usually tell us! But what do they need?
Working with stepfamilies who have teens has taught me a principle: Giving your teen too much may equal giving her too little. Some of the most disturbed girls I have known have been the most spoiled. We spoil our daughters when we give them things they just want instead of things they really need.
Girls who don’t get what they need from their fathers demonstrate a hunger in their heart. This hunger is often revealed in at least four ways: boredom, self-involvement, becoming boy crazy, or becoming demanding.
What can a father do to feed the hunger in a daughter’s heart? What can we do to keep her from becoming a demanding, self-involved, boy-crazy girl? Answer: feed the genuine hunger of her heart. Give her what she really needs.
I believe there are three things a daughter needs from her dad;
A daughter needs to feel special. she needs to know we consider her valuable. She needs to know we like her—that we want to spend time with just her. One-on-one time is an effective way to show your daughter she is very special to you.
Another way to connect with our daughters is with meaningful touch. They need it the most when it’s the most difficult to give. When our little girls become teens, we’re tempted to back off with our physical affection. “I wouldn’t want to do anything inappropriate,” we dads or stepdads reason. And that’s good, but our daughters still need dad’s affection. Just because she’s beginning to look like a woman doesn’t mean she doesn’t still need your meaningful touch. Sure, it will be different from when she was younger. Instead of wrestling on the living room floor, now it’s a quick hug.
Time and place are important, too. I have noticed that my teenage stepdaughter is open to more affection when our family is all together in the privacy of our home. When watching TV for example, we often snuggle close with popcorn, laughs, and affection to share.
Some dads have found it helpful to have a daddy-daughter date every so often. Whether it’s once a week or once a month, the consistency of a focused time together strengthens the relationship and shows you care enough to take time out just for her.
Have you noticed your daughter is different in some ways from her mother? Every woman is unique. Become a student of your stepdaughter. Ask yourself: What is her favorite kind of music? What makes her happy? What makes her angry? What’s she hoping for? Who are her friends? Part of becoming a student of your daughter is determining her language of love. Does she seem to appreciate it more when you do things for her … or with her … or when you present her with a gift?
Regardless of the dialect, try to figure out what speaks love to your daughter. Then practice communicating love the way she “gets it.” Develop a strategy to communicate love….
One strategy is letters. She probably doesn’t want to listen to a lecture, so why not try writing her a letter. List the topics you want to share with her and begin. You may start with one letter a week. You could write about how proud you are of her dedication to band practice, or your concern over her sad mood lately, or the sweet way she sings along with the radio while doing her homework. Find something positive to lift her up and let her know you are paying attention. Even though communication and writing letters (not emails!) may be difficult for you, it’s worth doing.
But if you think verbal communication is sort of overrated, try non-verbal communication. I try to come up with creative ways to communicate with my stepdaughter. I might place small notes on her mirror, in her textbook, or hide them under her pillow during the day. You might buy yours her favorite ice cream flavor, put it in the freezer, and leave her a few written clues to find it.
Or try talking with built-in distractions. Teens often don’t communicate the way adults do. the aren’t as confident as we are. If they have a built-in distraction, they may feel more secure. For example, you might have noticed that some of the best conversations occur in the car. That’s because at any given moment, if the discussion gets uncomfortable, your daughter can say, “Hey, look at that!” and easily change the subject. It’s safe.
One dad likes to go to restaurants that have crayons and coloring sheets and grab one for everybody. He’s found that his stepdaughter really opens up when she is coloring, sipping on a shake, and chatting with someone who listens … even if it’s just him. Dads, make sure you take the time to communicate how you’re feeling. Let her see that you have emotions. For many females, the only emotion they see in a male is anger.
Prepare your daughter for a healthy marriage and a healthy relationship with you by letting her know how you feel. If you are feeling stress from work, admit it. If you are worried about her, tell her. Open your heart to the little girl still inside your teen.
Some dads have the zeal and the information, but if they’re lacking the commitment, it won’t happen.
How does a father demonstrate commitment to his daughter? By loving her when she is the most unlovable. Unconditional love reflects commitment … “I will always love you; no matter what.” Those teen years provide ample opportunities to test your unconditional love. Maybe that’s why God designed it that way. When our daughters need it the most, they make love the hardest to give. If you’re like me, sometimes I just don’t feel the unconditional love I need to show. I have to first go to my heavenly Father. That is part of His design.
Show your commitment by affirming your daughter. or stepdaughter. Affirm her distinctiveness. Accept and affirm that she is different from you. Accept and value her perspective. A practical way to affirm your daughter might be to give her a gift that says, “You are special.” You could give a book or Bible with your note of affirmation written inside; something like: “May God’s Word guide you as it has me. It is my prayer that you will continue to grow as a woman of God. Your mother and I are proud of you.“
We need a generation of women who are loved, confident, understood, and valued. As fathers and stepfathers, we can be shapers of the next generation of women. The challenge is to give our daughters what they really need.
STEPcoach, Bob Collins