I’ve been meaning to write this post for forever, and it occurred to me that I’d probably be refactoring and making adjustments to my approach on raising my daughter from now until she’s well and truly independent. I figured that waiting until I’d figured that all out wasn’t worth the 15 year plus delay. So I’ll just put these ideas down as I have them now, as I’ve already shared them with a few other fretting dads with daughters, on edge about their girls coming of age in 7 or so years and wondering how to deal with suitors and other dad fears. I’ll present this as I worked it out in my head.
First was addressing the visceral fears, and accepting them. No, I really don’t want my daughter to grow up and to meet boys and god forbid have sex with them. At least, that’s the self-centered emotional state. To be more accurate, I don’t want to deal with the emotions that will come from those phases of her life, which make me dread the events themselves, but you’d never hear me saying I don’t want her to grow up and live her own fulfilling life. I put my entire life on hold for my children, I took a different path. Rather than work our asses off into our thirties and then have children in the house until we were collecting social security, we decided to have kids sooner and then tear into our careers after they left. So I’m as motivated as any parent for the children to grow up and leave. Yet, even with the internal inconsistency, the universal dread of fathers remains, and it has to be dealt with in a healthy way. I thought about the options, I tried to pin down the components of that fear. After all, I wasn’t fearful about ruining Emily’s life when I pursued her. Conversely, all of my daughter’s pursuers, as imaginary as they are right now, are imagined with contempt and suspicion. Perhaps that’s because I know that there’s only one motive I can count on from those suitors, no matter which other motives they may have, good or bad. That’s when it hit me. That’s what I’m dreading. What if she makes bad choices? There’s no way I’m going to let her wither on the vine if she does make a mistake you know?
So the internal conversation shifts. How do I maximize my daughter’s chances of making good choices? I started considering the common options, and discarding the bad ones. I certainly knew some things that just don’t work. Sheltering is a big no-no. Wrap your kids in bubble wrap and they never grow up. This is the method of people who, having their dread of the future, simply and futilely try to prevent it. When your teenager hits their rebellious phase, what exactly is it they’re going to be rebelling against? Something to keep in mind. Sheltered girls seem to get into trouble, for two reasons that conspire together to form tragedy. The first is ignorance. Ignorance of sexuality, sexual health, anatomy, and the consequences of sex. These are the girls that fall for ‘just the tip’—I’m not talking about the ones that do that on purpose, you know who you are—and the pullout method for birth control. They’re naive and that’s bad enough on their own, but it’s made worse by the fact that naivety attracts the very people predisposed to take advantage of it. Ignorance also leaves a person ill equipped to resist peer pressure. Secondly, the shelter method can and often does produce an impulse to go taste forbidden fruit, usually indiscriminately, and that indiscretion is specifically what we’re trying to avoid when it comes right down to it. These two combine, the eagerness to seek the forbidden thing, and the ignorance of its dangers, to make for a really sad ending.
I briefly considered the other extreme, very early education. It’s something I’d seen talked about in passing, but the more I thought about it the less it made sense to me personally. At this age, kids are just absolutely curious about everything, and they don’t make good decisions. First of all, I’m a firm believer in letting your children enjoy their time as children for as long as is healthy. Second, simply knowing about it could be a motivator for premature and ill-considered exploration. Three yearolds aren’t exactly good at things like delayed gratification, curiosity deferment, or taking into account the consequences of actions. So all the curiosity would penetrate, but none of the warnings would, is what I considered a very likely outcome.
So what other methods are available? How do we encourage our daughters to grow without throwing them to the wolves? I watched my three yearold. I took in her personality, which I was always familiar with, but I really sat down and watched it, and I noticed a few things. Aside from being utterly adorable, smart, and especially precocious, she’s quite picky. Heh, now there’s an idea, what if she was as picky with her boys as she was with her food? That’d be nice. She’s also somewhat athletic. She loves climbing and shamed her much older brother into going up a faux rock wall because she was going to do it first. I got this image in my head of a strong athletic woman that didn’t take crap. That’s when it hit me. Confidence.
I figured the best thing I could do for my daughter was build up her sense of self-worth. Spend time with her, be a father figure, be a role model. No really think about those words, role model. I am her model not just for what a father should be but also for what a husband should be, right now I’m the only one she knows. I’m pretty sure Emily would tell you that while I’m not perfect, because who is, I’m already a pretty darn good role model as a husband. But my daughter doesn’t really see even half of those moments, I didn’t think osmosis was good enough. So I started setting aside a little time once in a while to take her on little dates. That reminds me, we’re a bit over due. I already do this with my son, that is, I make one on one time for him away from his mother and his siblings to just spend a bit of time together and learn how I tic. That relationship comes a little more natural, it’s not a conscious thing. All I have to do around my son is do dad stuff, it’s a direct relationship, I’m a man and that’s what he’s wanting to grow up to be, simple, intuitive. What I didn’t realize was it was just as simple with my daughter, I just hadn’t considered my status as a role model. Simple, just less intuitive.
So I took her on a date, and what a nice time that was. We went for ice cream and I took her to the new age store to pick out a pretty rock to display in her room. She set her eyes on a nice gypsum sphere and she admires it regularly. We’ve been on a few more since, and she’s been increasingly sweet on me, which, that’s just kryptonite, it’s something I can’t explain to anyone without a daughter. There’s a few things going on here that I think are going to be very positive for her long term. One, I’m setting a positive relationship as our base state, which helps counterbalance the hard-to-do but absolutely necessary regimen of my role as a disciplinary figure, this is going to help me convince her to confide in me later, so I know when she gets into trouble before that spirals out of control into worse trouble. Second, it’s helping her sense of self-worth to get dedicated one on one time. Third, I’m teaching her the standards by which she should expect to be treated by men through my behavior. Fourth, I’m decoupling the idea of having a good time on a date with a sexual payoff, and I think you’d be surprised how entwined those concepts have become—consider what tinder has done to the expectation of dates.
I’ve been enjoying employing this method, which I’m hoping accomplishes my goals in raising my daughter, but only time will tell. To make that more clear, here’s what I’m hoping I’ll accomplish in the long run. I’d like to foster her sense of self worth, which will hopefully allow me to explain the consequences of sex without seeming adversarial or sex negative—this is a sex positive household after all. It’s not the idea of sex I want my daughter to devalue, it’s that I want her to value herself highly enough to be in charge of her sexuality rather than carried by it. I’d like her to be able to be mature enough to acknowledge her desires as healthy so that she can process them in a way that allows her to make good decisions about who she shares that with, and I want her to feel like she can confide in me and her mother without fearing the consequences more than continuing down a bad path, because ultimately it is her decision making skills I’m going to have to trust and rely on later on. I can’t do it for her. On that note, it’s also important to make sure to pass on skills that increase her independence; from how to get and hold down a job, cooking, financial skills, and employable skills, one of the easiest ways to end up in a bad situation is to be dependent on someone else for your care and contribute to a sense of inability to walk away, and that goes for sons and daughters alike. The ability to walk away is the strongest position of negotiation. Competence and confidence surely is the best defense, therefore.
I’ve shared these thoughts with other concerned fathers, and though they experience the same apprehension and dread as I do about witnessing the future, they like the idea of my method. After all, they all know too, from experience, how inadequate alternate methods were when they were doing the chasing. They also remember how scary and intimidating the collected and confident girls were. Ultimately, it’s not me I want potential suitors to fear for disrespecting my daughter, it’s her. There, yeah, I think that’s the point of this method summed in a sentence. As I said before, these thoughts don’t really feel complete yet, and perhaps they’ll change over time, but until then, that’s my current thinking. ‘Til next time.