Men, our baby girls morph rapidly into women. We need to adjust our father practices to address their changing needs. Here are my suggestions for making continued contributions into my daughter’s life as she moves confidently into adulthood.
- Listen more than I speak.
She has heard most of my stories and can recite them. There is no need to replay them at every gathering. Participate in the conversation, but keep watch on the stream of words leaving my mouth. Don’t be a verbal fire hose or I may drown interaction.
- Wait to be asked for advice.
I think I have been everywhere, seen everything, and done everything. Who better to expound on any issue? Who better to lay out the plan of attack for conquering any challenge? Stop. Think back to age 25. How did I like older people showering me with recommendations, even though I had not requested their assistance? There were a few who listened, respected me, and packaged the response in such a way I wanted to return for more. That’s the idea here. Become the oracle, not the know-it-all.
- Give honest answers.
My experience can be a huge benefit to my daughter as she branches into life on her own. I must give her the truth, not some embellishment designed to preserve my popularity. She may not take my advice, but that’s her choice. My responsibility is to be a reliable source of information.
- Pre-trip her car as often as possible.
Professional drivers do not leave the terminal until they complete a basic check of the vehicle. For my daughter’s car this can be a simple inspection—fill her windshield reservoir, add air to the tires, and check the condition of the wipers. Make sure she has a spare tire, or at least an up-to-date auto club membership.
- Wash her car.
Nothing says love like a squeaky clean car. Remove the bugs and tar—make it shine. Open all the doors, and use a leaf blower on the interior if that helps.
- Encourage her to explore new activities.
Life has a way of grinding participants into ruts. I need to encourage my daughter to experiment with new activities. This is her time to take that class, explore that hobby, or visit that special place. If I can help launch her investigation, I should step up and offer without being pushy.
- Support her right to make her own decisions.
She has her own home, checkbook, budget, and obligations. I resented meddling when I was that age, and with my vast experience at age 25, I never made every decision correctly. Learning from mistakes is part of the process. My daughter grew up under my coaching so I need to have a little faith in her.
- When she opts for a choice I would decline, I need to be quiet.
“A tattoo? Where? Wait, I don’t want to know. You paid $500 for a pillow? Are you nuts?” Any of these lines spoken aloud has the potential to damage my relationship with my daughter. Unless she is heading for danger, there are times it is better to remain silent.
- Love and accept her husband if she’s married.
Respect that young man as head of his home and support him. I’ve written a whole chapter on this topic in my book, “Help! My Daughter’s Getting Married!”, and will not repeat the advice here.
- Be respectful of her significant other if she is single.
My daughters will read this so I must be diplomatic. Some of the guys they brought home tripped my Dad alarm in the first five minutes. There were a few that crowded our ample living space with their huge egos. It was hard to be civil in those moments, but that was a necessity. In this culture I do not select my daughter’s husband. My strategy in these cases was to invest more time in prayer. Here’s a sample, “Lord, please get rid of this clown. Open her eyes so she can see the folly of spending one more minute with him. Amen.” God is a Father and He understands prayers like that.
- Don’t take sides in her relationship skirmishes.
Fighting and making up is part of any relationship. The couple needs to work it out for themselves. If outside counseling is needed, I should suggest they opt for a neutral third party. I should not insert myself onto the battlefield as the peacekeeper.
- Share my practical knowledge.
Sure, I can change the light switch in five minutes. But did that help my daughter (or her husband) learn anything? Slow down. Show her how. Explain. Let her try. I invested a long afternoon teaching my daughter to hang towel racks in her new place. By the end, she was doing the work, and I was watching. What a delight to find out she helped a neighbor hang her towel racks later that month.
- Recognize this question, “Hey Dad, how do I…?”, as a valuable opportunity.
This is an open door for me to come alongside and invest time with her. I will put down the TV remote and jump at the opportunity. I am a Dad and helping is what I do, no matter my daughter’s age.
- Share what I can materially.
I recall how hard it was using cardboard boxes covered with towels as end tables. I remember my stylish his and hers laundry baskets in the closet taking the place of dresser drawers. Furnishing a new home is a daunting exercise and represents a great time to ask, “Do I have anything I can donate to her new home?” Furniture, dishes, tools, yard equipment—the spectrum is broad, and each gift transfers some of my love to her home. Think of this as silent advertising for the Greatest Dad in the World.
- Understand she has multiple holiday commitments.
I need to put the guilt away and support her. Yes, I would like to have my darling at the table for every holiday celebration, but that is not a practical or reasonable expectation. Sure, I will miss her if she is not present, but I want to be cemented into her heart as a man who understands and gets it. I can practice this line, “I understand and we will miss you. Maybe we can get together in February. December is insanely busy. Be safe traveling, and let me know if I can help you.” Smile. Mean it. Live it.
- Help her be a successful homeowner.
Assist her in assembling a collection of homeowner tools, and teach her how to use them safely. Make a list of basic maintenance items such as shutting off water to a sink or toilet, shutting off water to the house, resetting a breaker, and changing the furnace filter. Many of these lessons will issue naturally from the “Hey Dad, how do I…?” question.
- Be a good guest in her home.
Respect her choices, traditions, and her way of doing things. Ask permission and be polite, the same as I would in a friend’s home. Remind myself, “I am not the head of this house.”
- Praise her for solid choices and good habits.
Acknowledge her brilliant insights. Make sure she knows beyond any shadow of doubt how I feel about her.
- Pray for her.
Ask God to bless and guide her. Ask Him to direct her paths. He is with her when I cannot be. He has resources, wisdom, and power beyond any Dad. Seems a waste not to ask Him to be involved with my daughter when He is so willing to love and share.
- Laugh with her.
Pull out the photo album, and enjoy a walk down memory lane. Sit around the table, phones and TV off, and talk. Play a game. Be silly. Invest in each visit with the goal of creating a desire to gather again.
- Be a gracious receiver of her gifts.
I find it tough when my daughter lavishes an expensive gift on me. After being Santa’s helper all those years, I still assume I’m supposed to give the gifts. The roles are shifting. She is my daughter, but she is also an adult, a friend, and her gift comes from the love in her heart. I need to accept it. And I enjoy the blessing anew as I think of her each time I use it.
- Thank her.
I should not assume my daughter owes me. I must not take advantage of my parent status and brow beat her with guilt. I want a lifelong friend who enjoys my company. Gratitude is the attitude.
- Send notes, texts, and emails just because.
When my daughter was running around the house I could scoop her up, squeeze her in a tight hug, and plant a kiss at any moment. I could look into those eyes and share a message of absolute honesty, “I love you. If all the girls in the world were lined up in a row, and I was told to pick the one I wanted, I would pick you.” Does she ever grow beyond needing this? All that changes is the delivery method. There is no excuse for not making contact and sharing love bombs just because.
- Don’t bug her about starting a family.
Her procreation or non-procreation is not my choice. If she raises the topic, I should listen, and be circumspect in answering her questions about parenting. Respect her individuality and privacy.
- I must love her mother unconditionally, always.