Raising Strong Daughters
By Mark Brandenburg
When my daughter was born, I must admit there was a distinctly different feeling to it compared to the birth of my son. Part of me was thrilled, but part of me was unsure of how to deal with a gender that I still couldn't quite understand.
When my son was born, there was a clear sense that this was territory that I knew: there will be wrestling, playing ball together, playing with cars -- and he has a penis! There was a sense of security from all of this and a deep sense of knowing.
Raising a daughter creates different issues for many fathers; it's even more challenging considering the cultural landscape that exists today. To better understand these issues, it's helpful to explore the expectations of girls that we have as fathers, many of which may be expectations handed down from our own fathers.
Some men feel a strong need to control their daughters, and expect them to act "nice" at all times. Others shower their daughters with all of the gifts and things that they'll ever need, seeing them as weaker than boys and therefore not encouraging strength and discipline in them.
It's easy for fathers to treat their sons and daughters differently. They can be rough-and-tumble with their sons but treat their daughters with kid gloves. This opportunity to wrestle or to play physically with your daughters is extremely important, because it shows them that you believe they're capable enough to handle it. (If your daughter is 18, it's probably not a good idea to start now.)
The cultural messages we get are that girls and young women are valued for being beautiful, thin, talented, etc. Girls should also be happy, agreeable and eager to please. This cultural backdrop may be partly responsible for the alarming statistics concerning rates of depression, anorexia, bulimia and other disorders for girls when they are approaching or have entered their teen years.
Overcoming the barriers
So how can fathers overcome some of these barriers and help create daughters who become strong, secure women?
If fathers want their daughters to grow up to be strong and secure women, it is absolutely essential that they like women and that they respect them. No matter how negative and pervasive the cultural messages are, your daughter's self-esteem is greatly impacted by your attitude. If fathers think that women are weaker and need protection, they will tend to raise daughters who are weak and dependent.
To a significant degree, your daughter's success in life and in love is in your hands.
As fathers go through the process of raising daughters, they may have to question everything they thought they knew about the sexes and the difference between men and women.
How is it that you learn about these things? You learn by allowing your daughters to teach you about them every day. You learn by not attempting to control or protect your daughters. You learn by opening up your hearts and not having the answers all of the time for your daughters (or your sons).
If you can allow your daughters to enjoy being female as much as you enjoy being male, you've taken a big first step. If you can also allow your daughter to make most of her own decisions, you will probably enjoy a great relationship with her. You will also know a lot more about women than you did before.
Ways you can help
Here are some action points for fathers with their daughters.
Fully explore your expectations for your daughter. See where you may be too controlling in her life or are overly protecting her.
Create special times with your daughter each week, one on one, when you can ask her questions about her life and become more fully aware of who she is. Make this time sacred and let her know it's important to you.
Expect your daughter to be strong and competent; she'll know that you do and will respond accordingly.
If your daughter is a teenager or close to it, explore your attitude about your daughter's sexuality; many fathers are uncomfortable with this and leave their daughters emotionally when they need them the most.
Be a great model for how men treat women in your relationship with your wife.
Talk to other fathers who have had daughters and find out how they have dealt with the challenges of raising a daughter.
Your daughter is depending on your healthy attitude to help her to navigate a culture that is not always positive for girls. Take a step back and examine your view towards women and girls. Are there changes you want to make? Your daughter will help you to make those changes, if you'll just listen.
© Mark Brandenburg.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to fathers and business owners. Read more about our NFO contributor Mark Brandenburg.