Dear Dr. Meg,
I am the father of a beautiful 8-year-old girl who means the world to me. She is our only child (at present), and I wanted to ask you how best I can nurture and protect her heart as she grows up. I want her to grow into a strong, confident woman who knows how loved and valued she is and how she should be treated by others – especially by the men who she will eventually have in her life. Any advice/tips would be greatly appreciated!
You sound like a wonderful father! The very fact that you are asking how you can best love your daughter shows me how dedicated you are to raising a strong, amazing girl. She’s very lucky to have you.
Here are a few things to consider as you move forward in your parenting journey –
1. The love a father gives his daughter is her introduction to male love. It is her reference point. You have other female loves in your life, but she doesn’t have other male loves when she is young. Every man who enters her life will be compared to you; every relationship she has with a man will be filtered through her relationship with you. If you have a good relationship, she will choose boyfriends who will treat her well. If she sees you as open and warm, she’ll be confident with other men. If you’re cold and unaffectionate, she’ll find it hard to express love in a healthy way.
The love a father gives his daughter is her introduction to and reference point for male love.
2. One of the most important purposes of your time with her is to help her feel better about who she is. Research shows that daughters who feel a stronger emotional connection with their fathers feel more attached to them. And the more attached she feels to you, the lower the likelihood that she will be depressed or have an eating disorder.
3. Listen to your daughter. Girls like to talk more than boys and men. It’s healthy for girls to talk a lot, but it can be a problem for you because men are experts at tuning out. You have a lot on your mind, you’re less verbal than women are, and all of us, particularly when we’re really busy, have a tendency not to give people full attention. So when you’re together, she’ll probably do most of the talking. Just listen patiently, and don’t try to fake it. Daughters can tell right away when dads aren’t listening.
Boundaries and fences are a must for girls, particularly during the teen years.
4. Boundaries and fences are a must for girls, particularly during the teen years. Remember that whatever she says, the very fact that you thoughtfully and consistently enforce rules of behavior makes her feel loved and valued. Think about the kind of dad that you want to be. Sure, it will take hard work. But love isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about doing what you don’t want to do, but what you know is best for her, over and over again. Love is really about self-sacrifice.
At the beginning of her life, she will feel your love, and at the end of her life, you will be on her heart and in her mind in one way or another. What happens in between is up to you. Love her extraordinarily. This is the heart of great fathering.