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The Willpower to Love

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Today’s post is an adapted excerpt from Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters:

As natural as the love you feel toward your daughter might be, there will be challenges to that love, from crying squalls when she’s a baby, to kindergarten tantrums, to other stresses of growing up that might show themselves in disrupted sleep patterns, moodiness, or ugly language. Your daughter, whatever her age, responds differently to stress than you do. If you’re upset, you might watch a football game, go for a jog, or go fishing. Not her. She wants to spill her tensions on you. It makes her feel better. So  be ready-and don’t be surprised if she does this from an early age. Many parents ask if daughters can experience PMS before puberty. My answer is yes. It doesn’t make good medical sense, but I see it repeatedly.

It’s inevitable too, that your daughter will go through stages. She’ll draw close to you, then she’ll pull away; she’ll adore you, then she’ll want nothing to do with you. You need to love her not only when she is your sweet affectionate girl, but also when she’s a real pain in the neck to be around. When she’s moody, you still need to communicate with her-and you need to keep yourself from exploding when she’s disagreeable.

How do you do that? Discipline. Grit. Will. If you need to distance yourself emotionally for a time, do it. If you need physical separation for a bit, okay. But always come back. Will, patience, calm, and persistence will pay off in your relationship with her. Nothing better expresses serious love than this combination of qualities. Let her know that nothing she does, even running away, getting pregnant, tattooing her ankle, or piercing her tongue, can make you stop loving her. Say that if  you need to.

Love must push us beyond ourselves. It will jab every sensitive part of you and turn you inside out. Having kids is terrifying because parenting is like walking around with your heart outside your chest. It goes to school and gets made fun of. It jumps into cars that go too fast. It breaks and bleeds.

But love is voluntary. Your daughter cannot make you love her or think she is wonderful. She would do that if she could, but she can’t. How you love her, and when you show it, is within your control.

Most parents pull away from their teenage daughters, assuming they need more space and freedom. Actually, your teenage daughter needs you more than ever. So stick with her. If you don’t she’ll wonder why you left her.

I know this is tough stuff. But it’s worth it.

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