How can you be a great Dad to your teen daughter, when you’re divorced?
I divorced Flea’s Dad over ten years ago now. One of the things that I really thought about back then was how my choice not to be married shouldn’t affect Flea’s right to have two loving, involved parents.
Co-parenting isn’t always easy. We definitely don’t have it all sorted.
What I’ve learned is there are times in life when co-parenting seems easy and natural. And there are times it will just about break your heart. The way you co-parent changes as your child changes. And you adjust and you stumble, and you do your best.
With that in mind, today I wanted to share some of the things I think divorced dads should know about parenting. And especially parenting their daughters.
Dads are our First Role Model
As a Dad, you are your daughter’s first and most important role model. How you treat her will shape how she expects men to treat her throughout her life.
Love her. Tell her that you love her, all the damn time. Tell her when she’s angry. Tell her when she makes mistakes. Tell her even if she’s let you down or doesn’t want to talk to you. The Dad you are now is a huge part of the man she’ll choose as a partner one day. Don’t you want that guy to love her in the very best way possible?
Divorced Dads: Treat Your Former Partner Well
Your daughter is also watching how you treat the OTHER most important person in her life.
Understandably, if you’re divorced there are bound to be frustrations, and hurt feelings. It’s complicated. But all of that should be out of sight. What your daughter should see is that men should be able to handle difficult emotions, and still treat women with kindness and respect. Always.
Learn to Do Hair
When Flea was younger she had a terrible habit of not brushing her own hair. One summer she went to stay with her Dad for two weeks and told him that during the holidays, she didn’t have to brush her hair.
And he believed her. He doesn’t have hair, so I guess he has an excuse..
Anyway, while I spent three hours de-tangling, Flea explained she didn’t like Daddy to do her hair because it hurt. It’s a shame Dad missed out on those bedtime hair brushing sessions for all those years.
Learning to do your daughter’s hair isn’t hard – it just takes a little time. And if you want to be the super dad who can do braids and do’s, well, that’s why YouTube exists.
Despite what she says to her friends, Flea loves the fact that I turn up at every hockey match she plays. Children notice this stuff.
As a non-resident Dad it won’t always be easy to show up to a tournament, a play, or a party. But you should. Because it tells your child they’re important. That you’ll adjust your schedule to see them. That you’ll miss that football match because they are playing Three Blind Mice on a guitar in the school hall.
Don’t be Disneyland Dad
If you’re a non-resident parent, you might only see your child for one or two days a week. It’s 100% understandable that divorced dads want to fill those days with MAXIMUM FUN.
But you’re a Dad. Your job is really just about quality time with your daughter.
That might be as simple as going for a picnic in the park, or making a meal together. The key thing is to make that time as interactive as possible – make sure you’re talking, and doing things together. Those little moments and memories are what’s going to build the closeness that will see you through times that you can’t be together.
Flea’s Dad used to see some things as being a “waste” of the time he and Flea spent together. Why would he want to spend time taking her to parties, or visiting the hairdresser or buying new socks? But those small domestic moments are what teach her that you show up for ALL of it. That’s being a Dad.
Love Their Music
Flea’s Dad is a serious music person. If he had his way Flea would be listening to music from the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on punk, prog rock and “serious” musicians.
But he’s not above sitting on his computer at 8am trying to get tickets to the BTS concert, or asking about the latest single from her favourite K-Pop band.
For starters, modern music is really pretty good, at times. And second, when your child really, really loves a song and can’t help but sing along? That’s a lovely moment and you don’t want to miss it.
Use Technology Freely
Technology gets a bad rap, but it’s how girls today connect with their friends.
Flea’s Dad texts her most days with book and movie recommendations, or links to interesting articles. She does often ignore them (to be honest) but she knows her Dad is thinking about her.
Occasionally Flea will send her Dad details of an article she’s read, or a meme that made her laugh. She’ll FaceTime him on holiday or send him a photo where she looks particularly cute. It’s just about keeping up those small moments of connection.
You’re the Dad
Parenting isn’t always easy, whether you’re living with your child or not.
Sometimes kids will make mistakes. Sometimes they’ll be distant, or hurtful. I think for divorced dads it’s so easy to take those moments and overanalyse them. To imagine your relationship is less than it is, or that you’re irrelevant, or unloved.
Remember this: You’re the Dad. Nothing on earth will ever change the fact, and nobody else will ever fill your shoes. Every bit of research confirms that Dads are hugely important to girls’ development. So stick it out and remember that you’re irreplaceable.
Don’t Withdraw from your Teen Daughter
Don’t back off when your daughter maybe needs you the most.
Flea is 13, now, and occasionally I’ll see her Dad is a bit unsure. He is less willing to give her a hug, or tell her he loves her. He’s not so sure if she wants to talk, or spend time together. He doesn’t want to talk about dating. AT ALL.
I know it’s awkward but your teen daughter needs you as much as she ever did.
Make the effort to overcome the weirdness and learn about periods, and Snapchat. Don’t refuse to discuss her crush, or to buy her a new bra if she needs one. Whatever it is, let her know that you are there for ALL of it.
But don’t ever mention any of “all of it” in front of her friends. Just a tip.
Build her Confidence
Flea’s life is a never-ending round of worry about her hair, her make-up, her trainers, her school marks, her Snapchat score. It’s tough being a girl in this superficial, social media age.
Sometimes, a divorced Dad can add to the pressure by expecting a bulletin of results and achievements when they’re together. How did your match go? What about that maths test? Did you get that part you auditioned for? Were you selected for the team?
I tell Flea’s Dad to ask me those things, first. That way he can focus on being his daughter’s cheerleader.
The best thing divorced dads can do is celebrate their daughter’s successes, and remind them that it’s what inside that counts, not their figure, or their face, or even a test score or hockey trophy.
Remind your daughter that she’s special, just for who she is.
So there you have it. My top ten tips for divorced dads with daughters.
I hope that they’ll prove helpful to some of my readers. But please remember that none of us are perfect at this stuff. And so long as your daughter has two loving parents who are trying their best, it’ll probably all work out just fine.
photo credit: shutterstock
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