It’s not easy being a young woman these days. Dealing with a teenage daughter can be a very painful challenge for many dads. I grew up with one sister, my mom, and my dad. Translate: Three women, one man. Poor dad was outnumbered. He learned – for his own survival – that estrogen could be a life threatening toxin if not handled properly and to NEVER leave the toilet seat up. (I still can’t believe anybody does that!)
You may have heard about the “love-respect” connection when it comes to husbands and wives. Emerson Eggerichs hit it out of the park, in my opinion, in his book Love and Respect. When a man feels disrespected and a woman feels unloved they usually enter what he calls “the crazy cycle:” he acts unlovingly and she behaves disrespectfully. It’s the central issue for each.
What a couple may fight about often bears little importance. The heart of most marital problems boils down to this basic issue. Men primarily need to feel respected and women primarily need to feel loved. Naturally it works the other way around as well, but when it comes to dominant need that’s the heart of it.
Relationships between fathers and daughters can be a more dicey playing field. The natural individuating phase that adolescents and young adults go through presents challenges with all kids but especially for dads with daughters. The little princess – once daddy’s little girl who was all giggles and sweetness – seems to morph from Snow White into Maleficent. It can really shake a man’s world.
I remember one battle I had with my father when I was 15. Back then I was a rebel without a cause, reading about Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and other 60’s radicals and wanting to be part of something bigger than myself. A movie came out about Lenny Bruce, a controversial comedian known for his obscenity and drug abuse that my father clearly held in low regard. He would not allow me to see it and I was outraged. He explained that this was not a good guy and he didn’t want me exposed to his life, to which I replied “I’m 15. Let me form my own opinion!” His (probably very exasperated) reply: “You’re 15. You have no opinions!” To which I responded: “Oh yeah? I have a pretty strong one about you right now!” It was ugly. I didn’t see the movie. I was mad. But he was right to stop me. I couldn’t know that back then. I know it now. It was a battle worth fighting – and one I never forgot. My dad died when I was only 23 and just starting to get a clue about the world. My social conscience and rebellious nature soon channeled into fighting for the rights of the unborn and their mothers so deeply wounded by abortion. Dad’s conservatism may have paled in comparison to what mine later came to be.
A young girl can’t possibly understand the many evils in the world that threaten her. Her beautiful innocence can’t fathom such things. But a Dad is excruciatingly and relentlessly aware and wants to protect her. As girls individuate and spread their wings, a father may feel more and more powerless and less and less important in the eyes of his little princess. But it’s not true. He’s still vitally important but his approach may need to change in significant ways. The natural impulse to protect her from harm and bad influences never goes away…and shouldn’t. But communication needs to replace the hard and fast rules that worked so well when she was little. She’s a young woman trying to find her way and find what’s meaningful in her life. She still needs love, but starts demanding respect, often in ways that can (ironically) be so very disrespectful to Dad.
Recognizing that she is her own unique person and separate from her parents may cause her to question her values and her faith. Is this what she really believes in or are these just her parents’ values that she accepted without much thought? It may look like she’s just going along with the crowd…hardly her own person at all. (Think pink hair). Probably true. In trying to be different from her parents, she’s unconcerned that she is so much like others in the herd trying to do the same thing. It’s part of the process as she explores her emerging adulthood.
How parents navigate this difficult phase can make a huge difference in not only the ultimate outcome but in the daily strife that occurs. Moms have an important role to play here. Modeling respectful behavior for her husband and presenting a unified front to the kids is more critical than ever. Mom may understand her daughter’s feelings better and want to advocate for her, but that’s best done behind closed doors. Preserving Dad’s dignity and role as head of the house will more likely open him up to listening to the feminine / teenage perspective.
Moms also need to help girls to understand how important it is to show their fathers the respect they’re due and how that will ultimately get them closer to their goals for more freedom (and to gain Dad’s respect). Dads, getting in touch with your own feelings can help clarify the struggle for you too. Your daughter may not realize how wounding her disrespect is to you. Letting her see your hurt – and not just your anger – can be very sobering to a young girl. Remember she’s young and learning. When she started walking she stumbled and fell a lot. Same here. As she wobbles her way onto her adult feet be there to pick her up and be patient. The road may be bumpy at times, but that’s part of the inevitable growing pains.
And please remember this too: You may have done everything right. You may have tried your best to instill the right values, morals and faith. Your kid’s challenging but that doesn’t mean failure on your part. Most will come back to those core values in the long run. I did. We’re up against a powerful culture that claws at the family seeking to destroy it at every turn. Stand firm in prayer. That’s where the true battle lies. It can also help a lot to get some parent coaching to help you minimize or work through the rough spots. You wouldn’t try to win the Super Bowl on your own without a coach. Don’t skimp on the more important game of life!
Allison is also the Founder and President of www.CatholicTherapists.com, a nationwide network of dedicated Catholic therapists.
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