Leading the WayCredit: Spirit-Fire, CC by 2.0, FlickrAfter writing “5 Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your Daughter”, I decided to extend the list with an additional post.  Some of the tips might seem hokey and some might seem obvious, but if you glance down through the headers, you might find one that relates to you.

Before we start, ask yourself a critical question - What issue about your daughter irritates you the most?  If you answered attitude, lack of responsibility, or lack of direction you might enjoy reading the original 5 Tips article first and progress through the entire list. Each of the tips shares a real life story and addresses common issues we face as Dads.  Yes, Moms face many of the same issues, but I have learned from being married several years not to speak on her behalf.  Can you say “whipped”?   She describes me as a “classic”.  I am guessing that may be wife code for “snores while napping on Saturdays” but I may never know.  Anyways, during the process of raising 3 girls, we have had to develop techniques for to establish some level of structure in our lives.   Let’s jump in.

Tip # 6 - Learning to Drive

If you want to get a teenager’s attention, simply say the words “Want to learn how to drive?”  Their heads will perk up, eyes will burst wide open, and they will all but knock you over running for the door.  Teaching my girls to drive has been one of the most enjoyable tasks as a parent I have had the pleasure of providing.  The secret is to appear relaxed.  There will be a variety of anxieties that will rush through your head, but showing the “I have confidence in you” face at all times will increase your child’s confidence in the training process.  My wife tried to go out for a drive with our oldest daughter intending to share her knowledge, but unfortunately both ladies came back pretty upset and in tears.  My wife is not a risk taker and she kept stomping on the passenger side floor looking for the break and kept blurting “oh my” comments every 50 feet. While she was frightened to the bone, she also frightened our daughter during the trip.  Upon returning home, my wife passed me the keys and said “I’m all set, she’s all yours”.  Oops!

I use the build-up technique.  My goal is to start simple to build their confidence.  By doing so, I believe this reduces the likelihood of the new driver panicking or freezing at the wheel.   On the 1st lesson, I sit in the passenger seat with a coffee cup full of water resting on my lap.  I tell the enthusiastic pilot the lesson ends when my lap gets wet from the cup spilling. In great confidence, they start the car in our driveway, put the vehicle in gear and nail the gas.  You guessed it.  The 1st lesson ends in 3 seconds.  I get out of the car with a wet crotch and they chuckle with me over the situation.  With the tension now behind us after a big laugh, I refill the cup with water, get into the driver seat, they get into the passenger seat, I pass them the cup with water and grin as they stare at the cup of water with anticipation. As I gently back up the vehicle and drive the car down the road, their 1st lesson of easy on the gas and easy on the brake sets in.

The focus of the entire experience is to get them to relax emotionally and build on each experience.   As the lessons become more difficult, we developed a routine of stopping at McDonalds for a McCafe Frappe.  With no cell phones or texting the entire trip, we now have a chance to talk about what they learned from that day’s lesson and anything else that they decide to bring up for discussion.    I say discussion, but they do most of the talking.


Tip # 7 - Nursing Home / Death

You would assume this section to be a downer, morbid, or boring but it’s not.  An elderly man having lived a great life, my dad passed away last year.  He was in a nursing home for 9 months prior to his passing.  During this time, my mother’s world seemed to be crumbling around her.

Also during this time period, I lived and worked 3 hours away as a contractor, so taking time off from work meant no income.   Being her oldest son, I needed to find a balance.   After my 1st weekend trip to visit, I off-the-cuff asked one of my teenage girls if she’d like to go with me to visit Grampa and keep me (and Grammy) entertained.  On the ride up, I began to wonder if this was such a good idea.  A couple reasons for my reservation.

  1. Was my daughter going to be bored the entire weekend?
  2. Was visiting a nursing home going to upset her?
  3. Was she going to survive a weekend without wifi?

We spoke briefly on the ride up.  The conversation was 15 minutes and she read the remaining 2 ½ hours.  Not an overly chatty person so I wasn’t surprised by the quiet trip.

After 2 nights staying at my folk’s house and trips to the local nursing home to see my dad, my daughter and I headed back home.  On the ride home I asked her “How was your weekend?”   A short response with a simple shrug of her shoulders emerged from the seat next to me.  Then I asked “So, what are 3 things you enjoyed most about the weekend?”  The response somewhat threw me as she raved about a variety of topics; how nice it was to see Grampa, how she had fun playing cards with Grammy, how the food at the nursing home was better than she expected, and how she like staying at Grammy’s house.  With curiosity, I then asked more about each response.  The ride home was 2 hours of chatter and she took a nap the last hour after she ran out of breath.  Go figure!

Two weeks later, I asked my teenager is she would like to go again and she jumped up and said sure.  This turned into a twice a month routine to visit my dad and mom on the weekends while he was in the nursing home.  Each trip we would take Grammy to a new restaurant for breakfast.  The tip here is don’t assume you need to shelter your child from the nursing home setting, don’t assume they won’t understand the reality of the situation, and given a chance to come up with ideas for entertainment or conversation, your child’s creativity may surprise you.

Tip # 8 - Dating

Dads want to know their daughters are safe.  Unfortunately, our love for them leads us to be overly protective.  The realist side of me tells me I want to know she can make informed decisions and good choices when I’m not around.  How to bridge this divide?

I found the best strategy is to be candid with your child.  When at a school event and we observe a student being disrespectful towards their boyfriend/girlfriend, we point out the issue and mention to the girls “there’s the kind of jerk you should avoid”.  If we observe someone playing nicely with their younger siblings or with a younger niece or nephew, I will mention how nice it is to see someone who is caring towards others.  If, over dinner, one of my girls mentions a student who was violent at school I ask what kind of crowd do they hang with or associate with and give that look of disapproval. 

Never which one, but always sharing with them the characteristics to avoid is the best approach.  I think of dating as another example of them making an informed decision, a conscience choice to who they want to affiliate themselves.  My role as a parent is not to make decisions for them, but to coach them and share with them different ways to look at things and encourage them to make solid choices.

I want my children to be outgoing and have confidence in themselves.  I want them to surround themselves with other caring individuals.  I want them to develop long-term relationships.  I want them to know I trust their judgment and, in the process, they come to trust me as not being judgmental about their choices and tend to share with me their thoughts of what is happening in their lives.

Tip # 9 - Voting

When did you first vote?   Every one of my daughters, since age 3, has gone with me to our local City Hall during elections.  Living in a small town, I know quite a few folks in line waiting to vote and also most of the individuals who handle the check-in / check-out process.  I walk in holding my daughter’s hand and announce “I’m here with my political advisor”.   My loud announcement always receives a warm welcome and a chuckle from most in line.  While the vote itself is an individual choice, the voting process is a social event here in NH.

I never voted until I was 25 years old.  I didn’t know how.  No one ever taught me.  The “voting booth” was distant, the process secretive, and foreign. Not knowing the process, I didn’t originally participate in it when I turned 18 years of age.

I wanted each of my girls to know the process, know where to go to vote, and know that it’s okay to make it a family event.  Every one of my girls while in elementary school has chaperoned me to the polls. Every one of my girls has held “The Sacred Pen” as I pointed to which circle to fill in and we cast my vote.  Everyone one of my girls has shared with me on the ride to the voting center what they heard about the candidates on television and in school.  And every one of my girls understands the term “civic duty” and I encourage them to participate in the community the live in.  They give out “I voted” stickers at the polling station.  Stickers and kids go well together.

The voting booth and the voting process is another opportunity to share perspectives with your child and introduce them to those in your community.

Tip # 10 - College

One of my most enjoyable road trips was with my oldest daughter to visit colleges one weekend.  She was trying to narrow her choice list prior to applying to several colleges.  The conversations between schools were the most interesting as she expressed what she liked/disliked about each visit and each college’s approach to the all famous Campus Tour.

Once she completed her applications, was accepted to a couple of schools, and made her decision based on a variety of factors, she shared with us what influenced her decision.  For me, it was about her decision process and the school she selected was a secondary concern.  I had confidence she would succeed regardless of which school she attended.  Passion and drive will flourishes from personal selection, not from choices imposes upon them.

Now that she is attending college, I hand write her a letter every Sunday and mail it via postal mail.  Why the old fashioned way?  I asked her how many text messages she gets a week. Response:  over 800.  I asked her how many letters she a week. Response: only 1-2.   So, I decided to hand write her each week as it seemed more personal.  To add some entertainment to the situation, I change the ship to name on the envelope each week.  One week it was “The Best Daughter in the World”, another week it was “Daughter of a Proud Father”, and last week was “The Society Against Boring Letters”.   In her first year of college, I have not yet put her name on the envelope and I have always come up with quirky names instead.  Given a Box# and street address on the envelope, the college post office doesn’t care to who an envelope is addressed to.  They just stuff it in the box.

Additionally, I pick off-the-wall topics to write her about ranging from the amount of toilet paper a college consumes (we estimated 12 tons per month at our local university) to the pompous nature of English professors who lecture about proper writing skills, but have never successfully published a book.

Apparently, the letters have become a hit.  She joked with me last week that she shares them with a group of friends in her dorm.   College is stressful – being in a new environment and the constant focus on grades in the academic community.  Breaking the mold of being a conservative father by poking fun at myself and providing a once a week chuckle to her circle of friends has kept me feeling I’m still a part of her life and supporting her.

In Summary

A relationship is the culmination of shared events, shared thoughts, and shared interests.  Developing your child’s confidence and communication skills will pave the way for an open dialogue down the road.  I hope the tips are helpful.