Fathers and Daughters Part 2
When intentional and healthy, fathers and male figures can play such a crucial role in a young woman’s life. Modeling how a young woman is to be treated by other men in her life is a small part of that. Last week I mentioned that fathers can bring truth to young women that are learning how to interact with men in ways that sometimes mothers cannot. They can teach them what they should expect and what is right or wrong and I believe girls will listen. They can help them to avoid dangerous situations by bringing clarity with their perspective. Here are a few other important things fathers can do to help build into their daughters.
Model Life Skills
Many view homemaking roles such as cleaning, cooking, and parenting to be tasks made for women. In reality, these are life skills that any human can benefit from learning and practicing. The structures of many families have changed since many households depend on two incomes. Even without two incomes and two working parents, each family is unique. Family members need to compromise and share responsibilities that fit according to their own schedule and lifestyle. When fathers participate in all tasks in the home, they model for their daughters what can be expected and possibly necessary in their future homes. When fathers teach their daughters new skills outside of the norm they also create new opportunities for them.
Check Your Own Beliefs and Bias
When you think of the term tomboy it can conjure up images of little girls climbing trees and roughhousing. Although I grew up hearing this description, I’ve always wondered why a girl can’t just be a girl that enjoys doing fun stuff. Why do we do this to children in general? We assign games and activities as sex-specific, forgetting that as adults there are many activities that anyone and everyone can enjoy. Why do we put this pressure on kids to choose? Children are going to like to try different activities based on how they learn and replicate what they see. We shouldn’t be concerned if a child is “acting like a boy or a girl” based on the fun activities they are interested in.
Point Out and Reject Limiting Stereotypes
Are women good drivers? I think so. In my experience, I’ve met a few women that seem to be very intimidated by the act of driving. I’ve never understood this but my secret suspicion is that somehow unconsciously or consciously they have absorbed some of the bias toward them in driving. In my experience as an adult, I’ve heard many negative comments about women drivers. I’ve even absorbed some of the bias myself. In my line of work, I’ve often had to chauffeur children and youth around. I’ve had jokes or comments made to me about my driving skills that were just as efficient as the men around me. Once, after driving and arriving to an event with a group of kids, one of the young boys said to me. “Thanks Nana for driving! I don’t know why people say women drivers are bad… you’re an excellent driver!” (So cute, right?!) But this young man was under ten, if he has already absorbed this limiting stereotype that doesn’t apply to him imagine the impact of this stereotype on young girls who will need to learn to drive. Will this affect how they perceive themselves as drivers? What about adding to ways they may feel they need to compensate as drivers? I believe these kinds of situations can lead to women feeling like they don’t belong in the driver’s seat and feeling fearful when they are forced to drive. If you’re married let your wife drive sometimes when you are in the car (if she wants to) and don’t say anything patronizing. (I know I’m being hard on the guys here!) Your children are watching.
Believe your daughter is capable. Encourage your daughters to push past their fears and help them to feel supported enough to take chances.
Encourage Her to Express Her Emotions
You have an important task of being in tune with your own emotions and allowing your daughter to express her full range of emotions without fear of being rejected. If she feels strongly about something don’t try to minimize how she is feeling. Listen and validate where you can.
Help Her have a Positive Image of Her Body
Encourage health and exercise by modeling that life. Signing her up for sports teams is a good way to help her stay healthy.
Be careful who you label as beautiful in your daughter’s presence because she will be listening and learning from you. She may even compare herself to those you think are beautiful so make sure you are not encouraging unrealistic body expectations. Include compliment and notice the beauty of women who look like your daughter or have similar personalities. Teach her that her inner strength and wisdom are important parts for her to develop. Take notice whenever she tries to build this part of herself and create more opportunities for this. Make positive comments when you notice these traits in others.
What are some more ways a father can build into his daughter?