The fire in your family's fireplace can be stoked to burn brightly, or it can be ignored so that it burns out. Your daughter is born with an inner beauty. She is a child of the King, made in His image. By encouraging her spirit, you can help stoke the flames of her inner beauty, helping her to radiate; but by damaging or ignoring her spirit, you can ensure it will smolder, go cold, and die out. Will you be incendiary?
Encourage, Don't Crush
The indispensable key to building a great relationship with your daughter is this: encourage her spirit, and never ever crush it. Your daughter needs her dad to fan the flames of her heart. She does not need you to be the over-controlling dad who makes her feel like she's walking on eggshells all the time. Did you like it when your parents were overly controlling?
Yet your daughter also doesn't need a dad who has checked out of her life-a deadbeat dad. Your daughter needs you. She needs you to invest everything you have into her, build a relationship with her, and electrify her spirit so that she can explode with life-both now and in the future. She needs you to be careful to never kill, damage, or harm her inner spirit; instead, she needs you to encourage her to grow into the person she should become. For your daughter's sake, you must try.
If you want to strangle your daughter's passion for life, become an authoritarian, rule-dispensing dictator. Be stern and quash her spirit. If you want to damage your daughter's spirit, engage in inappropriate and abusive sexual behavior. You will wound her forever. If you want to dim the light within her, neglect her and make her work hard for your attention. She'll become good at pleasing people.
Breaking the Trend
It breaks my heart to see how many of us are wounding our daughters-even unintentionally. We need to step up, take responsibility, and say, "It's not my brother or my sister, but it's we-the dads-who are missing the mark." John Eldredge nails the sad reality of dads harming their daughters when he writes, "Her [wound] almost always comes at the hand of her father."
As a Christian college professor, I have spent many hours talking with female students. Many have described the long term pain caused by their dads. The young women have talked about the negative impact of their dads, ranging from different forms of abuse to different ways that their dads have been absent. It has come to the point that when a woman describes her dad as largely irrelevant, I almost jump for joy because no impact is better than a negative impact.
I estimate that about one-half of the women I have talked with have been harmed by their dads, about one-fifth have had dads who've had little impact on them, and about three in ten have been positively influenced by their dads. Some painful experiences college students have shared with me include:
"I always felt fat. One time when I was in the kitchen eating, my dad walked in and said, 'No wonder you have a weight problem.' That hurt more than any taunts hurled at me by kids at school because it was my dad. It still hurts thinking about it."
"When I was ten, my sisters and I found a stash of porn in the basement. I wonder today as a grown up if he's still into it."
"I have a severe lack of respect for my dad because everything he does is selfish and lazy. He was never the provider, always seemed to be in some state of self-pity, never held down a job, and he neglected his wife and other children."
"My dad only knows things about me he can observe. He and I haven't discussed the more meaningful things of life. As much as I have wanted to grow deeper with him, he remains on the surface. Consequently, I don't feel comfortable talking with him."
When I see so many hurting young women, I find myself wondering: What's going on? What's wrong? Have things become so bad that inadequate parenting is the new normal? If so many dads are abusive and absent, what can be done to stop them, help the women heal, and turn this around so that we stop harming our daughters in the future? Might the next generation of dads become good influences on their daughters' lives?
Vision magazine interviewed Linda Nielsen, a psychologist, professor, and author. The first question put to her was, "In researching the importance of fathers to daughters, I was able to find long lists of articles on father-daughter incest, but very little on any impact that positive father-daughter relationships may have on the lives of women. Why do you suppose that is?" That was the first question! What's going on?
Ask your wife whether she has any friends who were harmed by their dads when they were growing up. I bet if you listen to her, you won't doubt that you are influential in your daughter's life; you'll know. Then, vow that you will never be like the dad she just described to you-ever. Vow that you will be the best dad you can be.
When an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse heard that April and I were having twins, she looked at me with both sadness for her own experience and joy from the future of those twin girls and said, "Good, those are children who will never have to go through what I went through." Vow that your daughter will be able to say the same about you.
My wife once told me about a friend who had grown up traumatized, hiding in the closet. Her friend remembers opening the door and asking her mom if it was safe. When she came home from school, she never knew what to expect from her dad. Her mom would tell the nurses at the hospital that her dad was getting better while they were bandaging her wounds. She remembers feeling like they were on vacation when her dad got sick and went to the hospital. Growing up, she lived in a perpetual state of fear, never knowing what harmful, destructive behavior would come next.
Vow that you will never, ever, abuse your daughter in any way-physically, emotionally, sexually, verbally, or psychologically. If the most precious place in the universe is your daughter's insides, then the most perilous place in hell is reserved for the one who damages them. By making this commitment, you will be taking the most important first step down the path of not harming her.
Tags: Parenting and Families