Dads Needed: Parenting Your Daughter When Separated

Being a dad to a little girl has its share of complexities, especially if the two are sometimes separated because of a custody arrangement. Though not always easy to navigate, the relationship a father has with his daughter is about more than warm, fuzzy feelings: it makes a difference in the woman she will become someday.

Fathers who take an active role in their daughters’ lives influence them positively when it comes to academics, self-image, and social interaction. A study published in the book “Fatherhood and Family Policy” found that girls sharing strong bonds with their fathers performed better in mathematics. The National Center for Education Statistics found that non-custodial fathers who take an active role in their children’s education lead to higher rates of kids with straight A’s. Academics are not the only way dads positively influence their little girls though. Young women with close relationships to their fathers are less likely to face early sexual activity, teenage pregnancy, and drug addiction.

The role a father plays in his daughter’s life is a vital one and dads who co-parent have to work even harder to maintain a healthy bond. Thankfully technology and contemporary parenting concepts of open communication bring healthy father-daughter relationships within reach, even if dad does not live in the same place. Here are some suggestions for maximizing that bond when you must be apart:

Go digital. Unless there is some sort of no-contact agreement in your custody arrangement, reach out to your daughter through text messaging and email on the days she is with her mother. Ask her specific questions about events happening at school or send her a quick “I love you” for no reason at all. Let her know that she is always on your mind, even when you are apart, and make her comfortable communicating with you digitally. This will make it much easier for her to reach out to you the same way when she needs your help or guidance.

Keep a cool head. As girls near the teen years, their once-sweet dispositions seem to change overnight. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with the new version of your daughter, but it is vital to brave it anyway. Try to approach each disciplinary issue without anger though. If you want your daughter to come to you for guidance, you have to establish open communication. It is okay to let her know what is acceptable and what is against the rules, but make those conversations teachable moments—not one-sided yelling matches.

Respect her mother. There’s a concept that happily married parents like to toss around that boils down to this: the best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. While it is true that children from two-parent homes have historically fared better academically, socially, and financially as adults, the rules are changing on that. Just because you have fallen out of love with the mother of your children does not mean you have failed them. In fact, cultivating a healthy relationship with your ex-partner does a service to your kids by demonstrating that relationships in life are complicated—and take hard work by both parties to flourish. Young women develop their base perceptions of how they should be treated by men from their father’s example. If you no longer love your daughter’s mother, at least show her the respect you expect other men to show your daughter as she grows.

Books to Inspire Stronger Dad-Daughter Relationships

Whether you feel lost trying to be a strong presence to your daughter from afar, or just want to strengthen the bond that already exists, there are plenty of resources available to you. Check out these titles to help you maximize your important role in your daughter’s life.

Dads as Mentors

Dads are an integral role model in their daughters’ lives. In the book “52 Things Daughters Need from Their Dads” by Jay Payleitner, the father of five gives man-friendly advice on raising girls to be confident, self-assured women. Payleitner talks a lot about taking advantage of “hero moments” to most effectively mentor. You may also want to try “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know” by Meg Meeker which gives mentoring tips from a female perspective, or “The Next Generation of Dads” by RC Myles for even more ways to shape your daughters by example.

Dads Going Solo

When dads have to assume the role of both parents during their time with their daughters, specific health and social development questions arise. Single dads can benefit from the straight-talk advice in “But Dad!: A Survival Guide for Single Fathers of Tween and Teen Daughters” by Gretchen Gross, a social worker, and Patricia Livingston, a registered nurse. Everything from personal hygiene for teenage girls to talking to them about sex is covered in the honest pages of the book. Another good reference is “The Single Father: A Dad’s Guide to Parenting Without a Partner” by Armin A. Brott, written with input from attorneys, doctors, and psychologists.

Dad to a Teen Daughter

All dads need to jump communication hurdles to interact with their daughters and non-custodial dads face even more obstacles. The book “Parenting a Teen Girl” by Lucie Hemmen is tagged as “a crash course on conflict, communication and connection with your teenage daughter.” The author is a clinical psychologist who delves into the common roadblocks parents and teenage girls face in their relationships. The book offers scripts to discuss sensitive issues and exercises to improve interactions between parents and teenage daughters. Dads can also benefit from reading “What Do You Expect? She’s a Teenager” by Arden Greenspan-Goldberg and “Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens” by Laura S. Kastner.

Father-Daughter Bonding

Take some tips from veteran dads on how to become an integral part of your daughter’s life at all ages—and for the adult years beyond. “That’s My Girl: How a Father’s Love Protects and Empowers His Daughter” by Rick Johnson offers practical tips on bonding with daughters and emphasizes the importance of a dad-daughter connection. “Dad’s Everything Book for Daughters” is written by John Trent, a father of two daughters. It encourages dads to go beyond surface emotions to build a long-lasting relationship with their little girls—even the difficult preteen and teenage ones. For a woman’s perspective, read “Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter” by Vicki Courtney.

Remember that all relationships will experience high and low points. Don’t give up on a strong relationship with your daughter, particularly if you are separated from her some of the time. She needs you in her life. Reach out to her, and both of your lives will be better for it.

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