Sugar and spice and everything nice you’ve spent months or years imagining the perfect father-daughter moments once you’ve got her alone. As a single dad, you want calm, respect, and appreciation. You want to be able to tuck her into bed when she’s younger and make sure she remains safe the rest of her life. You want her to be your little girl even when she heads to college, and you want her to have fun and enjoy being with you.
The truth is it can be hard to be a single dad. Your daughter is a real person filled with anger over your divorce (even when she advocates the split). She’s a human being governed by hormones as much as she’s ruled by her mind. She’s not always going to revere what you have to say or believe you, and she’ll resist and resent your advice over and over again. After all, you’re the guy who left the image of her perfect family whether or not you wanted the separation.
As your buddies join you on their parenting weekends, you’ll share roller coaster rides and rock concerts and your daughter becomes the perfect playmate you’ve always wanted until she can’t deal with another go-cart ride with dad. The disappointment and rejection sets in because in truth, as much as you love her, want to play with her, keep her safe, and have some fun around school obligations and everything your kids have going on these days, she, that little girl of yours is your daughter not your therapist, girlfriend or best friend. She needs herself, a dad!
In today’s world, girls and young women need good men.
The opportunity is ripe for the picking.You are your daughter’s most important male role model and she will seek to marry a man just like you. I think you know that. I believe you want to do your very best. I trust you’ve got your daughter’s best interest in mind. And I know you’re a bit confused at times, overwhelmed, and lost. So let’s get a few things out in the open and ground those concerns.
When you pause and take a good look at your daughter, you’ll remember what she truly needs from you. She needs to feel safe. Safety - the #1 concern for girls and women - taps into your DNA. Her need allows you to step into your protective role and gives you another chance to get it right. Above and beyond the playdates, meals out, and shopping with your credit card (some examples of a dad who’s cool to a kid) she needs your protection. She needs to know she can count on you to step in and be there for her when things are tough.
You’ve got to take some time to develop patience. Being a single dad with a daughter means you’ve got to listen and give her the space to express herself. That means she needs you to marvel at her emotions and her mind. To watch her display all she has to offer the world without shutting her down or discounting what she has to offer. She’ll be your greatest teacher if you let her. Especially as you let her struggle to find her way and generate her own life on her own without stepping in and trying to help her fix it.
When dads let their daughters figure things out, they teach girls to trust themselves and to trust men. Girls need to learn to trust themselves and to trust men more these days. Girls who know men who will let them tell their truth and work things out are very, very fortunate. We need dads to do that heavy lifting. It is their job to teach their daughters it’s safe to express their truth, to reach for that goal, to fail and recover. It’s dads who watch just how much to push, how much to guide, how much to listen. After all, you’re raising a future wife and mother; a future employee or CEO. We need women who appreciate men and want to lead, not women stuck and uninterested in growth.
The superficial duties of parenting often get in the way of these deeper lessons. Being a single dad to a daughter, you’ve got to manage the day’s schedule, fit in the obligations - practicing instruments, going to sports practice, rehearsals, and tutoring while fitting in homework, meal times, and a bedtime routine. Those duties (which if you mess up, will be criticized by your daughter’s mother) usually overrule the deeper moments. After a day of running around, it’s way easier to numb out in front of a TV or to fill an hour with another playdate. I advise you to slow your lives down. Nothing is more important than simply listening and being there for your girl. (News Flash: this goes for those adult women you’re interested in too.)
A frazzled man doesn’t feel safe. Your daughter can’t right your world. She needs you steady so find yourself some support - a men’s group, a coach, a therapist who gets it. Do yourself a favor and grieve your separation so you can let up the guilt about the choices you’ve made. The stronger and more independent you become in your role of being divorced, the easier it’ll be for your relationship with your daughter (and her other parent). You’ll become more comfortable with your choices, more confident with your decisions.
It won’t always be perfect, and anyway, you know there isn’t perfection. In order to get the respect and calm you desire, you have to be that calm, centered, respectful single dad. You’ve got to step away from the drama of your divorce fight; step out of the old dynamic with your daughter’s other parent. Remove the story of self-righteousness and fear. It starts with trusting yourself and relaxing into the truth. Become the kind of man you’ll want your daughter to marry.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura's a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.