When our daughter was very young, we started going to our church’s annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. This event has become a yearly tradition and one of our favorite times together each year. We get to go out to dinner, hang with friends, eat a lot of sugar, and yes, dance. It’s so fun.
As my daughter has moved into the teenage years, I actually think that all I do with her nowadays is dance, but in a different kind of way. I feel like I constantly have to dance around emotions and feelings. I can easily say the wrong thing or look at her the wrong way and send our teenager into a jig that no one wants to be around to see. If I’m honest, as we dance through life I’m often stepping on my little girl’s toes. I don’t want to hurt her, but my inability to dance well and my frequent unwillingness to learn makes for a crash on more than just the dance floor.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can get better at this dance through life with someone I love so much. How can I lead and navigate this relationship in such a way that we really love each other both now and later. I know that I can’t control her and how she will respond to what I do, but I do believe there are a few things I can do as the dad of a teenager that could help us both move more gracefully together. Below are a few ideas that I hope will help dads do a better job of dancing the dance:
Don’t expect rationality and be patient– The longer I parent the more I realize that stereotypes about our kids exist for a reason. Middle and high school girls (and sometimes boys) are often irrational and there is no amount of reason that can change their mind. If I know that my daughter is not thinking rationally, then maybe I won’t engage in trying to convince her of something her mind won’t let her believe. I’m all about speaking truth and helping my kids develop a different, better perspective, but that takes time. I need to be patient with my little girl as she grows up and her mind develops.
Be aware of the hot buttons and STAY AWAY– Too often I step on land mines on the dance floor that I know are there. I somehow hope that she has grown out of thinking or reacting a certain way and I push her into a place where she struggles to control her actions. As a dad, I need to take the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 to heart: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” As dads, we can get behind the “bring and train them up part” but in order for them to hear us we need to make sure we are doing our part to not alienate our kids through frustrating and exasperating them.
Empathize and apologize … a lot– As I navigate certain issues, I am learning that my daughter often simply wants for me to empathize with her and understand where she is coming from. When she thinks I am not listening or I don’t understand what she is thinking, it makes the dance a whole lot harder. I am working hard to listen, be more aware of what she is thinking, and letting her know that I care about how things are affecting her. I find myself apologizing more, not just for the things I do but for the times when I don’t listen or work to hear her heart and the things that are difficult for her, even when I don’t understand.
Pray for her heart– Years ago I heard a statement that, as a pastor, shook me. It says, “Ministry without prayer is the highest form of arrogance.” For anyone to think they can lead people to a faith in God without relying on God is incredibly arrogant. I have taken that statement and applied it to my parenting. Let’s see how it lands with you: “Parenting without prayer is the highest form of arrogance.” For me to think that I can lead my kids in any way without God is crazy. Part of dancing the dance is taking the time to ask the God who created my daughter to mold and change her heart in the way He wants to mold and change it. I simply need to trust that He is in control, give her heart and life over to him, and do my part lead her in the dance that God has called me to lead.