When I worked with teenagers, I used to go over to the high school in the afternoon to watch practices and games. Once, I noticed a senior I had gotten to know sitting on the bleachers. I went over and asked her about her weekend. She said it was fine, but she looked sad. So I asked what was wrong. At a party with her family, her dad had put his arm around her and told everyone she was his designated driver. The simple comment might have been a joke, but it made her feel like she needed to be the parent. Her dad’s comment made her feel unstable and unsafe. It crushed her so much she was still thinking about it that Monday afternoon. She said to me, “What dad says that to his teenage daughter?”
Most dads don’t mean to hurt their daughters. If anything, we want our words to lift them up, make them feel safe, and affirm their identity. However, there are statements we say often without thinking that cut our daughters to the core. Several months ago, we discussed the 5 things that dads say that crush their sons. Today, let’s take a look at the 5 things dads say that crush their daughters.
1. “Stop being so dramatic.”
Yes, there will be times, especially during the teen years, when your daughter will be overly emotional and lose perspective. However, telling her to stop being dramatic completely invalidates her feelings. It may be true that she is being dramatic, but in the midst of being her most vulnerable and real self, all she will hear is “I don’t like the way you are. You need to change.” At the core of who she is, she will feel rejected. And if her own father can’t handle her unguarded self, then in her mind, no one can. Listen to her being “dramatic” and show her empathy. When she has calmed down, gently give her perspective, but only after your love for her has been affirmed.
2. “You’re just like your mother.”
This depends on intent and tone. If this is intended as a compliment, it is a wonderful statement. If this is said as a criticism, it crushes her in two ways. First, you are making a disparaging comment about the way she is made. The parts of her that are like her mom are part of her DNA. She will think, “If my dad struggles to love (or doesn’t love) my mom the way she is, how will anyone ever love me?” Second, it displays division between her parents, which has the same result as the opening story—it makes her feel unstable and unsafe. If you are going to make this statement, make sure it is a compliment.
3. “Have you gained weight?” or “Have you lost weight?”
Obviously, a woman doesn’t want to be asked if she has gained weight—especially by her dad. There is enough internal and societal pressure about girls’ looks and weight without their fathers giving validity to it. It makes them feel unlovable. On the flip side, you may think asking if they lost weight would be a compliment, but really it puts on the same type of pressure. This can be such a sensitive topic that all they may think about is how “fat and terrible” they must have looked before if you are noticing a weight loss.
4. “Oh, but you’re so pretty.”
This is a shot at her intelligence. It is typically said in response to a failure or when she does something that seems absent-minded or foolish (just as all of us sometimes do). This communicates that the only trait that gives her value is her looks. It’s patronizing and makes her feel like she’s not worth taking seriously. When you are affirming your daughter, highlight more than just her looks. Tell her how much you admire attributes such as her creativity, intelligence, kindness, and character.
5. “This just isn’t your thing.”When you have a conversation about your daughter’s abilities, lift up her strengths rather than focusing on her shortcomings.
This comment not only will make daughters feel incapable of succeeding in the activity or subject at hand, but it also has the potential to make them feel incapable of succeeding at anything. There are sure to be times when your daughter’s talents and abilities are misplaced or under-utilized. We need to help our daughters find and hone their gifts, but it’s equally important to understand their passions. They may not be the best or even good at something, but they may love it. When you have a conversation about your daughter’s abilities, lift up her strengths rather than focusing on her shortcomings.
Sound off: What are some other things dads say that crush their daughters?
Huddle up with your daughter and ask, “Have I ever said something that hurt your feelings?”