Bernie stood in the lobby of a New York high rise as scores of people passed by. He was waiting nervously for his daughter, Deanne, now a grown and successful career woman with a family. She wasn’t expecting him nor did she desire his visit. When she saw him, she asked why he was there and reiterated that she didn’t want to see him. He asked her if she hated him. She looked at him blankly and said, “I don’t know you enough to hate you.”Daughters want to be known by their dads and to know their dads.
That relationship, between two characters in the movie The Paper, is the last kind of relationship any dad wants with his daughter. That’s why it’s important for us to connect emotionally while our daughters are growing up. Daughters want to be known by their dads and to know their dads. If you are struggling to connect, here are 5 ways to overcome emotionally distant father-daughter relationships.
1. Spend time with her and let her choose the activity.
If your relationship with your daughter has become distant, the first thing you need to do is work on connecting. The best place to start is by spending time with her. It may seem awkward at first, but be consistent and intentional about making one-on-one time part of your routine. Give her control of choosing what you do. Go with the flow with an open heart and mind, even if you are hesitant about the activity. That will enable you to step into her world. She’ll be more likely to let her guard down if she’s been closed off from you.
2. Care about what she cares about.
If you want to connect emotionally with your daughter, you need to invest your heart into what she cares about. It’s a way of knowing her heart and mind. The more you know her, the more likely your heart will beat in sync with hers.
3. Ask her about her feelings and share yours.
As men, it can be uncomfortable to talk about feelings. But the more you try to avoid it, the further away from your daughter you’ll be. Let her express how she’s feeling and why. Don’t cut her off and definitely don’t feel the need to make everything OK. You don’t need the right answers or resolutions. Work on empathizing and being vulnerable with her. If you don’t know the answer, tell her that. Try to feel her pain, joy, excitement, and any other emotion and connect with it.
4. Listen to her on a deep level.
You have to go beyond what she’s saying and listen for her intent and motivation. Listening only brings connection when there’s understanding. Your goal is not just to hear what she’s saying but to know the heart behind it. Don’t dismiss her, even when she says something you disagree with. Ask questions until you have a complete picture of her perspective. At her core, she wants to be known and loved. Make sure what you do communicates both.
5. Lean in to difficult moments.
Soldiers share a unique closeness. They immediately understand and connect with one another. Perhaps the biggest reason is they’ve walked the same challenging road together. If you want to connect emotionally with your daughter, walk closely with her through her most difficult moments. She needs to know she can count on you when she’s at her lowest, ugliest, and most desperate. Again, you don’t need to fix it. Just be there. Cry with her. Sit in silence with her. Ask the hard questions and be willing to step into a painful conversation. All of this communicates that she is worth it to you.
Sound off: What are some other ways to overcome emotionally distant father-daughter relationships?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What has been something good about this week? What has been something difficult?”