Just before the turn of the century, my wife told me we were having a baby girl.
I broke into a cold sweat (no lie or artistic hyperbole; my wife can verify beads of chilled perspiration on my anxious brow). I had barely gotten used to the reality of becoming a parent, convincing myself of how great it would be to take a son to a ball game, and then this. A girl.
And like a modern Rip Van Winkle, I blinked once and am now preparing for Alexa’s sixteenth birthday party. Yes—2012. Yes—a brand-new millennium. Yes—Facebook, iPhones, and cars that can talk. And yes . . . boys. Although I am not as receptive to them as I was back in the spring of 1996.
The twenty-first century is my reality, and a teenage girl on the cusp of young adulthood has altered my universe. I haven’t found any foolproof steps to survive parenting a teen girl, but I can offer a couple of notions that have come to me on this wild but most excellent adventure:
1Those are tears—get used to them. Sure, they sting your eyes and make your voice get all garbled, but they are part of the package of raising a daughter. If you think about her future wedding, or are forced to watch a sappy teenage chick flick with her, anticipate her not being the only one needing Kleenex. Truth be told, being open to her emotions and willing to share your own are great gifts to your little girl. And it is a way to express God’s heart for her. “When others are happy, you should be happy with them. And when others are sad, you should be sad too. Live together in peace with each other. Don’t be proud . . . Don’t think of yourself as smarter than everyone else” (Rom. 12:15, 16, ERV).1
Here’s something else to think about: When your baby girl gets teary eyed, you don’t have to fix everything. Your willingness to share in her tears can be far more helpful than “coming to the rescue” or “making it all better.” Her tears can mean all kinds of things (sadness, anger, joy, surprise, etc.), so don’t hurry to stop the crying. Tears may be just what is needed. “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11, NKJV).2
2Show her you love her mom more than she can imagine. Sure, she has you wrapped around her little finger, and sure, you may be willing to lay your life on the line for her, but don’t give your daughter the notion that loving her means you love her mother less. A dad models respect, service, sacrifice, loyalty, and humility when he lavishes grace-filled love and faithfulness on his wife. Even when a marriage dissolves, the relationship between parents is one of the most profound templates a young girl will have to navigate her own relationships. “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives” (Eph. 5:25-28, Message).3
Further, don’t allow yourself to be pitted against your spouse when there is conflict. Being properly unified in the role you have as parents gives your daughter healthy boundaries and respect for the authority God gave mothers and fathers. “Children, you belong to the Lord, and you do the right thing when you obey your parents. The first commandment with a promise says, ‘Obey your father and your mother, and you will have a long and happy life’ ” (Eph. 6:1-3, CEV).4
3Give her lots of credit, just not in the form of a card. It can be easy for dads to share their affection through money. Sometimes we are tempted to reward our daughters with “things.” If you head down the sugar daddy highway, her “needs” and “wants” and “appetites” and “desires” can start to blur together. “Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. . . . God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you’ ” (Heb. 13:5, Message).
Affirm your daughter, compliment her abilities, and support her strengths. Lavish on her all the positive reinforcement and accolades you wish. After all, she is your girl. However, be conscientious to foster in her a sensible relationship with money. Make sure she “loves” Daddy and “uses” dollars, not the other way around. “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both” (Matt. 6:24, Message).
And when it comes to debt, there is only one your daughter should have: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8, ESV).5
4There is no such thing as quality time. Don’t outsource the Daddy moments you’ve been given. No amount of effort in your workplace, no bonus check you earn or career achievement you attain will give her as much joy as your presence in her life. Be her cheerleader, her chauffeur, her water boy, her videographer, and her bodyguard. Of course there will be times when schedules won’t align, but don’t miss the special moments during this formative time of her life. She will soon want you to step back a bit from her life, but don’t let that day arrive prematurely. “I’m broken by their taunts, flat on my face, reduced to a nothing. I looked in vain for one friendly face. Not one. I couldn’t find one shoulder to cry on” (Ps. 69:20, Message).
Remember this as well: It’s not the job of the youth pastor, the high school teacher, or the academy dean to father your daughter. These are great people who can be on your team, but they aren’t supposed to be the quarterback. Your daughter needs you, not a daddy double. “Fathers, don’t make your children angry, but raise them with the kind of teaching and training you learn from the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ERV).
5Girls are not boys. Deal with it. Don’t make her into something or someone she’s not. Even if she is the “spittin’ image” of you, she is going to express it in ways that embody her female persona. I’ve got to admit, there are facets of my wife’s complex, beautiful, and simultaneously befuddling personality that are still a complete mystery to me. And the same is true of my daughter. But for her, the teen years are filled with changes and expectations and discoveries. To try to dictate her experience to conform to the way I grew up is ignorant at best, arrogant at worst. Why? Because dads were never anyone’s daughters. “Fathers, don’t upset your children. If you are too hard to please, they might want to stop trying” (Col. 3:21, ERV).
6Dads are not boyfriends, but boys that are friends need to have dadlike virtues. Your daughter’s relationships with boys will be significantly influenced by you. (And I mean more than you standing guard over her, threatening bodily harm to any teenage male who even looks sideways at her [grrrr]). Through your father-daughter relationship she will gain her first expectations of what a gentleman should be like. Your daughter will either expect from boys courtesy, humility, sensitivity, loyalty, honor, and courage . . . or not. So be very aware that she is closely watching who you are in every relationship you form. “Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her. Buy truth—don’t sell it for love or money; buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight. Parents rejoice when their children turn out well; wise children become proud parents. So make your father happy! Make your mother proud!” (Prov. 23:22-25, Message).
7Her “Father in heaven” begins with her “daddy at home.” How does she get to know God? She is introduced to Him by you. In bedtime prayers and Bible stories and taking her to church, but also in more powerful and awesome ways, your daughter’s view of God is first formed as you express the love He gave you for her. As Jesus Christ lives in your heart, He expresses Himself in life-changing ways as you father your teenager. She gets glimpses of her heavenly Father through a devout Daddy who is first in love with Christ. “If you have known me, you will also know my Father. From now on you know him through me and have seen him in me” (John 14:7, GW).6
Those are just a couple of tips I can offer from this milestone moment in this journey. As we decide themes for Alexa’s soon “sweet 16 celebration,” and she and my wife double-team me on the budget, know that I’m still learning. I’m no expert, and certainly some of the lessons learned have come from bumps in hyperspace that have tumbled me deeper into God’s Word for help.
In the meantime, there’s no way I’m blinking away these moments. (However, if I did have a time machine I could maybe whiz right past the whole “walking-her-down-the-aisle-to-give-my-baby-girl-away” part and get straight to the “spoiling granddaughters” part.)
Nah (sniffle). Oh, to even think about it. Would you hand me a box of Kleenex?
1 Texts credited to ERV are from the Easy-to-Read Version, copyright © 2006 World Bible Translation Center.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3 Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
4 Scripture quotations identified CEV are from the Contemporary English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1991, 1995. Used by permission.
5 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
6 Scripture quotations credited to GW are taken from God’s Word. Copyright 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
A. Allan Martin, Ph.D., CFLE, is pastor of Younger Generation Church (www.YGchurch.com), the vibrant young adult ministry of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas. He continues as adjunct faculty for the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He, his wife, Deirdre, and their daughter, Alexa, reside in Arlington, Texas. This article was published March 22, 2012.