I am lucky and I know it. I married a man who was even more excited about becoming a parent than I was. When we found out we were having a girl, he laughed and said he was up for the challenge. I had been certain I was having a boy so my immediate reaction was full-blown panic. A girl?! I didn’t know how to raise a strong woman! My teenage years were dramatic and painful and my self-esteem was nonexistent. How could I guarantee that my daughter didn’t go down the same path? My husband reassured me that we’d do a great job raising our daughter and that he would play just as important of a role as I did in the process.
He was right. Father-daughter relationships, or relationships with a consistent father figure, are incredibly important for developing a young girl’s self-esteem.
Why Father-Daughter Time Is So Important
A strong relationship with a father figure improves a girl’s self-esteem and shows ther that parenting is not only a woman’s role.
“I am a man, and I’ve spent time around plenty of men in my life. I know that my daughter will encounter many of them in the world and they will expect her to be various things. As a father, I want to spend all the time that I can with her so that she comes to understand that none of those expectations means a damn thing, and that she has the power to determine the kind of woman she will be.” – Michael Sturm, my husband
Evenings in a Working Parent Household
My daughter spends all day with me. We have hours of bonding time as we run errands, read books, color, or do pretend diaper changes on 100 stuffed animals. Five days a week, my husband leaves for work at 5 am and comes home at 5:30 pm. That leaves us about two hours for family time before Norah goes to bed. Unless we make a conscious effort to have quality time together, the night is over before we know it. My stay/work-at-home mom responsibilities could easily bleed over into the evening, leaving no time for father-daughter bonding.
The Goodnight Routine is Daddy’s Job
Since Norah was four months old and sleeping in her own crib, Michael has been in charge of her nightly routine. He does bathtime, stories, teeth brushing complete with Elmo’s Brush Your Teeth song, kisses and hugs then finally tuck-in. As soon as her head hits the mattress (with few exceptions) she doesn’t make a peep. When there’s been a change in routine because of a business trip, Norah has demanded daddy and been very disappointed when only mommy was there.
A Much Needed Break
Not only is the nighttime routine a great time for Norah and Michael to bond, but it’s also a much needed break for me. I take care of my daughter all day, everyday, with no outside help. When Michael gets home from work, Norah runs to him and follows him around for the rest of the evening. This gives me a chance spend some time working in my office or exercising in our home gym.
Encouraging Your Husband to Build a Strong Relationship
I know there are many women, and men, who are doing this parenting thing entirely on their own. I have the utmost respect for them, it is truly the hardest job anyone can do. If you’re like me and you have a husband who you’d like to have a strong bond with his daughter (or son), here are some ways you can help facilitate the relationship:
1) Make something his and let him do it his way
I probably wouldn’t do the bedtime routine the exact same way my husband does, but I’ve learned that too much input makes him feel inept. Bedtime is “his” time and he expects that he’s going to do the routine how he sees fit. He’s told me many times that he enjoys the quiet time at the end of the day with his daughter. Let go of a little bit of control and show appreciation for the thing being done. Even if it’s not exactly the way you’d do it.
2) Leave the baby with him and get out of the house
It was almost impossible to get me out of the house for the first year of Norah’s life. I felt like I needed to be there at all times and didn’t want to run an errand without bringing the entire family along. To get comfortable with letting go of control, I started out with small errands, like running to the store for milk, during the time that Norah would be happy and playing. After doing that a few times, it became easier to leave. The more alone time that your husband spends with his children, the more comfortable everyone will be. There may be some bumps along the road, but if you feel that your partner is responsible and trustworthy then you have to give them the space to make mistakes and learn.
3) Talk to him about your relationship with your father/father figure
Every woman has had some degree of a relationship with a father or father figure. If your past with your father isn’t good, tell your husband about it. My father was physically present, but had very little interest in his kids. This had a negative effect on my self-esteem, especially as a teenager, and on my ability to choose friends and boyfriends. I’ve been candid about this with my husband and expressed my desire that my daughter have a better relationship with her father than I have with mine. On the other hand, if your relationship with your father/grandfather/ uncle/stepfather is good, then tell your husband about what a positive impact that has had on your other relationships and self-esteem.
It’s every parent’s hope that their child will have it better than they did. It’s my hope that my daughter will have the confidence to pursue her dreams because she knows her parents unconditionally love and support her. And because her dad told her she could do anything.