Driving a car full of teenage girls is like being on a job interview where the interviewers forget you’re there. You sit quietly, obeying traffic laws, in almost complete social isolation. It isn’t until the second you open your mouth that you’re suddenly on display.
Let me make something clear. No matter how funny you think you are, nothing you say will get a laugh. Nothing. Even if you bring out your top-shelf material, your chauffeured judges will be unwilling to react until someone else does. Since no one does, you deliver your line to silence as young people stare at you like a zoo exhibit.
You guys are going to the yogurt place, huh? When I was a kid, I called it go-Bert. I thought it was about Bert from Sesame Street. Can you imagine?
Stunned expressions of horror fill the air around you. You then keep your mouth shut until the end of the ride when the girls individually mumble “thanks” upon exiting the car.
And never roll down the window and yell something after they exited. No “have fun” or “ya’ll come back now, ya hear?!” Nothing. Just drive. You’ve done enough damage.
Being a single dad differs from the married days because now, everything that happens at my place is on me. My interactions with her friends and the house rules are just me. I do the laundry, cook the meals, buy her girly clothes and girlier toiletries. No subject is off-limits and no topic is outside my wheelhouse. There have been many times I have said things like, “What does that even mean? Are you supposed to do that? OK, then. Carry on.”
Fathers are constantly warned that their daughters will grow up. People warn you from the start that her first steps will be on feet that are destined to walk away. She’ll be older and too cool for you before you know it.
I learned long ago to not listen to anyone when it comes to my relationship with either of my children. Our bond isn’t based on timing. It’s based on effort and the relationship we’ve built. I think we’ve done a great job.
Can she be snippy sometimes? Yeah. Does she always realize it? No. Rather than get offended or demand apologies, sometimes it takes simply pointing it out to make her change her attitude. There have been a few times when a strongly worded “that’s not nice” turns her entire demeanor around. Solving behavior issues isn’t strictly a punishment thing. Sometimes all it takes is to point that out. It’s saved us many long-term headaches.
So, where’s the big secret you were promised? How does one properly raise a teenage girl? Is there one tip that reigns above others? There is. It is so simple. Ready?
I know, I know. It feels like common sense on a poster with a kitten in eyeglasses, but it solves all problems. Let me give you an example.
My daughter had a gaggle of friends over a few weeks ago. The get-togethers have slowly morphed through the years from family-involved activities like pumpkin picking to locking themselves in her room. I know they’re alive in there because I hear them cackling.
The group, who I totally don’t make up names for and get told to “stop”, were all holed off in her room over the course of a few hours on a Friday night. A voice inside me said, “Go make them some cookies. Be a good dad.”
That’s when that other voice that lives in there said, “No, dipstick. You don’t bring her cookies. That’s what they make fun of parents for. You want to be lame? Huh? Do ya?!”
I went back and forth before finally just texting her, “Yo. You guys want me to make cookies?”
Ten seconds later: “k”.
So, I did. Not just that, but I brought them on a platter with napkins and bottles of water for each kid like Mr. Belvedere would have. They were all grateful. I felt like the best dad in the world; feeding the children like Sally Struthers.
Any parent reading this recognizes how that interaction could have gone either way. The only thing that separates this success story from one that would have been terrible was the asking. I don’t impose. I don’t assume. I ask if I don’t know.
I ask her a lot of stuff. Whether it’s about her day with funny stories or to “spill the tea”. I get updates on kids from years gone by and learn about new names around her. I feel in tune with her life because I ask about her life in way that doesn’t seem like I’m writing a secret file.
When she shares with me, I genuinely listen and I genuinely care. I don’t repeat what she’s told me in front of other people and I don’t minimize the things that mean a lot to her. It’s about being a part of her life and making sure she realizes how much that means to me.
That’s what I do. I will do it forever. It’s about accepting the “no” or “I don’t know” responses at times without giving up. What she doesn’t want to talk about today, she might tomorrow…or in ten minutes. She’s 14. She’s all over the place.
She gets that from me.