Much of a girl’s strength is in her voice. By listening to her, you are being true to her voice. That will help her get through difficulties and give her courage.
When you provide your ears and your presence, you amplify your daughter’s voice and strengthen her belief in herself. But it can be painful to listen when she is feeling sad or angry.
You have to have the courage to listen, and the courage to not prevent, deny or abruptly try to end her painful experiences.
Here's a story from a dad named Bill:
Our cat Pineapple just died. We decided to let him die at home. He laid down in the yard and I sat in a lawn chair for hours, and when Katie came home from school, she sat in that chair and just watched him and then read a James Herriot book to him. When I came back, she was bent over crying and Pineapple was still alive, barely. She said he was such a wonderful cat and she was going to miss him.
She has a real heart for animals and she relates to them in a whole different way than I do. I’m the giant stomping through the house telling the cats to get down off the counter, but they see her as a loving presence. It makes my heart feel good that I’ve got a child that is so connected to her world around her; the real world, as I like to think it is. She has a real capacity for love.
I wanted her to have this experience with Pineapple. I didn’t want to make it better, but I wanted to be there with her, too. So I put my hand on her. I asked her a couple of questions and listened to her. And then I backed up and went away and let her be with it. I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone, but I also wanted her to know that being alone is part of what happens in the world. You can’t have somebody take care of you all the time. Sometimes life just hurts like hell.
Sometimes, a daughter will hurt no matter how much we try to shelter and protect her. It's hard to accept, but that pain is important to her.
It takes courage to love a daughter by listening closely to what she says, even when those words express pain. It takes patience and wisdom to understand that listening to her is more than hearing the words she says; it also means watching and, like Bill did, sometimes stepping back to let her be alone.
But listening may be the single most important thing we fathers can do.
Adapted from my book Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter.