(This article first appeared at desiringGod.org.)
After another difficult interaction with our teenage daughter, I felt like screaming. My wife patiently listened to my venting, and she calmly but firmly spoke words I’ll never forget.
“I know you’re frustrated. I get it. But you’re the parent. She needs more from you. She needs you to move toward her and stay close.”
I was too annoyed to respond, but I knew she was right.
Outtake with my daughters Carissa (left) & Anna (right)
Tough, Important Times
I suspect most dads with teenage daughters can relate. You may find yourself wondering where that sweet little girl went. The one who sat on your lap, followed your advice, and freely shared her heart while you played together with her toys and sang “Jesus Loves Me.”
But now, things are different. One moment your daughter thinks you’re the Best Dad Ever, then says, “I can’t stand you,” the next. Trust and obedience are replaced by suspicion and endless boundary-testing. Sometimes it feels like you only see her when she wants something from you.
In these moments, it’s so easy to pull back. To tell yourself you’ve tried. To withdraw — bitter, angry, and hurt. To convince yourself all you can do now is pray and wait.
As someone who has failed significantly in this area, yet seen God work powerfully, I want to encourage and challenge you. To remind you that God has sovereignly placed you in your daughter’s life to model, as her earthly father, her perfect heavenly Father.
Fathers, your daughter needs you to stay close to her.
Our All-Important Foundation
If we want to be close to our daughters, we need to be close to our heavenly Father first, pursuing him as our greatest Treasure. Often busyness, apathy, interruptions from kids, and the pull of social media and entertainment make it hard to find consistent time with our Lord. But we need to persist, trusting that God “rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
When we persevere, we’ll find with king David that God’s “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). And with the apostle Paul, we will learn to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). In many ways, maturity as fathers is simply coming to know and experience, more and more, how beautiful and awesome God is.
While I’m nowhere near as close to Christ as I’d like to be, desiring to move closer to him is transforming me — and my relationship with my daughters. As his greatness and grace toward me become more real, I’m finding it easier and easier to extend grace toward them too. And to be the kind of father with whom they want to be close.
Dads, I want to urge you to pursue intimacy with Christ as your highest priority. If you do, you’ll find that staying closer to your daughter will eventually follow.
Eight Ways to Stay Close
If we’re growing in our own thirst and desire for Christ, the rest of these will start to flow much more naturally.
1. Gently model unconditional love and grace (Matthew 26:30–32; Galatians 6:1). While we need to be reminded that we, as dads, need to be the humble “buckstopper” in our homes, many of us struggle with being harsh and angry. Our daughters need us to be tough on sin, but even firmer on their Savior’s grace.
2. Come alongside them in their insecurity and affirm them (see Judges 6:11–18, especially verse 12). Teen girls feel pressure to look a certain way, wear certain clothing, and be friends with the “right people.” We need to remind them that if they are born again, Jesus has made them acceptable forever, and that nothing can change that.
3. Protect them sacrificially (John 15:12–15). Our culture encourages girls to dress immodestly and find their identity in guys’ approval. So, our role as fathers, created in the image of the Great Shepherd, includes helping them understand how men’s minds work and what’s appropriate to wear, and (especially) helping them find their value in Christ.
4. Just listen (James 1:19). While we’re tempted to “fix” their problems immediately, our teen daughters mainly want us to listen, care, and understand. This often creates an atmosphere of trust where we can offer the input they need.
5. When you mess up, confess it (James 5:16). If we’re rooted deeply in Christ, we’ll find this easier and easier. I’ve been amazed at how quickly a simple but genuine apology often heals a rift with my daughters.
6. Be present. At home, we easily get distracted by our phones, television, and work. As we look at Jesus’s example, though, it’s amazing how much time he spent with his disciples — and how he gave them his undivided attention. Our daughters need positive male attention, and we have the privilege of leading the way, if we’re willing to set other things aside and engage them.
7. Remember that God has made each of our daughters differently. My two teen daughters are so different that sometimes we wonder if they’re really both ours! I love how sisters Mary and Martha come to Jesus with the same lament after Lazarus dies, yet Jesus responds very differently (John 11:23–35). What works with one of our daughters may not benefit the other.
8. Go on regular daddy-daughter dates. Most teen girls love to talk, eat, and connect. Several months ago I (re)started taking each of them out for breakfast every two weeks. During these undistracted times, they often share their hearts in ways they don’t at home, and they come away feeling special. And they are!
With God’s help, what steps could you take to move closer to your daughter (or son) during these crucial teenage years?