Parents often chide their children about moving into “the real world.” The real question is, however: when does parenting end? Do parents want their children to be completely independent or only when that independence fits the need of the parent? Are parents sending confusing and contradicting messages to their children who have now become young adults?
Below is such a story…….
Dear Visible Man,
I am writing to express my dismay and frustration regarding an incident with my daughter. It’s really making me question the meaning I have in her life now that she is an adult.
Recently, in the course of her work, a mentally unstable client threatened my daughter. The organization she works for handled the situation appropriately, following their protocol as well as notifying law enforcement. Although she was shaken by the incident, she wasn’t otherwise harmed.
My frustration is around who she chose to call first regarding the incident. Apparently, the first people she notified were her girlfriends, who helped her through the situation over the phone and came to the scene to lend emotional support.
I, her FATHER, was not informed of the incident until arriving home late that evening. Needless to say, I went ballistic! I feel it is clearly unfair and disrespectful that I am the last one to find out about the incident. It is unfair because she could have been injured or killed, and I would have been the last one to know.
It is disrespectful because as her father, I feel I deserved more consideration than what I was given. But, at the same time, I am conflicted. I am glad she has the support of her friends. They are a diverse group of fine young African-American, Caucasian and Hispanic women who were there for each other and for my daughter during many good and bad times, the last being when my spouse passed away several years ago.
My daughter, when we talked about this, said that she didn’t call me first because “she didn’t want to worry me.” I understand that. However, I feel that it is precisely my responsibility as a father to worry about her. Plus, I feel that perhaps she may feel that because I’m getting older, that I am less able to step in and protect her.
I am proud of my daughter. I admire her independence. I have raised her to be her own and never, ever depend on a man. I just never thought she would apply those teachings to me.
Eating My Words, Seattle, WA
Whoa! Let’s back this train up. It seems like you’re jumping to a lot of conclusions regarding your daughter’s actions and behaviors.
Have the willingness to STOP the racing thoughts and feelings. To do this, walk through these steps:
- Respite (time out)
- Reactions (own them)
- Reflections (process feelings & thoughts)
- Response (sharing externally)
- Reevaluation (review, reconsider, reframe)
- Now that we have done that, let us first be thankful for the fact that her organization followed the correct protocol and that law enforcement responded swiftly. Second, recognize that the two of you are blessed that she was not physically injured and will recover emotionally from this incident.
Take the time to be grateful for the way your daughter handled herself in this difficult and stressful situation. It is obvious from her actions, she responded in a manner that was cool, calm and collected.
Furthermore, as you step to the side (respite), assess your initial concern (reaction), process through what happened (reflect), choose your words (response) and review (reevaluation), doing that may help you understand that she actually followed the teaching and directions you provided her, WHICH ACTUALLY “kept her safe.”
It’s clear and understandable that your feelings were hurt by your daughter’s choice to reach out to her friends for help instead of contacting you first. However, to call it disrespect is to leap to a conclusion that has no foundation.
Within the “larger group” (society, community and family), it is essential that we acknowledge that females are socialized differently. Generally speaking, where males compete, hide their feelings and strive to work individually as well as independently, females are socialized to share (even when competing), express their feelings and work collaboratively (even when working independently).
Ask yourself the following questions:
If the same situation had occurred to you, how would you have handled the emotional distress?
- Would you have sought out your male friends for consolation?
- Would your male friends have immediately left their jobs and come to your assistance?
- Would your male friends be in constant contact with you and other males, maintaining a vigil as you work towards recovering from the incident?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then you are as fortunate as your daughter to be blessed with a gathering of individuals that express love and concern for you. If the answer is no, then rather than being critical, there is a lesson that we as men can learn from modeling the behaviors and actions as shown by your daughter’s friends.
Often, positive actions can come from negative situations. In this case, you as a father may have learned the following:
- Your daughter’s actions in a stressful situation shows that she has held to what you have taught her.
- As she has learned from you the value of independence, she has also learned the value of partnership in reaching out to others when she identifies the need for assistance.
- When you pass away and go to join your beloved spouse, you will know that your daughter has a gathering of friends who love her to assist her in times of distress.
Now, could your daughter have handled the situation differently? Let’s see:
- Did your daughter err in waiting an extended period of time to inform you of the situation that had occurred?
Answer: It depends on your objective. If you want your daughter to continue working towards independence and utilizing her problem solving skills, then she is correct in the timing of informing you of the incident. However if you wish to maintain her dependency on you, her insecurity about her ability to care for herself, and her doubts about her own decision-making skills, then she did truly err in this situation.
- Was your daughter wrong to protect you from your own feelings (“I did not want to worry you.”)?
Answer: Again, it depends. If she believes that you are incapable of handling, responding or trusting how she dealt with the situation then it may be correct to protect you (and her) from worrying about stressful or difficult situations.
However, if she believes that you are capable of being a good listener, considering this to be“her experience” and responding appropriately, then it is feasible that she may have been wrong to protect you from your feelings.
If this is the relationship you want to have with your daughter, then:
1) Empower yourself to be available to her for consultation, advice or just to be an open ear– not for problem solving, just blowing off steam.
2) Encourage her independence, then have belief, faith and trust that she will, when the timing is right (for her and not you), come to you to seek advice or simply provide information.
3) Relax. Allow yourself to simply be “Daddy.” Your parenting days of supervision, direction and management are over. A new sunrise for you (and your daughter) in an adult to adult relationship has begun!
From one father to another, we must not want to have it both ways. We must not usher our children to independence and then criticize them when they don’t “do what we want them to do.” To do this is to provide conflicting and contradicting messages, and it only serves to weaken the positive messages, hard work and solid foundation that you have assisted in empowering your daughter to create.
In closing I shall leave you with two observations, one that builds on the other: The first one was provided by Maria Velasquez, my peer :
“When a child is learning how to walk, it is hard for the parent to watch her/him struggle, because as parents, we want to help them and make it easier on them. The child knows that the parent is willing to carry them, but they can be and are quite insistent on learning to walk for themselves.”
In the second scenario, imagine your daughter’s wedding day. Your role is one of escort and walking your daughter down the “aisle of matrimony.” As you are walking those many steps, consider the ideas, feelings flowing through your mind and body, be reflective of her infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Reflect on the many times she may have come to you to be held as you listened and solved her problems. Now as you step to the altar, your daughter steps next to her betrothed, and away from you.
You in turn, step off to the side. Your work as a parent is done. You are now simply “daddy’. A new era in her life is now beginning.
Now hold that thought! In the situation you are currently writing about, instead of walking your daughter down the “aisle of matrimony,” let’s call this “the walk of life” in which she is transitioning from adolescent to early adulthood.
Now that your daughter is showing the ability to successfully address life issues, you must want to “step off to the side.” Your work as a parent is done. You are now simply “daddy’. A new era in her life is now beginning.
Daddy, your work here is done. You were the first man in her life and will always be the first man in life. Nothing can or will have change that. Go find your life that allows and empowers you to simply be you. Be at peace.
The Visible Man