When Mr. Protector Isn’t the Dad She Needs

Remember that small terrifying voice in your head when you left the hospital with your daughter… “wait, aren’t they supposed to give me a manual or something?”

My wife and I brought two different perspectives to the parenting of our daughter, forged through years of being parented and life experience. Also, being self-aware and truthful, I (like many dads and moms) also tended to over-embrace my role of “Protect and Provide” when my daughter was younger.  My wife and I have made lots of good and bad decisions over the years, but one thing we’ve learned is that our parenting should not be static and must evolve throughout the life of your child. Different ages need both different styles and substance.

I have always hoped that, as she grows, my daughter would identify herself as confident, resilient and a leader. Yet, if I fell into the easy habit of just being Mr. Protector at every stage of her life, then I could—despite my best intentions—teach her to embrace a state of dependence and fragility. I have found more and more that my teenage daughter doesn’t need or want (and nor should I try) a Type A problem solving rescue.  She most likely wants nothing more than an understanding ear.  Yes, this can be really difficult for me, as when I look at her, I still see that little two year old that would run up to the door when I came home from work.  I just want to hug her fiercely and solve the problem…and yes, there are very rare occurrences where this might be needed in the teen years, but the vast majority of time she simply needs a trusted advisor.

Dad & DaughtersLetting her be stressed out and struggle and learn (and earn) her way all while residing within a loving and supportive family relationship will help her even more than jumping in and “rescuing” at every turn. Did I and do I continue to make mistakes?  Of course!  It is a daily struggle to focus on active listening and supporting rather than taking action or trying to convince her of the righteousness of my opinion. But in order for my relationship with my daughter to survive and thrive, my parenting has to embrace evolution and continue to grow as well.

It was a 19th century English surgeon and author who coined the famous phrase “First do no harm”.  It has always been in my mind as I parent my daughter: don’t allow your parenting style to negatively impact the situation.  Does this rule always work out for me? Do I always follow it? In a word, no.  But it is important to acknowledge it.  I still regret those times when my temper, frustration or impatience got the better of me and I made a bad situation worse.

Just the other day, my daughter was stressed out about school stuff.  A few years ago I would have intruded and gone in and tried to solve her issues (or start with questioning her choices).  Instead, I simply walked up to her, hugged her and let her know that I have walked those same paths, that I completely understood what she was going through, that I loved her very much and that I was available to listen if she just wanted to talk out loud about it.  I’m here; I’m on her side; I want to listen first.

I know my daughter appreciates my evolution as a dad and also my growing understanding of what that role means in her life as she navigates the teen years.  It’s a daily struggle for all of us to learn how to parent at different ages, but just remember that if you start from a base of deep love and affection, it’s all going to work out.


Girls Leadership is proud to partner with LeanIn.Org as part of #LeanInTogether, a public awareness campaign focused on men and their important role in reaching equality.


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  1. […] all parents. And I hear from dads that it feels particularly difficult to them. They feel their first responsibility to a daughter is to protect her. But as she grows older, that’s not what she needs […]

  2. Hanna

    Aw. That was nice to read. I was lucky to grow up with my (exceptional, loving, goofy, weird, awesome) dad (who also sometimes gets frustrated, pushes me to be my best whether I want to or not, and grumbles before he drinks his morning coffee.)
    I love my dad for listening. Life isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s nice to know that he gets that.

  3. Coni

    Your daughter is a very lucky girl!

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