DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My 16-year-old daughter complains that I’m not “in her life” enough. I do work hard in a demanding career to support our family, but I buy her things, take a family vacation every year, and when I make attempts to do things with her, she always declines. To be honest, I feel rejected myself. I realize it will vary from teen to teen, but what is it that makes a teenager feel their dad is part of their life?
—Sad Dad in Carmel
Maya, 16, Novato: I don’t see my dad often. Between school, my job, his job and our social lives, he’s not “in my life” five days out of seven. Despite this, I constantly feel supported. He asks questions about me, my life, my hobbies, and though I’ll never tell him certain things, I get the impression he really values our time and I’m touched by his genuine interest and attentive listening. Recently, when I mentioned my backpacking trip, he pulled out his old equipment, saving me a ton of money and time. I must add, though, that we do fight. Usually I’m stressed about something and take it out on him. No relationship is perfect, but don’t ever give up. Plus, you get major points for trying!
Katelyn, 19, Huntington Beach: Ask your daughter why she feels this way — and really listen to her answer. Maybe she likes different things than you suggest and feels you don’t “get” her. Or, if you miss her extracurricular events, she may feel you care more about “fun” things than her interests. If you buy her things and take family vacations, but never talk about her problems or achievements, she could feel like you’re only pretending to care.
Andrew, 24, Cloverdale: Teenagers long to be visible, accepted and understood for who they are — even if that changes weekly. Be observant and ask questions about her life and interests, listening without interruption or critique. Value her thoughts, learn about her passions, and seize opportunities to offer encouragement. As you model this relationship, she may even come to acknowledge you!
Taylor, 17, Santa Rosa: I have a father AND stepfather — double whammy! I really appreciate my stepdad’s calm. I can talk to him without him getting upset or angry like my dad does. I really like when either dad tells me they’re proud of me. Or compliments me on my looks, which many dads shy away from. It’s important for fathers to teach daughters what a gentleman acts like and how they deserve to be treated. When my dad treats me like a lady, takes me to lunch, holds the door, I feel respected. Something annoying they both do is try to “fix” the problem. Sometimes I’m just venting — no need to beat somebody up, or go talk to my teacher! Something my dad hasn’t always done but makes me feel really cared for, is to attend my school and extracurricular events willingly. He shows up for big stuff, but it feels forced. Interest and engagement in my activities demonstrates involvement.
Brie, 23, San Francisco: At 16, I lived five hours from my dad. Every time I had a special event, he couldn’t make the drive. At some point after high school, I let it go, and our relationship improved. Keep asking her to do things with you. Maybe something weekly, like ice cream or coffee. Once she’s away at college, opportunities become rare.
DEAR SAD DAD: I hope these comments have helped light the way. The parent-child relationship lasts a lifetime, with many phases (most less self-centered than the teen years). Keep reaching out unconditionally and things are bound to change.
Ask a question or go deeper in today’s conversation at www.StraightTalkAdvice.org, or write P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol 95473.