By Denna Babul, R.N. and Karin Luise, Ph.D.
As Father’s Day is soon upon us, we often get lost in the planning and enjoyment of celebration. What some don’t realize is that 43% of children in the United States live without a father figure. So during Father’s Day prep mothers of fatherless children need to plan ahead to make sure their kids don’t feel left out.
Editor’s note: While this article uses ‘she’ pronouns, these tips can apply to both daughters and sons.
- Provide emotional support at her level when she appears rattled, uncooperative, disengaged or attention seeking. Although she is beginning to look like a more mature girl on the outside, her emotions on the inside can be extremely confusing. She will experience a mix of the growing need for self-expression and freedom, stirring around with child-like desires for nurturing. She may lash out and surprise you with irreverent boldness and display pulling away or disengaging. For example, instead of saying, “I am hurt, Mommy, please hug me,” she might yell that she does not need you and slam doors. Often. Since she is at a complex age, she is seeking to release her new emotions. Under it all, she is searching for safety and a way to feel better. She craves a sense of normalcy to feel like she used to and enjoy life again. Keep letting her know her importance and how much you also want things to feel happy and normal in the home. Then do what you can to facilitate that.
- Encourage her to spend time with trustworthy friends or mentors in order to forge a support network. Encourage time for her with other family members (aunts, cousins, etc.) or trustworthy friends outside the home. She will likely be more open to guidance often from them than from you for a time – but do not worry, this is usually temporary. Keep the lines of communication open and trust that the information coming into her life is strengthening and encouraging for her. Check in often and keep reassuring her that you are also there whenever she needs you.
- Do not expect her to be your friend or confidant in adult issues. A major rule is to remember that you are always the mother and she is always the daughter. You are there to take care of her – not vice versa. Make sure you have your own support network to work on your own issues and remember how vital it is for her that you display healthy coping mechanisms for her. Do not be afraid to let her know how you feel, but reassure her that you are taking care of things in your own way and that she does not need to do that for you. If you fall into the trap of becoming the needy teen and putting her in the adult role, anxiety and resentment will set in for her over time. She needs the space to work purely on herself without shouldering your emotions.
4. Don’t ask or expect her to take sides between parents. Manipulating a child with negative messages about the other parent will set her up for confusion and resentment over time – even if things seem clear from your court. This includes being in earshot of her when you discuss family issues, even if you think she is not listening or seeing your texts. Protect her, above all else. Be the adult, take the high road and teach her to harness and trust her own feelings.
Remember that you are teaching your daughter the invaluable skills of stress coping and handling loss and transition as she grows into womanhood. She will be watching you and taking her cues from what is happening in the home, which will later greatly influence how she handles her own future challenges. Even if she seems disenchanted by you for a time, she is always listening, watching and feeling things, just as you did as a girl. She is deciding what to emulate and what to discard. She is becoming a young lady. Use these tips to help guide you through the process while you begin to give her the space she needs to flourish and watch her bloom.
Denna Babul and Karin Luise, authors of The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives (Avery, June 7, 2016). An extension of their non-profit, The Fatherless Daughter Project, Denna and Karin have made it their mission to give back, educate and create a place of true sisterhood for those who have had to (and succeeded in) finding success on their own time and of their own devices. The book helps readers who are struggling to understand their loss and claim the successes that await them.