parent opinion

'Some parents think my daughter and I are too attached. But it's for an important reason.'

Coming into this parenting gig as an “old school man’s man” with a daughter for the first time at 49 found me lying awake at night worrying.

Not only about the stuff I didn’t know but also the stuff that apparently, I’d been doing wrong all my life. How does someone get to 49 years old without knowing you must NEVER wipe your butt in the wrong direction?

Yet despite all of the learning curves, I absolutely loved everything about being Charlie’s dad right from the start.

Her complete dependence on me initially filled me with with fear and terror. But then it developed into a sense of purpose and achievement like nothing else. Having this amazing little miracle relying on me was the most masculine I’d ever felt.

Then just after Charlie’s second birthday, I was thrust into the role of both mother and father.

While I’ve had the amazing support of my mother and sister, it’s been just Charlie and I for the last five years. And in that time, I’ve cried more than I’d cried in the entire 49 years before.

I struggle to hold in the tears every single time Charlie has a needle. I sat in the in the car and cried like a baby outside of Charlie’s first day at kindergarten. I cried at Charlie’s first ballet class and first gymnastics class. There have been so many tear-stained firsts. Yet I feel more masculine than ever.

It’s true, there is something special about the bond between dads and their daughters.

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Almost every night for the last five years, Charlie has crawled into my bed to elbow and kick me like some midget ninja. Yet when I tell people this, I’m told she needs to sleep in her own bed.

Why does Charlie need to sleep in her own bed every night? How can I say to her (or more importantly show her) “it doesn’t matter when, where or what it is, if you need me, I’m there for you”? I’d hate to think of her hesitating to call me in the middle of the night when she’s 16 at a party.

At home this kid must be on top of me like a barnacle. I’m not sure why we even have a toilet door anymore. And this seems to be a concern for some.

“How will she cope if she has to be away from you?”

I hear this all the time and yet and Charlie will try anything I challenge her to do and shows no trepidation about being away from me. I’m the one who actually struggles. And I believe the reason is because Charlie and I can’t be too attached.

It’s our rock-solid attachment that allows Charlie to trust me and allows me to guide her. It is our unconditional relationship that frees Charlie from looking for love and to allows her to grow. Charlie shouldn’t have to work for love, not with me and definitely not with any future partner. Charlie needs to see the example of love not being conditional on certain behaviours, compliance or convenience.

Charlie needs to see the example of love not being conditional on certain behaviours, compliance or convenience. Image: Supplied.
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I’m 50 years older than Charlie and the reality is, she’ll spend the majority of her life without me. So the ultimate goal is raising Charlie to become her own separate person. I want Charlie to have her own mind, set her own goals, come up with her own reasons, make her own decisions, think for herself and set her own boundaries.

Because Charlie feels certain her need for unconditional love will be met, she doesn’t have to be preoccupied with pursuing me. Because she knows she can count on me as her dad, protector and provider, to guide and nurture her, Charlie doesn’t need to cling to me.

Charlie used to cling to me as a pre-schooler out of insecurity. But it is her security in our attachment that frees Charlie and allows her to let go of me; attachment isn’t the enemy of growth but insecure relationships will be, both now and in her adult life.

Don’t get me wrong, I still need to be the disciplinarian but just as importantly a nurturer, never a feared figure but an example of respect and affection. The traditional gender roles in a relationship isn’t something I’d necessarily want for Charlie’s future relationships. Charlie needs to be convinced of her value and recognise when others don’t.

Charlie has to know she can depend on me (even more so as her mum isn’t in her life) if she’s told her behaviour is not okay, I make sure she understands that the relationship still is. So the idea of using what Charlie cares about against her (e.g. sanctions and withdrawing privileges) or forms of separation-based discipline, such as time-outs just don't sit well with me.

Most importantly, I realise that Charlie is always watching and that what I do matters way more than what I say. I need to be asking myself what is Charlie learning about life in general, about morality about how people should treat one another, about relationships from observing me every day?

My masculinity used to mean not being comfortable showing (or even admitting) fear. But since young girls tend to look to their mothers and immediate family for models of bravery (boys look to public figures) and as Charlie doesn’t have her mother in her life, it’s important that I share my fears with Charlie, as well as how I tackle those fears.

How do you deal with raising a young girl? Tell us in the comment section below. 

A version of this post originally appeared on Kiddipedia.

Kiddipedia is a World First Parenting Website and Australia's leading parenting resource, the only place parents can access Australia's top parenting websites, and their articles, from one place.

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