Just wait until they turn 13, they said. Yeah, they’re cute now, but the day is coming, they said. Then my daughter turned 13. And I admit, the days are a lot more unpredictable when you have a middle school daughter. I never know whether I’ll be driving Jekyll or Hyde home from school on any given afternoon. Hair colors change from day to day, moods change from minute to minute. One moment they are cuddling in your lap like they did when they were 3; the next moment they’re rolling their eyes at you and holing themselves up in their room.
Can you relate?
It’s a confusing time for middle school girls—they’re caught somewhere between being a little girl and wanting to be an independent young adult. They are seesawing between the two at any given moment.
It’s a confusing time for us dads, too, for obvious reasons. On the one hand, it’s hard to know what to expect out of your daughter. But more than that, it’s easy to feel like your role as a dad carries less weight than it once did. As a dad of a middle schooler, sometimes I feel like I’m a benched player when I was once a starting quarterback.
Well, as a fellow dad-of-daughters, I’m here to say that you (and I) are still in the game. And I’d like to share some words of encouragement for being the best dad you can for your middle school daughter.
Your daughter needs you to spend time with her.
Yes, she wants to exercise a lot more independence. She wants her space, her privacy. But your middle school daughter also desires to spend time with you. I mean good, quality time where she has your undivided attention. She not only wants to know you love her, but also that you like her, you like being with her, hanging out with her. Make time to do your favorite things together. Go on a coffee date, chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, take a hike, watch a movie, jam to music in the car (both yours and hers). If you haven’t already, find the activity that is going to be “your thing together.” (My daughter and I have “our” TV show that we watch together.) If you do have “your thing together,” go ahead now and make plans to do it again soon. (No, like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait here…)
Your daughter needs you to listen.
It used to be that I could sit my daughter down and teach her all kinds of wisdom and “life lessons,” and she’d hang on to my every word. At 13, that doesn’t work quite as well anymore; “life lessons” come across more like lectures or replays of what’s been said before. But where my daughter and I do connect nowadays is when she comes to me to talk. I’ve found the key is to do a lot less “lesson-giving” and a lot more listening. Listen to understand. Ask questions to get an idea of where she’s coming from, how she’s feeling. And always, always let her know that she can come to you anytime with anything on her mind… and you won’t respond with any kind of judgment or ridicule.
And a funny thing happens sometimes: in the course of simply listening to my daughter, somehow a nugget of wisdom will slip through the cracks and get heard by her. Amazing how that works.
Your daughter needs you to affirm her.
Lots of changes are happening in your middle school daughter’s life: brain development, friendships, body changes, emotions. It’s just a normal part of her development. But when your daughter experiences these changes, it can cause her to be unsure of herself, and she needs a regular boost of confidence. This is where you come in.
All middle school daughters need to hear certain things from their dads. Let her know how intelligent you think she is, how creative, how bright. Tell her that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend. Don’t shy away from complimenting her physical appearance in an appropriate way: her hair, her eyes, how tall she’s getting. (My daughter is an avid cross country runner, and she beams whenever I ask her to flex her leg muscles and show me how strong she is.) Let her know she grows more and more beautiful every day. (Seriously—she needs to specifically hear the word beautiful applied to her.)
Affirming who she is and who she is growing to be can make all the difference in how your middle school daughter feels about herself and her future.
Your daughter needs you to be interested in her world.
Her world in middle school is more complex than when she was younger. She’s discovering what she likes and dislikes, trying new interests, and devoting more time to activities she can call her own. It’s important to remember she considers this part of her space, her world; but, she wants you to come over and visit often.
Ask her questions about what interests her. Allow her to be the expert on whatever it is she’s into. Ask her to tell you about her best friend, how she goes about putting color in her hair, or what’s going on in the reality show she watches. The trick is to show genuine interest without seeming intrusive or nosy. And you certainly want to avoid coming across as judgy of her friends or interests. Showing interest in her world tells her that you are interested in her and that she means a lot to you.
Your daughter needs you to believe in her.
Here’s something I realized about my daughter not too long ago: it’s possible that she’s going to do something later in her life that will absolutely change the world. I have no idea what that might be. Maybe she’ll help heal people as a doctor, or write award-winning screenplays, or solve some major crisis in a far-off country. And the same possibility holds true with your daughter as well.
Here’s the question I have to ask myself: when that time comes around, do I want my daughter to look back and see that her daddy believed in her every step of the way?
Absolutely I do.
And I’m sure you want the same for your daughter as well. Let her know you believe she’s capable of making a difference in the world around her, both now and in the future.
Dads, I’m asking you to join me in the mission of being the best dad you can be for your middle school daughter.
Let me leave you with a sobering thought: this is the stage when it’s the easiest to pull away from your daughter but is possibly the most crucial stage to stay in the pocket. You’re still in the game and called to play it strong. Your middle school daughter needs you, whether she’s Jekyll or Hyde on a given day. Now, go eat some greasy cheeseburgers with her and tell her she’s beautiful.
For more great information on being the best dad for your daughter, check out the links below: