Being a father to two girls is one role for which there is no training. Sure, there is a world of advice from well-meaning people, lots of literature and even some parent groups you can attend, but as each child has their own personality, we have to learn on the job. My wife and I start from the premise that we have no idea what we are doing but need to be agile enough to adapt when a decision didn’t quite work as planned or if our girls’ personalities drive a different approach. Part of the foundation we try to instill in them is that there are no limits to what they can achieve, if they can dream it, they can do it. Cliched, yes but a lot harder than imagined.
From a young age we got them involved in and exposed to all sorts of activities including rugby, football, scouting, surfing, swimming, engineering, science, building, designing, cooking, among others, partly to see what they naturally take to, but also to show that there is no definition of “what boys do and what girls do”. We thought this was working until my eldest daughter came home from school one day, telling me that only boys do building and play football (not withstanding that she was easily the best player in her mixed football team and that she regularly goes to watch the WSL teams play live!). This made me pause for thought. So many questions: Am I doing the right things? Am I doing enough of the right things? Did she challenge the person who said that (tough 1 for a then 5-year-old, I know)? Am I being the example they need? In a world of #metoo, #genderpaygap and #blacklivesmatter, why are these stereotypes still being enforced in young children, consciously or unconsciously?
"Some didn’t participate because they assumed that the team was for men only, others because they were never encouraged to as children and certain sports were seen as boys only"
This reminded me of the time I wrote an article at work for International Women’s Day where the tongue in cheek theme I decided on was “Women don’t play sport” to highlight that a lot of the social sporting activities at work had very low to no female participation and what needed to be done to facilitate inclusion. Speaking to some of my female colleagues about why they chose not to participate brought up some unanticipated insights. Some didn’t participate because they assumed that the team was for men only, others because they were never encouraged to as children and certain sports were seen as boys only. This can be equated to careers and everyday life as well. How do grown women not make up their own minds about what they want to try out? I naively thought. This showed a bigger issue around the perceived roles of women and what is societally acceptable. I digress, but I hope you are following my breadcrumbs…
These are bigger societal issues which while in the spotlight now, are not easy to address, but what can I do as a dad to help break the cycle and give my daughters the tools to not fall into these traps? Below is some of what I am working on to help them navigate the challenges they will face…
"Fill their time with sports and other mindfulness activities to give them the tools to adapt to their changing bodies and minds."
Know your daughter – they have their own personalities. Little girls become young women in the blink of an eye and as a man, I do not have personal lived experience of this. Try to be in tune with this and notice any changes they may be undergoing and adapt accordingly. Fill their time with sports and other mindfulness activities to give them the tools to adapt to their changing bodies and minds.
Do what they want to do – and they will always include me. I will always be cool in their eyes!
Engender resilience – in our always connected world, peer pressure will always be on. Teach them that what others say and do is not important to their happiness and self-worth.
Share my time, give them attention, show them love – being present is not enough. I need to devote time to them and what they like. Take them on a date. Show them how they deserve to be treated.
Answer their questions – no matter how uncomfortable it may be! If I don’t answer them or give unsatisfactory answers, they will go and ask someone else. I want them to trust me enough to come to me with anything and make sure they do not feel judged.
Self-respect, confidence in themselves, their abilities and to challenge things – the world won’t always agree with them, their friends may not be as good to them as they need, people may try to demotivate them. Teach them to be able to rely on themselves, be good to others but not expect anything in return, not cling to people who are not good for them and surround them with people who raise them up, and challenge ideas and opinions which they don’t agree with.
Not knowing their place! – don’t let them or especially others set limits on what they can achieve and let them not be pigeon-holed by defined roles.
Have loadsa fun 😁 - Play with them, joke, sing and dance with them! They will have their own challenges, so being at home and spending time with me should be fun and memorable!
Rashied Daniels, father of 2 wonderful daughters and a Dishevelled Dad.