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October 28, 2020

Dear Dads, How to Love a Daughter—from her Therapist.

To honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I have penned the following letter to dad and dad-adjacent influences.

We know that women overwhelmingly make up the majority of interpersonal violence victims, and after many years of working with survivors, I have noticed a “wish list” of things that they reflect on in our sessions.

It is by no means a comprehensive list; it is drawn merely from my desire to give survivors a voice to educate the next generation.

~

Dear Dads,

Okay, maybe I’m not your daughter’s therapist proper, but I promise you that there are women just like the one you raised—or are still raising—who I work with in my practice every day. The things I am about to tell you come from a place of compassion and are drawn from the common themes I hear time and again.

When you compliment your daughter, don’t always make it about her looks. Tell her she’s fierce, or intuitive, or witty.

They need support while they are developing their sense of self, and when you make observations about internal traits, to them, you are fostering the development of those core parts. This will evolve into the development of core values and beliefs; personal boundaries are values and beliefs in action. Help them lay the foundation that functional relationships are built on.

They aren’t always going to agree with you.

In all ages and stages and for various reasons, they will challenge you and your experiences and beliefs. You, by default, have the expertise of lived experience; don’t be smug about it. Be the boundaries they can throw themselves against and teach them the art of civil discourse. Discretion is the better part of valor; model for your daughter how that looks and encourage the use of discernment. She needs to know how to advocate for herself and the causes she believes in.

If they tell you something intensely private or disclose that they were victimized, believe them. Oftentimes, girls have their dads on a pedestal, and having to tell anyone, especially their dad, they were or are currently being assaulted is panic-inducing—it feels like they failed their hero.

It isn’t their fault, they didn’t ask for it, it doesn’t matter what they were drinking or what they were wearing or where they were. Please don’t ask those things. As much as you may want to, please don’t make threats or light torches or gather pitchforks or make declarations of revenge. They’ve had their power taken away once already. You’ve taught them to be their own best advocate (see above), so ask them what they need. If they don’t know, don’t interrogate them. They were a victim, not the second gunman on the grassy knoll.

Teach them to trust their gut.

The gift of fear is a worthwhile one to develop, so please encourage it. Societal messaging shrieks at them all the time to be “nice;” you teach them to be safe, and to fiercely protect their right to be secure. While you’re teaching them that, go ahead and throw in the lesson about why being called a b*tch—or any of the other colorful vocabulary words assigned to females—isn’t the worst thing in the world and that it isn’t something to fear. They need to know that people who need boundaries the most like them the least, and that goes for the creepy human they don’t know who insists that they can help carry groceries into their apartment.

Respect them. Don’t shame them. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them about their friends and their music. Send them useless memes and corny jokes.

Treat them like a human who is worthy of love and connection simply because they are who they are right now in the moment. Teach them to be proud of themselves and reinforce that they have a right to be whomever and whatever that is for now—or for always—it doesn’t matter. Learning to take pride in who you are and develop an internal sense of worth is a skill, so foster that.

Most of all, love them—when they’re little and adore you, when they’re teenagers and hate you, when they’re all grown and miss you.

Always love.

~

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