Sharing the Parenting

 

 Paul is the dad of two daughters, 11 and 14. His relationship with Alexis, the 11-year-old, had been stormy for years. "She resisted everything I asked her to do, and she would accuse me of never being there for her," says Paul.

But things changed for Paul's family when his wife's career geared up. Both she and Paul saw this as a chance for him to cut back on work and be with the girls more. "All at once," Paul recalls. "I was the one who was there when the girls got home from school. I was the one who took them to the dentist and made their lunches." In other words, Paul began sharing the parenting, not just helping.

His relationship with Alexis was still difficult. "She kept turning everything into a fight," Paul says. A major source of contention was Alexis's messy room. At one point, Paul told her, "This weekend we're going to clean up your room." And Alexis said something charming like, "You can't make me." So the weekend came, and Paul was in his daughter's room sorting through debris. Meanwhile, she sat on the bed refusing to help. But things changed when Paul began to sort his daughter's books. "We started talking about ghost stories, aliens and unsolved mysteries. Those were the stories that I liked at her age, too," says Paul. "As we talked, she finally got off her bed and started helping." The two of them worked all day on her room, and the next day they traded her kiddy dresser for one that looked more grown-up.

Paul remembers in this way: "That weekend was a real breakthrough for us. Somewhere in there, she decided I wasn't the enemy. Also, I decided she was at least partly right - up until the, I hadn't really been there for her."

Whether you're an at-tome dad or juggling a busy career, two points in Paul's story can hyelp you begin to share the parenting. First, curiosity matters. When Paul approached his daughter's bookshelf with genuine curiosity, she responded. He started asking questions, and that created an opening.

The second point is one Paul stresses as most important. "Hours matter," he says. "It takes time to connect. As dads we have to make it a priority. Otherwise you never know how much a girl needs and wants your guidance - or how great it can make you feel to be a bigger part of her life."

Source: Daughters, 2-3/01, Amy Lunch

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