by Stephen Arterburn[Note: This article was written in May 2010. Variables such as the age of Steve’s daughter have been left as they were in the original article.]
I have an amazingly wonderful 19-year old daughter who has brought me joy beyond my wildest dreams. She plays soccer for Azusa Pacific University and if you met her, you would most likely be drawn to her as she stands up, looks you in the eye and tells you how glad she is to meet you. She is one of the exceptional young women who graduated high school as a virgin and having never experimented with alcohol or drugs. Frequently I am asked how to raise a daughter like Madeline. I always have the same answer. “You would have to raise Madeline.”
Most parents are aware that you can do everything right and still end up with a problem child. It is a tough world. Kids make choices and you cannot protect them from every negative influence. So I give Madeline the credit for steering clear of the things that throw so many kids off track.
But there are some things that characterized our relationship that I think increased the likelihood that she would not only do exceptional things but also do those things with exceptional character. If you are raising a daughter, here are my seven best ideas from my experience as Madeline’s dad.
1 You have to be there, no matter what: I remember cutting a negotiation short in Dallas because I had to make a flight, the only flight that would allow me to attend Madeline’s school program. I made it and when the curtain opened on a stage with 50 preschoolers, I watched my daughter scan the room, find me on the side, and with a $3,000 grin, be the only child to shout out loud, “DADDY!” And since then I have made special efforts be wherever she was.
You be there. And if you cannot, have someone film what she is doing. Text, e-mail or fax to her that you are thinking about her, praying for her and “with her” even though you have to be away. But make those the exceptions and not the rule. Whatever her major interest or activity, be there and be active in it with her.
2 You have to “really” be there for her: No, this is not a redundant point. You have to put down whatever gadget you love and focus on her. Your presence means your attention as well as your proximity. You can’t send your body to the game or program or concert and allow your brain to catch up later. She needs your focus and attention and connection.
In fact, showing your daughter how to connect with a male in a non-sexual way versus her trying desperately to feel some type of connection with anyone that comes along in any way she can, may be the foundation for her sexual integrity and purity. Eyeball to eyeball is the most powerful way to parent.
3 Protection is a close second to your presence: I never dreamed that as a father I would have to think about how to protect my child from being molested or abused. But I took up the task, allowing sleepovers rarely and only in homes I knew extremely well. And only after specific instructions on what to do if she was uncomfortable there or anyone tried to touch her “swimsuit” parts. And when it came to camps, the same conversations and instructions were given. But her confidence and strength were her biggest protection. She did not possess the compliant profile of a victim. The protection went beyond her childhood. She was not allowed to date until she was 16 and I monitored those dates and the communication between her and the boys. There was a time I had to sit down with two parents and let them in on the kind of messages their son was leaving for my daughter, who fortunately had not responded.
When she found a guy she was “serious” about and I had my doubts about, I poured into that guy whatever I could. I did all I could do to influence him rather than wait to see how he might influence her. I remember not really liking one of these guys and watching him mature in character and then finally want Christ in his life and in control of his life. His character became her protection.
4 Be sure she knows the difference between rights and privileges: She has a right to eat, be clothed, educated and cared for. Your daughter does not have the right to date, drive a car, own a car or go to college. Tell her that she must prove herself worthy of those privileges and if she is irresponsible and unable to make good choices the last thing in the world you are going to do is allow her to be alone with a guy or get a license to drive a death machine or be supported to live away from home at college or anywhere else.
But be sure she knows that these are all things you want for her and help her to develop into the young woman that can handle them. Build her confidence by not doing for her what she can do for herself and coach her on how to build character, lead and serve rather than spoil her opportunity for a great life.
5 Have a “death penalty” and be sure she knows you are willing to sentence her to it: By “death penalty” I mean a consequence so severe and drastic that to her it would seem like a death. Tell her that if she does make good choices you will reward her by helping her in any way you can to drive, own a car and go to school. If she earns these privileges but mismanages them, you will take them away (as well as cell phones, televisions, computers, iPods and anything else other than food and clothes) as a consequence to modify her behaviour.
And if those consequences do not motivate her to modify her behaviour let her know you will send her to a place where others will be allowed to work with her to modify her behaviour. She should be familiar with wilderness programs, treatment centres and military boarding schools and know that you have every intent of sending her there if she does not respond to your attempts to help her get back on track. Don’t threaten her, just implement consequences if her behaviour warrants them.
6 Involve other adult females in her life: On Madeline’s 16th birthday I held a dinner for her and invited six adult women who had been involved in her life. These women took her to dinners, movies, shopping and church. They prayed for her and she knew that if we were not around, she was connected to a lot of people who loved her and would be sure she was never left alone. And on her 16th I pulled them all together and they shared what they loved most about her and the experience they remembered best.
7 Be the spiritual leader she needs to see: Every night we read, sang and prayed. But spiritual leadership was more than that. Be the first in the home to say you are sorry. Be the one who is up first to pray and study the Bible. Be the one who implements the prayer option first in times of trouble. Be the one who takes everyone to church and talks about it afterward. Be the one who serves and shares with those less fortunate. Be the man God called you to be and allow her to see it.
I hope these ideas help. I hope they motivate you to see your daughter as a person you can parent well and enjoy beyond your wildest dreams.
Stephen Arterburn is a best selling author of books such as Every Man’s Battle and Preparing Your Daughter for Every Young Woman’s Battle, and a speaker at Promise Keepers Canada conferences. He is also the creator of the Women of Faith conferences. He lives with his wife and their five children in Indianapolis, Indiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article above was featured in the May 2010 issue of SEVEN magazine.