One of the toughest things about being a parent is watching your child grow up and drift away from you. We want to hold on to our children for as long as possible; however, it’s important for us to give them room to grow and develop their own identities. I understand these things on an intellectual level. But on a practical level, it’s hard to cope with.
My daughter, Nee, who is almost 11, has already shown signs of pulling away. I’m not talking forms of rebellion that drive wedges between kids and parents. I’m talking about the natural evolution of a child who seeks to define herself outside of her parent’s influence.
It started at the Father-Daughter dance.
Last year, Nee and I had a great time at the dance. It was my opportunity to spend some quality time with her and model how a young man should treat her on a date. We enjoyed a quiet dinner together and danced in a stuffy, crowded gym. It was one of our most special times together.
This year was different, though. Nee didn’t even want to show me the flyer for the dance. When I finally saw it, I asked her why she hadn’t told me about the dance.
“I don’t want to go,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
She stood quietly for a minute and then replied, “I just don’t want to go.”
“Well we’re going anyway,” I said asserting my parental authority. I marked the date on the calendar as Nee stormed out of the kitchen.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked my wife.
“She’s concerned about whether or not it’s cool to attend the dance,” my wife said. “She’s also concerned that you’ll embarrass her.”
My daughter has always had a hard time making friends. Over the past couple of years, she’s managed to develop close friendships with a few girls in her class. I know that maintaining these friendships is important to her and that her friends’ opinions are often more important to her than mine are. I took it all in stride and decided to make the evening memorable for both of us.
On the day of the dance, I planned to take her to a fancy restaurant. She quickly let me know that doing so would be uncool.
“All of my friends are picking up dinner and eating at school before the dance,” she said.
“Good for them,” I said. “But I’m taking you somewhere special. You’ll love this restaurant.”
“Daddy, can we please pick up some food and eat it at the school like everyone else?” she pleaded. “ I just want to be normal.”
And there it was. She just wanted to fit in. To be normal.
Of course, I had a whole spiel about how she should strive to rise above the fray and blaze her own path, but I realized that this wasn’t the time for that speech. I simply complied with her request.
The dance turned out to be a bit of a dud mainly because Nee was so worried about my embarrassing her and I was a bit upset that our last Father-Daughter dance wasn’t going as I had planned.
A few days later while preparing for dinner, Nee walked up to me and said, “Daddy let’s dance like we did when I was younger.”
I was taken aback. Was this the same little girl who had rejected me at the Father-Daughter dance?
“Sure,” I replied. I grabbed her hands as she stepped on to my feet. We waltzed through the kitchen to the music of our hearts. And just like that, my broken-heart was mended. I’m sure that Nee will continue to pull away as she gets older, but I will treasure every moment that she wants to be Daddy’s little girl.