The Responsibility to Change

Parenting a teenage daughter can be a frightening experience. My wife and I are learning this as we navigate the parenting of our two daughters, who are 14-and 16-years-old. We have been experiencing a large number of changes regarding our 16-year-old. It all started to surface this past summer, when she turned 16. Two large changes occurred: she obtained her driver’s license, and began dating. One boy in particular, she began to get very serious with. It seemed to us our daughter’s life immediately expanded exponentially, and we, as parents, were ill-equipped for what was yet to come.

During the spring and summer months our daughter’s thoughts and concerns began to drift more towards her boyfriend, and less towards our family, which began to trouble my wife and me. It seemed to us, her life was out of balance, as all she wanted was to spend time with him. Our daughter’s relationships with her friends and family took a back seat to her relationship with her boyfriend. We tried to set limits on the time they spent together. To top it off, when they spent time at our home, they would do things that we felt were inappropriate for their age. Numerous times I found myself trying to change them to act in a way that I thought was appropriate and responsible. Slowly, I sensed our daughter was reluctant to spend time in our home, especially while with her boyfriend, so they spent time elsewhere. As a result, my wife and I had numerous conversations with her trying to change her behavior. As you might imagine, those conversations resulted in an argument where she was nodding her head in agreement, just so we would stop nagging.

During this time period, at one of the apartment communities I manage, the clubhouse and pool are open to the residents. Even though we do not live in the community, my kids know the staff well, and know they are welcome to use the pool at their leisure. One hot Sunday morning, our daughter asked if she could invite her boyfriend to go to the pool with her. I reluctantly agreed, so long as she take her younger sister, and that she be responsible. Knowing that I work with the apartment staff, I looked her in the eyes while shaking my finger at her, and said with conviction, “do not embarrass me.” She, per usual, gave me a disgusted look, rolled her eyes, said “whatever dad,” and left.

A couple of days later I was at work, and after one of our meetings some of my colleagues said they saw my daughters at the pool the previous Sunday. What they told me next infuriated me. Although it was a little uneasy for them to disclose, they told me I might want to talk with my older daughter about some of her behavior at the pool. Upon hearing this, I immediately began to paint a picture in my mind of what had happened. I had told her not to embarrass me, but in my heart, I knew that she would, and now I had validation. I had proof from my colleagues, and I even went as far as pulling some of the security camera footage from the day she was at the pool. I was so upset, I could not see straight. In fact, she was even more inappropriate there than she had ever been in our home. I wanted to go home that minute to expose her, take away all of her privileges, and end her relationship with her boyfriend. It was obvious to my colleagues that I was upset. One of them in particular noticed how I was feeling, and subtlety told me, “remember, you do not want to push her away.” It was as if she had been in my daughter’s shoes before. What she said helped me slow down enough to realize what I wanted to do was not what I should do.

That evening, I went home and told my wife what had happened. We both realized that our daughter needed to change. My initial reaction was to punish her, and be done with it, but I somehow knew that if I did that, nothing would change. It took me being embarrassed in front of my colleagues to realize the focus was not on my daughter, it was on me. I was concerned of how other people saw me, and thought of me. If that is what I am preoccupied with, then how on earth could I ever think about my daughter, let alone have a positive influence on her? The answer was plain and simple, I cannot think about her, and I will not have an influence. It took getting publicly embarrassed for the manifestation of my self-focus to surface. Upon realizing this, I knew I needed to change. It became less of a matter of changing my daughter, and more of a matter on changing myself so that I do not lose my daughter. I never wanted to lose my daughter, but how I had been in the months previous, was putting us on that trajectory. My daughter did not need to change, I did.

The following evening, I had the sense to go in my daughter’s room and sit at the foot of her bed, and have a conversation in a way that I had never had before. All I did was spend time finding out what was really important to her. What I had thought was important, I realized was not. What before seemed like immaturity and a resistance to change, was actually maturity, and a desire to be better. I had been too blinded by my self-focus to see that. I had been missing out on precious moments like this that make being a dad worth it. That was my fault, not hers. Our relationship is not perfect. There is still a lot of work that I need to do. Because I realized how I was adding to the problems that caused me pain, I shifted into a position to influence my daughter. It is now about her, not me.

The ending to that story, is the beginning of a new one. The next day, my 14-year-old daughter told me while driving to the store, “Dad, I’m proud of you… now I know I can talk to you.” She had been watching everything from the months previous to the pivotal conversation the night prior at the foot of my 16-year-old daughter’s bed. The ability to realize that I needed to change has determined my influence on both of my daughters. I see now, that impacting others is first a responsibility of changing myself.