Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Dads, Daughters and Self-esteem

 After writing this article I felt like it was necessary to come back to the beginning and preface it with a statement about how proud I am of my amazing daughter and how much I love her. With that said, the questions I originally began with still stand. Am I a bad person because I don't like the TV show Full House nor the sequel series with the clever title Fuller House? Do I have to be interested in cupcakes and the various icing related gadgets to be considered a good father? These questions and more have been worrying me recently as I have begun to worry that my lack of interest in the stuff my daughter is into may be affecting her sense of self-worth. I worry that she may be thinking that if she was more interesting to me that she would be a better person? Does Daddy's opinion matter that much?

Hey Dad's with daughters, want to hear something scary?

"...fathers who pay attention to their daughters' achievements, interests and characters tend to produce confident adults..."¹

If that does not keep you awake at night worrying about whether you should have spent more time at ballet practice watching her dance and less time on your phone, how about this one?

"Studies show that dads give girls 90% of their self-esteem before the age of 12."¹

<a href='https://www.freepik.com/vectors/hand'>Hand vector created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>
My apologies if you are a father of a 13 year old daughter. According to the author of these quotes, (a Dr. I did no additional research on!) you are too late. You should have spent more time dressing up in princess outfits and having tea parties.

Early on in my parenting career, I had the idea that both my son and daughter should not be encouraged by me into gender roles. If my son wants to play with dolls, no problem. If my daughter wants to play with trucks, cool. I think I did OK with this but I am starting to see another problem. For whatever the reason, the activities that my son was involved with were more interesting to me than the things my daughter wanted to do. Now I am sure there are several identifiable non-gender related reasons for this. My son was born first and I am pretty sure that new parents spend more time and energy on the novelty of their entrance to parenthood. The second child is loved just as much but there is a certain "been there done that" feeling and number 2 comes out a little behind. There is also the added financial stress from a second child, especially if the first one is still in school. Tuition doubles, food and clothing costs go up and parents may feel that they need to work harder which results in a tired and stressed Daddy who does not have as much patience at the end of the day.

I have tried encouraging my daughter to get into things that I am interested in but that has had only lukewarm results. I think that it was probably not the best approach anyway. If she is feeling less confident about herself because Daddy does not get excited about her hobbies, she is likely to feel bad that she does not like Daddy's hobbies and has to fake it. I have bad dreams where she blames herself because she is not "interesting" enough. 

If you search for the word "confidence" among my article archive (click here to see the results) you will find that it is a recurring theme. Confidence helps our kids to follow their own interests rather than be swayed by the crowd. Confidence is immediately visible in a college or job interview and is valued as a positive quality by both employers and college admissions. Confidence is good. Self-esteem and self-confidence are similar but there is a difference. I found an excellent explanation so I am going to copy it here.

Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself overall; how much esteem, positive regard or self-love you have. 

Self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities and can vary from situation to situation.²

While it is clear from the above definitions that there is a difference, I believe that confidence grows from self-esteem. It is hard for our daughters to feel that they are capable of doing something well if they do not feel good about themselves in general.

In an interesting coincidence, I found myself listening to an audio recording the other day from the Harvard Business Review article on gender differences. While it pointed out that women are not necessarily less confident, it did say that women are less likely to raise their hand and ask for a promotion. Later that same week I read the article in the Financial Times about gender pay differences and the uphill battle that women face in the workplace. Self-confidence and self-esteem are the very least we as Dads can provide for our daughters as they head out into the jungle.

I desperately want my daughter to know that I love her and am proud of her. I want that reinforcement to strengthen her own self-esteem and confidence so that she can grow up into the amazing women I know she will be. If that means making more of an effort to appreciate and participate in the things that mean something to her then I am all in.


References

¹nationalparentsorganization.org

²healthyplace.com

For those of you with an interest in more studies on the father's impact on a daughter's self-esteem, here are some additional links:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276846854_Father_and_Daughter_Relationship_and_Its_Impact_on_Daughter's_Self-Esteem_and_Academic_Achievement

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/girls-women-and-wellness/201507/dads-whats-your-impact-your-daughters-body-image


Monday, August 10, 2020

What do Nietzsche, Buddha, and Dostoyevsky all have in common?

Don’t you wish kids came with instructions?  A QR code on the bottom of their left foot would work. You could scan it and get a menu of all the important product information. What foods they are allergic to; suitable sports and activities; gender identity(!); and of course, the best career for them to achieve success and happiness; their purpose in life. 

Purpose!

Unfortunately, that is not the case. At least my 2 kids do not seem to have any labels or manuals attached to them. We have to figure it all out as we go along. There is a lot of trial and error and we can only hope that we are making choices that give our kids a brighter future. We hardly ever know though. Maybe letting him quit the violin would have been OK when he was 10 or signing her up for that soccer league instead of basketball. 

What if an angel or alien or L. Ron Hubbard (whatever you believe in) appeared to you and stated unequivocally that you were meant to be a doctor or forest ranger or whatever. They explained that there is a master plan and you are a key part of it and if you follow your designated vocation you will not only find happiness and a certain amount of success but also you will contribute to humanity's journey through the universe. You are not meaningless at all! 

Have you ever met someone who has a purpose? Someone who is convinced that building the next Facebook or saving the planet through eliminating Pez Dispensers is what they were put on this earth to accomplish? Their confidence is unassailable and they have a single-minded focus on achieving their goal. In addition, they usually seem happy with their lot in life. Almost like the uncertainty of life is what makes us unhappy. Nietzsche had a nice turn of phrase that resonates here, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

The problem for me is that I do not believe it. I don't think there is a master plan. I am not religious but even if I were, I do not think I would buy into a God who planned everything out ahead of time. What would be the point? So if there is no plan and we (and our kids) are not on this earth for a specific reason then how do we take advantage of this powerful drive that comes with having a purpose? I did a quick search and the word "focus" came up 28 times so far in my past articles. "Goal" or "goals" came up 71 times. It makes a difference if our kids are driven for something.

Having a purpose, a defining purpose. Something so strong that you can say that you were put on this earth in order to do it. Purpose with a strong feeling of inevitability to it. That kind of feeling and belief is hard to compete with. Amazing things can be accomplished with that kind of dedication and persistance.

I found a few good quotes while researching this article. Here is another one, this time from Buddha, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” With all due respect to Buddha, I  think he could have said it differently and it would have been more empowering if he just changed "find" to "choose". 

What if you could choose your purpose in life? If we are all here through random chance and apart from the biological imperatives of survival and procreation there are no specific tasks assigned to any of us, then why not choose? There is a certain freedom that comes with replacing "find" with "choose". Find implies that there is already something specifically for you. We need to find the right thing to focus on or we are wasting our life. Bullsh*@, to speak bluntly. There is no one right path to choose. I would go so far as to say that there might be an infinite number of right paths. Rather than feeling the debilitating stress and fear that we might be choosing the 2nd best or worse, the wrong direction, free yourself and your kids by starting with the premise that the 1 you choose is the right one because you chose it.

So the message to my kids (starting tonight) will be:
You were put on this earth for a reason. Everyone, including you, have a purpose in life. The magical thing about this purpose though is that you get to choose. And, you cannot make the wrong choice because whatever you decide will be the right way for you. There are no wrong choices about purpose. Strive for something that you choose to believe in and you will be a star.

One last quote to wrap things up. I am going to change his wording as well since Dostoyevsky struggled with the same societal/religious challenges as Buddha.

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding choosing something to live for.”