You’ve already started in the most significant way. You’ve given her the two foundations for healthy growth — roots and wings
Well, here’s a demographic you don’t usually hear from, but I have a question nonetheless. I’m the father of a 24-year-old young lady who is currently dating. I’ve watched my daughter go through so much in this parshah over the last four years, and it’s heartbreaking to witness. I’m not really looking to fix the system (although I’m happy to help), but I’m wondering how I can best support my daughter.
My daughter does well in life. She’s successful at work, has a group of close friends, gets along well with her family, and is pretty confident. When it comes to dating, however, she freezes. She’s relatively comfortable on the first two or three dates, but then she starts to feel pressured, and she isn’t herself.
The young man she’s dating now seems to have a lot of potential. He has many objectively good qualities, and she really enjoyed his company on the first several dates. She’s up to the sixth date now, and things are at a standstill. She’s feeling pressured to move things along, and I can’t tell if the pressure is internal, coming from the young man, from the shadchan, or from some other external force.
My daughter leans on me to help make her decisions. I know that if I express hearty approval, it will do a lot to allay her anxiety, but I’m not comfortable taking responsibility for the biggest decision of her life. I guess my question is: How can I help my daughter without putting undue pressure on her?
A Concerned Father
Dear Concerned Father,
Can I just start by saying how your letter touched me? Your daughter is so lucky to have you on her team.
Your letter speaks to the dilemma many parents face while guiding their adult children, and I particularly appreciate the perspective from a father.
I understand from your letter that in your family, your voice is an important one. What you say carries weight, and perhaps the family draws on your strength. Your opinion gives your family the confidence to move forward. This is an invaluable source of security that’s probably highly correlated with the confidence and success you attribute to your daughter. At the same time, you have the appropriate boundaries in place to ensure that this decision belongs to your daughter, as she will live with its consequences.
To answer your question of how to best support your daughter, let me say that you’ve already started in the most significant way. You’ve given her the two foundations for healthy growth — roots and wings. What she needs at this juncture is confidence in her ability to make good decisions and the uncluttered space to make them.
It’s very tempting to jump in with our opinion and rescue the people (especially people we love) who turn to us for advice by providing an answer. Do this, don’t do that. As you acknowledged above, this doesn’t prove helpful. A decision of this magnitude needs to be owned by the one making it.
Now, as her father, if you see something alarming that your daughter is missing, then of course you step in and share your concern. But in the absence of that, you want to create the space in which your daughter can come to her own conclusions with menuchas hanefesh and harchavas hadaas.
In the words of neuroscience, we need to relax her amygdala and engage her prefrontal cortex. When we experience fear, and our body is on high alert, we’re unable to access our logical thinking. So let’s reduce the fear. Let’s take off the pressure. Tell your daughter in both words and action that there is no rush. She can take whatever time she needs. It’s very common for the guys to be ready before the girls. Be your daughter’s advocate. If the shadchan is pressuring her, step in and verbally support your daughter’s need for more time. For some girls, just knowing the pressure is off is enough to get the flow back.
But time alone might not be enough. Help her make good use of that time by gently helping her identify what she fears. I know your daughter leans on you for advice. I’m not sure if she also processes with you. If you have that relationship, then try to open the conversation about different things that might be blocking her. Keep the discussion safe by not putting her on the defensive, and if you do ask questions, keep them open-ended (not “yes” or “no”) so you don’t introduce bias. You’re aiming for questions that encourage your daughter to explore her fears and access her inner wisdom. You may quickly come to the conclusion that it would be useful for your daughter to discuss this with a dating mentor, since there does appear to be a pattern here.
The unique piece you bring here is that you’re her father and she leans on you. I can’t overestimate how powerful that is. She needs to draw strength from you. And what you’re essentially doing is transferring your strength to her. By expressing confidence in her ability to access her own answers, you’re sending a powerful meta message about her own internal strength and wisdom. When she sees you believe in her, she’ll believe in herself. And what a gift that is for a lifetime!
Hatzlachah to your daughter in this momentous decision and to you in your continued role as an amazing father.
All the best,
Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a dating mentor. She lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, authenticity, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at email@example.com.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 838)
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