He wants her to watch history and science shows with him, and go hiking, camping and backpacking. But those are not her interests right now, although she does participate when he asks her to. The problem is that instead of at least tolerating her fangirling, my husband tends to disparage it, and roll his eyes. We can’t watch anything on TV or listen to anything in the car related to her interests while he’s around, and if we are talking about something he will sometimes break in and tell us to stop because it annoys him.
All of this has tended to push her (and me, to some extent) away from him. Yet, while lamenting that they are not closer, he simply refuses to engage with her on these subjects. Both of them are alike in that they are argumentative, particularly with each other, and if they disagree with each other or even have a misunderstanding neither will let it go, such that we end up with ridiculous escalating fights. He is also very critical — of both of us, but particularly of her lack of competitiveness (she hates team sports, and takes archery and piano but only for “fun”), lack of initiative, and being “uninformed,” to the extent that he gives her “assignments,” like reading articles from National Geographic and discussing them with him, which, of course, she resents.
I see his point to some extent. He’s trying to be a parent to her and teach her what he thinks is important for her to know, while I am trying to encourage her to develop her own interests and do what she loves. But his way is tearing them apart, to the point where she and I look forward to him traveling so we won’t have to tiptoe around him. Is there a middle ground? Please don’t suggest counseling – communication is not an issue, as we have talked about these problems over and over. I just wonder if there is an approach I have not considered. — Mother of a Fangirl
Well, how nice for you that your 12-year-old daughter is interested in all the same things you’re interested in! How easy it must be to cultivate a close relationship and enjoy time together when you both like the same stuff! Unfortunately for your husband, it’s not as easy for him to nurture his relationship with his adolescent daughter and rather than helping him — and by extension, your daughter — create a closer parent-child bond, you seem to be almost delighting in the “Us Against Him” mentality you share with your daughter (“we look forward to him traveling so we won’t have to tiptoe around him,” etc.).
But it isn’t you guys against him. You and your husband are partners and your job is to guide your daughter lovingly into adulthood, giving her all the tools you can to be independent, strong, and self-assured. You do her a disservice by being greedy with her time and attention. And, yes, you ARE being greedy, because as much as your daughter may genuinely enjoy your time together pursuing interests you both share, she is missing out on a relationship with her dad and all the things he can teach her through his interests. I understand how you might be torn — how easy it might be to embrace every second you have with her when you know all too soon, she’ll outgrow her “fangirl stage,” or at the very least, embrace additional teen-related obsessions, thereby reducing the time she cares to spend with you, and then soon after she’ll be leaving you and heading off for adventures of her own, away from you and her dad. This time is precious and it’s fleeting, and it’s understandable that you want to be … well, greedy with it. But you do so at your husband’s expense, your daughter’s expense, and possibly the expense of your marriage.
By not actively encouraging your daughter to spend time with her father, even if it means doing things she may not actively be interested in, you keep her from being the full person she could be. Who knows what interests of your husband’s she may learn to appreciate if she were more exposed to them. And who knows how their relationship might blossom if you and your husband would only make nurturing it more of a priority.
Obviously, this is as much your husband’s job as it is yours, but right now it seems he’s threatened by the bond you share with your daughter and is acting childish. That’s unfortunate (to say the least! If he had been the one to write to me, I’d be giving him an earful, believe me), but it only means you need to step up and be MORE parental, which includes putting your daughter’s interests first. And it’s in your daughter’s interest to have a strong relationship with her dad. So, encourage her to spend time with him. Express appreciation in your husband’s interests so that your daughter may learn to appreciate them — or at least be curious about them — too. Give up some of your precious one-on-one time with your daughter so that your husband can take her hiking or camping or to a science museum. She may still resent her father — and you! — for making her suffer through these things she finds boring, but the resentment will be short-term and the benefits will last much longer. I know from personal experience.
When I was a kid, I shared a lot of interests with my mom, too, and not as many with my dad. He liked baseball and trivia and languages and anthropology — all stuff I didn’t really care about. My mom and I both liked movies, reading, pop culture, and shopping. And while my mom certainly cultivated my love of our mutual interests, she also encouraged me to participate in some of my dad’s interests, too. I have vivid memories of being forced to attend Cardinals games with my dad because my mom said it was important. I was so annoyed! I hated sitting through long sports games. But you know what? I remember how happy my dad was to spend time with me and to share something with me that he was so passionate about. And to be 10, 11, 12, 13 and know that my sheer presence could make my dad so happy? That made me feel really loved and gave me a sense of confidence that is so, so important in a young girl (well, anyone, really).
Please do try to give the same gift to your daughter. Help her see the best side of her dad, even if he’s sometimes making it difficult. Make it easier for him to be his best self. Show interest in his interests. Build him up to your daughter while your opinion still means something to her. And relinquish some of your time with her so that your husband can have a chance to nurture his own relationship with her.
You may not see the rewards right away. It may take years and years before the pay-off is apparent. But nurturing these relationships between your daughter and both you and your husband while exposing her to things that may or may not be of immediate interest to her WILL help her be a more well-rounded, confident young woman secure in the knowledge that both her parents love her. It will also provide a model for her of living a rich adulthood, embracing passions and sharing passions them with the people you love (and showing interest in their passions!). Because your daughter may eventually outgrow her fangirl phase, but if you do your job right, she’ll never outgrow being a strong, confident, interesting — and interested — person.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.