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SHUT UP AND LISTEN

It’s been a five-year journey since I found Elizabeth on the floor of her bathroom that morning. She’s better now. She still has her struggles, but she's better. We talk about important things, the real stories. It wasn’t my fault she attempted suicide, but why didn’t I know how desperate she was? I've asked myself this question a thousand times. 

 

If she ever says, “Can we talk, Dad?” stop what you are doing. But don’t talk. Listen. She will tell you about her life on her terms, not on yours. Deepen your relationship with her by shutting up when it counts, Dad, and she will know where to go when she’s in trouble or needs help.

 

If you ever ask how she is and she says, “Fine,” don’t assume it's the truth—especially during the teen years. Listen carefully with your eyes, ears, and heart. Listen, like Frank Dearborn did, “with an open heart."

 

We men love to fix things and solve problems. This is a good thing - the world has a lot of problems. But there is a time to fix and solve, and there is a time to be quiet and listen. Do that with her. This is especially true if she’s upset. When she’s upset, she doesn't want to hear your solutions. She wants to be heard. If you hear something that deserves your attention, go back and explore it later. This might apply to your wife as well. It's a thought. 

 

When Elizabeth started middle school, many days after school she would get in the car, upset. She started telling me the stories of her day. It sounded dire and dramatic. It sounded like serious stuff. The stories did not come out in a way that made sense -they came out in fragments. I tried to piece them together. I asked questions. Questions made it worse. One day I decided to just listen. She told her dramatic story, one fragment at a time. In short, the world ended that day. I said as little as possible. An “Oh dear” here and there.

 

Then an amazing thing happened. She looked at me and said, “Can we get ice cream.” I said the most brilliant thing a dad ever said. "What flavor?” It ended just like that. She just needed to get it out.

 

Be present with your daughter without judging, fixing, or solving. Without making any of it right or wrong. Have the courage to hear the hard things.  If you bring a peaceful heart to her troubles, her heart will also become peaceful.

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN: Shut up and listen doesn't mean you should never talk- she needs the benefit of your wisdom, experience, and leadership. It just means listen first, or as Stephen Covey of "7 Habits" fame said, seek first to understand. She won't care what you think until she feels understood.

DAD TIP ON SAYING STUFF: When you think it’s time to say something, here’s some advice – don’t say anything until you know what you’re going to say. Don’t shoot from the hip. Craft your message carefully and plan to have about one minute of her attention. Seriously. Boil what you want her to hear into something clear and concise. Avoid lectures. Don’t judge. Choose the time and place wisely. 

You may be thinking, "but she never listens to me." You're wrong. I can't tell you how many times my daughters have repeated back something I said in the past, sometimes very distant past. Sometimes things I wish I hadn't said, sometimes things they seemed to dismiss but actually took to heart.

 

My dad used to say when I was young, "Don't just do what you're asked to do, do what needs to be done." This was usually in reference to things I didn't do, like not edging the yard. "Uh, because you told me to cut the grass." His wisdom was annoying at age 13, but I carried those words throughout my life, and they served me well. It will surprise you what your kids remember.

Take care that your actions line up with your words, because she can spot hypocrisy a mile away. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying."

You may be thinking ...  what if she never wants to talk to me?

 

I have a solution for you: road trip. You and her. Around hour four or five, she will be so bored that she will talk - in my experience. If she’s under ten, you only need one thing for a successful road trip: the promise of a hotel swimming pool at the end of the day. If she’s over ten, you will need a good sound system in your car and earplugs.

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YOUR NEW NORMAL

One day you are going to look up and it’s going to hit you: your little girl is not your little girl anymore. It will surprise you. When did that happen? Hips, breasts, hormones, moods, boys. The teen years, the best years of parenting….said no parent ever.

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SHE’S HAVING HER PERIOD

Both my girls had their first period with me. Alone. Single dad. Awkward. If there was a mom around, I would have headed for the gym. But I’m glad I didn’t. I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a woman in the world by being there for them when this started.

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BOUNDARIES 

She is pushing back against you and your rules as she grows into her own. She is supposed to be doing this. It’s normal.  It is part of the process of her becoming independent from you and moving into the world on her own. She’s not your little girl anymore.

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"Your action speak so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying." Ralph Waldo Emerson

SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LISTEN

Why are so many teens committing suicide? I say it's isolation. How can you be isolated with 500 Snapchat friends? Because they aren’t your friends. They aren’t authentic, real, human connections. A mile wide and an inch deep. They aren't people you can call at three in the morning when your heart hurts.

But you can be. Be the kind of dad she will turn to with her troubles. And when she does, shut up and listen.

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