The difference between raising girls and boys is like night and day. Boys are simple creatures. You clean up their messes and bind their wounds and send them out again. They are barely worth talking to because they don’t listen to much of anything a parent says. Girls, on the other hand, hang on every word. Girls expect a constant flow of dialogue and your undivided attention all day, every day. My daughter, Lauren, is just such a female. She’s almost 21 now but when she’s home from college she still requires our best efforts to keep her happy.
When Lauren was small she struggled with being the younger sibling to our son, Thomas. Thomas was the life of the party and always garnered lots of attention from friends and family especially when he sang. Lauren didn’t start talking as early as he did but I think it was mostly because he talked so much there were no available slots for her to get a word in edgewise. She watched in awe as her brother kept the party going with chatter and antics that were incredibly funny. She also carried a sheepskin with her at all times for security. That thing lasted for years and was nothing more than a few inches across on its last day.
It was about the time Thomas entered junior high, that Lauren finally got her opportunity. Boys stop talking when they hit the teenage years. They still talk to each other but parents aren’t included in their inner circle unless something blew up or the cops are coming. Lauren filled the silence with singing, dancing, Barbies and friends. She and her brother were actually quite close and her friends envied her for having such a great older brother. The girls all wanted to come here to play and be around Thomas. By the time the girls were in junior high and Thomas was in high school, he had earned the nickname “Hot Tommy.” He said he hated it but I doubt it. He loved the attention.
Unfortunately, the junior high years for girls are traumatic. We had tantrums and screaming fits and slamming doors and every possible exclamation of rejection you could imagine. And those were her good days. Other times she wouldn’t say anything. She just went to her room and cried until one of us worked up the courage to venture into the lion’s den. I never knew what to expect so I just wore extra clothes for protection. I had two older sisters and a wife but I still didn’t know what women wanted from me. Teenage girls are not rational beings. You cannot apply logic of any kind to their problems. I was a terrible father at this stage of parenting, or so I thought. I couldn’t make her happy no matter how hard I tried. All my old tricks like singing stupid songs or reading to her were rejected out of hand when her emotions controlled her. She even made me crazy to the point that I held her door closed while she screamed and pounded on the other side. There were times I thought I had Regan from the Exorcist living in my house. I still don’t know if I did the right thing by just letting her blow off steam but she’s a great young lady now so I guess it worked out for the best.
I think the most important thing I learned about parenting is the importance of just being there. Children will only become secure in their emotional well being if they have parents who are there for them no matter what. Fathers are especially important in this way. You don’t have to have all the answers but you do have to hear all the questions and it’s okay to admit it when you’re wrong about something. They don’t really expect perfect parents but they do want to know you care and even when they misbehave they need to know you still love them. When that door to her bedroom finally opened, I was always there to give her a hug and reassure her that life will get better. That’s the real challenge and joy of parenting. When it seems like it can’t get any worse, kids will always give you another chance to try again. Emerson once said “When it is dark enough, men see the stars.”
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