homeschooling daughters

Six Things I Learned About Fathering Girls

I was only 21 years old when I became a father. When news came that I was going to have a little girl, I was pretty overcome with excitement but also had a fair amount of trepidation. I didn’t have any sisters, and all but one of my cousins were boys. I really had no experience with girls and was a little worried about how to father one.

There was an older gentleman I knew from church named Norm. He was a man who had daughters of his own who were already grown or about to fly the coop. This fellow was a pillar of the community, a well-respected member of the congregation, and a model of fatherhood. Norm was the strong, silent type, with a lean face and a big mustache that gave Sam Eliot cowboy vibes. I asked him one day if he had any advice for raising girls. His advice was simple but profound. He said, “Make sure you look em’ in the eye when you talk to em’.”

Norm’s advice wasn’t just about eye contact; it was about connection. In his own way, Norm was telling me that girls thrive in relationships—they need to be “seen” and acknowledged. I’ve learned time and again through my fatherhood journey how helpful this advice was.

Now, twenty-odd years later, it is I who have daughters starting to leave the nest. In this post, I’d like to share a few things I have learned from raising four girls over the past two decades and different ways to “look em’ in the eye.” One note: while this obviously comes from a father’s perspective, much of what I will say is applicable to mothers as well.

Listening Comes First

Probably the most important thing I have learned from raising girls is the importance of listening. And by listening, I mean actively listening. Active listening is more than just letting them talk until you get a chance to respond. It’s making a deliberate effort to understand. Sometimes, active listening entails picking up on things your daughter is communicating non-verbally, especially when it comes to expressing anxieties.

Often, your daughter’s complaints are merely symptoms of a bigger concern. For example, when my oldest daughter went away to college, I remember a phone conversation with her in which she listed a litany of things that were upsetting her. She had a problem with her schedule, didn’t know who to talk to to get it fixed, her dorm had a leaking ceiling, a certain professor had poor communication, etc.

What did my daughter need from me in this conversation? My fatherly instinct was to simply advise her on how to navigate each problem, but that’s not what she wanted. What she was really telling me was, “College is new and scary, and I need reassurance that I can handle this.” This is what I mean by listening comes first. Before you try helping her solve her particular difficulties, you need to make sure you understand what she is really communicating—and let her know that she is heard and understood. Don’t be too eager to jump to solutions. Let her know you hear her first.

Take Anxiety Seriously

Another thing I have learned—not just as a father of girls but as someone who works with young people every day—is that girls are considerably more anxious and insecure than they let on. I have also observed that parents can be dismissive or minimize these anxieties when they are expressed, often thinking the girl is “overreacting,” just “being dramatic,” or behaving as an “over-emotional teenager.” This can lead to a vicious cycle where the girl is so crippled by anxiety that she feels like she can’t express it because it isn’t taken seriously, which in turn increases her anxiety.

If your daughter tells you she is anxious about something, take it seriously. Remember, she is likely more anxious about it than she is letting on. Even if you think she is being “too emotional,” that is no justification for poo-pooing it. If anything, these emotions deserve more consideration precisely because they are so intense. We all want our daughters to be secure and happy with themselves and their life. The best way to do this is to give serious credence to whatever anxieties they bring to your attention so that they feel validated in what they are experiencing. This also builds trust between parent and child and makes it more likely that your daughter will feel safe expressing her deeper anxieties.

Affirmation is Key

Verbal affirmation is essential to building up a girl’s self-esteem and helping her realize she is loved. It is easy to assume our children know how we feel about them. After all, we feed them, clothe them, care for their needs, and expend ourselves in every way to make sure they get the most out of life. Of course, they should know that we love them and are proud of them. But I have found that this is not enough; they need to be told.

Your daughter needs to hear, “I am proud of you.” She needs to hear, “You look pretty!” She needs to hear, “You did very well on this.” She needs to hear, “I have confidence in you.” We really are getting it wrong if we think our daughters will intuitively know these things. While we might think, “Of course, I’m proud of my daughter; why wouldn’t I be?” she may be thinking, “My parents have never told me they are proud of me; therefore, they must not be.” Don’t keep your admiration inside. Make sure you are verbal about affirming your daughters!

“How Are You Feeling Today?”

Instead of, “What did you do today?” or “How was school?” try asking your daughter, “How are you feeling today?” This is an excellent and simple way to let her know you are concerned about her and want to know how she is really doing. She may not have much to say; she may simply say, “Fine.” But ask anyway. It means a lot to them.

Be Generous With Affection

Daughters need physical affection, especially from their fathers. Be generous with the hugs, head pats, and cuddles. Getting a good, deep hug from Dad can be rejuvenating, and it helps girls feel valued and protected. I always make sure to greet all of my daughters with a hug. For my younger daughters, I do things like brush their hair (when they let me). When my youngest was little, I would always help her put her shoes on and zip up her coat in the morning, even though I knew she could handle these things on her own. Demonstrate care and affection through your physical interactions.

Trust Them to Make Mistakes

Finally, trust them to make mistakes. What do I mean by this? One important way for young girls to get over their insecurities is by learning to do things for themselves. However, as they branch out on their own, it is inevitable that they will make mistakes. Are you prepared to let them make those mistakes as they find their way?

It’s a wonderfully enriching experience to entrust your daughter with new responsibilities and opportunities to grow, but you have to be willing to let her make mistakes without criticizing her for it. Too often, we want our children to be more responsible but we criticize them harshly when they make a misstep. A child will learn enough from their mistake without the parent nagging them about it. Trust your daughter with responsibility, but be willing to let her fail and resolve to handle it gracefully without criticism in a spirit of support and encouragement. This will do more to help her insecurity than you can imagine.


There’s more than can be said, I’m sure, but I think these are some excellent foundations to build on. Ultimately, all of these are really just variations of “look ’em in the eyes”—ways to communicate that you are present and care about your daughter’s well-being.

What have you learned raising daughters? To continue the discussion, join me and other homeschooling parents at our Homeschool Connections Community or our Facebook group!

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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