Dear Fiona: On Being My Daughter

Dear Fiona,

In my previous letter, I wrote a few thoughts about what it means to be Tristan’s little sister. In this letter I want to share a bit about what it means to be my daughter.

The most important part, I hope you already know by heart at this point: There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less. You can’t earn any more of my love because you already have it all. And you can’t lose any of it because it’s not tied to the things you do or the decisions you make or anything else about you that might change day to day. It’s tied to who you are, and who God created you to be which isn’t going to change, ever.

On a practical level, what that means is that, as my daughter, I want you to be as free as I can allow you to be to make your own choices in life. There will come a time when I am no longer in a position to make choices for you, and when that time comes I want you to be well-equipped to make solid, sound choices for yourself. There are two schools of thought on this: One school of thought says that you help your child to make wise choices by making all of their choices for them as they grow up, demonstrating over and over again what a wise choice looks like.

I think that theory is complete bunk.

The other school of thought . . . the one I agree with . . . says that you help your child to make wise choices by allowing them to make choices.

Naturally, this means that some of the choices you might make earlier in life would be what I might consider “unwise” . . . but that’s just you exercising your “choice-making muscles” . . . learning how to make choices for yourself, and learning the consequences that come along with those choices . . . consequences you might never experience if I just make all of your choices for you.

Of course, that looks very different now at one year old than it will at sixteen. No matter how many times you choose to do so, I will not let you try to pull the Christmas tree down on your head! But the older you get and the more you’re able to understand cause and effect (a relationship that is, as far as I can tell, meaningless to you right now) the more I want to empower you to act in your own causes, and experience your own effects.

I can tell you right now – having already experienced this with your brother – that you and I will sometimes differ over when it’s appropriate for you to make your own decisions. There have been times when Tristan very much thought he should be allowed to make a certain decision, and I very much disagreed.

I can tell you right now that I won’t always get it right. There will be times when I too firmly stick to a course that should be yours to decide. There are times that I should be persuadable, when I will not be. And I ask your forgiveness for those times, right now, in advance.

And that brings me to another thing that it means to be my daughter. I talked in an earlier letter about the importance of learning how to communicate effectively. That’s a skill I believe is vitally important, and one I want to help you learn. But the only way to learn how to communicate is by . . . well . . . communicating.

Dictation is not communication. What I mean by that is: if I’m dictating something to you . . . either in the literal sense that I’m having you write something down, or in the figurative sense that I’m deciding a certain course of action for you . . . the information flow is a one-way street from me to you. There is no exchange of communication going on.

To truly be in communication with you, I have to be persuadable. I’ve observed many parents who seem to be under the impression that once a thing is said, it is settled: that their word is – and of right ought to be – law, and can never be repealed, altered, or broken.

Being my daughter means you don’t have to operate this way. I want you always to feel free to attempt to persuade me to change my mind. I want you to exercise your persuasion muscles just as I want you to exercise your decision-making muscles. I want you to learn how to make good arguments, just as I want you to learn how to make good choices.

That’s not to say you will always succeed! There are times when a “no” will inexorably remain a “no.” But I want you to always know that I am open to the possibility that a logical, persuasive argument can be made for “yes.”

And I want that “yes” to be the default answer. I want to get to “yes” as often as possible, and when the answer must remain “no” I want there to be a good reason for it. Because just as it’s important for you to learn to make good, coherent arguments for your choices, it’s important for me to do the same. Someone who insists on “yes” all the time, regardless of logic and just “because I said so,” is acting entitled. Someone who insists on “no” all the time, regardless of logic and just “because I said so,” is acting like a bully.

So whenever possible, I want to work with you to get to “yes.” Sometimes that will be hard . . . sometimes that ultimate “yes” may involve more work than either of us cares to put out at the start of the conversation: maybe it’s “yes, but we need to do this first,” or “yes, but we have to figure out how to make it happen.” And it will likely involve making concessions to one another, “Yes, but maybe not as much as you’d like, or for as long as you’d prefer,” or “Yes, even though I really don’t feel like it right now.”

And again, there will be times when I get it wrong. There will be times when I remain stubbornly insistent on “no,” even when your argument for yes is the better one. There will be times when my reason is “just because,” simply because I’m too tired or too annoyed to give you a real reason right then. And again, I’m sorry for those times.

My hope, though, is that we can sharpen each other here . . . that in not focusing on things like “obedience” and “doing what you’re told,” we can strengthen one another and help one another to become more logical, more persuasive, and better at making wise decisions.

Because ultimately, my goal as your father is not to help you become a compliant, dutiful little girl. My goal is to help you become a strong, competent, and wise adult woman.

I love you.


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Filed under Things intended for my children that the rest of you get to read too

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  1. Pingback: Fiona’s Letters | The Unedited Life

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