A Father’s Role: Providing Boundaries
About the Guest
Is your daughter questioning the household rules? Well-known pediatrician and mother of six Meg Meeker talks to fathers about the necessity of providing appropriate boundaries for their daughters. Meg fondly remembers her own father's attempts to protect her, and exhorts parents to affirm a daughter's character rather than her performance or physical beauty.
Well-known pediatrician and mother of six Meg Meeker talks to fathers about the necessity of providing appropriate boundaries for their daughters.
A Father’s Role: Providing Boundaries
Bob: Do you have any teenagers at your house? You haven’t checked out as mom and dad yet; have you? You haven’t detached. You haven’t quit parenting; have you? Here’s Dr. Meg Meeker.
Meg: The trend I see in parents, over the past 15 years, is that daughters—during their teen years, parents think, “Well, you know, she’s grown up, she’s mature, she’s responsible, and she’s a good kid.”
As kids get older / as daughters get older, one of the things that we, parents—and particularly dads—forget is that daughters still need those rules and the fences. They will test you on that, and we know that. They need taller fences that don’t cover as much area—fewer rules—but those rules are big, they must stick, and they are non-negotiable.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 15th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. The way we parent will change as our children become teenagers, but we can’t hang up the “GoneFishing” sign and just unplug. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.
Dennis: Bob, you’ve, undoubtedly, had some fun with your daughters as you raised a pair of them.
Bob: Well, sure; yes.
Dennis: What would you say are some—well, a couple—of your favorite memories with you and your daughters? I know you have to have some—I mean you’ve shared too many of them with me.
Bob: I’ve probably—as you bring that up, I’m thinking about the times we’d get the video camera out. I would video tape—and maybe, they’re favorite memories because I still have them on video tape—
—I can go back and watch some of these. [Laughter]
Dennis: And you don’t forget them that way! [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right. I haven’t forgotten them over the years, but—no—I enjoyed seeing my daughters thrive in whatever environment they were in. I remember when Amy was in high school. She decided that she wanted to be in the play, Little Women, at school. So, Amy was Amy in Little Women. It was just a joy to go and watch her. Then, they did Father of the Bride—she was the bride. Now, it was not such a joy to see my 15-year-old daughter—
Dennis: —be the bride?
Bob: Yes—wearing a wedding gown. I’m going, “No, no, no. This—
Dennis: “This is way too soon”?
Bob: Yes. So, it was things like that—or seeing my daughter, Katie, excel. She loved being a counselor at summer camp. In fact, I remember one of the great memories Mary Ann and I have—we drove up to pick up Katie at summer camp—this was when she was still a camper, before she had become a counselor.
We arrive at the camp, and we pull up. The counselor meets us and, “You’re Katie’s mom and dad?” We said, “Yes.”
“Katie is such a wonderful girl. Oh, she’s been the best camper this week.” MaryAnn and I are thinking: “No, no; our daughter is Katie Lepine. You must be thinking of a different Katie.” [Laughter] Honest to goodness—we’re looking at each other, going, “Could they be talking about our Katie?” Then, she gets the honor camper award—she is the camper out of all of the kids. We’re going, “Well, then, could we just move up here and have her be the honor camper at home?” because, you know—it was a disconnect from what we were used to in the teen years there.
Dennis: Yes. It really illustrates what we are talking about today—a strong daughter. Katie—I know Katie and Amy too—both are strong daughters. I’ve got four of them as well. We have the author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. It’s talking about the power of a father in a daughter’s life. And Dr. Meg Meeker joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Meg, welcome back.
Meg: Well, thank you Dennis—great to be here!
Dennis: This book is just chock full of all kinds of practical pointers that really cheer fathers on in terms of what they need to be doing best with their daughters.
One of the things you teach in your book is the need for fathers to provide fences—
Dennis: —for your daughters? Explain what you mean by fences.
Meg: Really, fences are boundaries—they’re rules. I try to describe to parents that: “When your child is little, you need a fence that is short but that covers a lot of territory. As kids get older / as daughters get older, one of the things that we, parents—and particularly dads—forget is that daughters still need those rules and the fences. They will test you on that, and we know that. They need taller fences that don’t cover as much area—fewer rules—but those rules are big, and they must stick, and they are non-negotiable. Curfews are one. Dating rules are another big one in our house.
Many times, the trend I see in parents, over the past 15 years, is that daughters—during their teen years, parents think, “Well, you know, she’s grown up, she’s mature, she’s responsible, and she’s a good kid.”
Dennis: And she’s pushing back against the rules. So they begin to do what?
Meg: They just tend to sort of back off.
Meg: They shrug their shoulders and back off—particularly dad / particularly dad. Mom is tired because she’s been sort of implementing these rules year, after year, after year. She’s getting kind of tired—throws up her hands. Dad says, “Well, I’m not exactly sure what to do,”—so he backs off.
Bob: He doesn’t want the emotional pain of trying to keep the rules in place.
Meg: Exactly; exactly.
Dennis: Yes, these teenage girls can punish you for that. Your father stepped into your life when you were dating.
Bob: He did not mind the emotional pain; did he?
Meg: No, I don’t know that he really felt it. He was just very cut-and-dry about it; yes.
Bob: But you turned it up on him; didn’t you? [Laughter]
Meg: Yes; I did.
Dennis: And he actually turned some emotional pain back on the young man who took you out too; didn’t he?
Meg: Yes; he did. That—I was beyond the teen years then. I was in college.
Dennis: Oh, really?
Meg: I was in college. So, I—
Bob: Tell our listeners the story of what happened.
Meg: Okay. I had gone out on a date with a fellow that my dad didn’t know very well; but he wasn’t—what he did know, he didn’t like. Now, my dad didn’t have to say that—I could see it in his face that he didn’t like it. So, the gentleman came over and picked me up. I had gone to an all-women’s college. I wasn’t dating a whole lot, but my dad just kind of knew something smelled kind of funny.
I got home very late, and my dad was waiting up. That gentleman dropped me off. My dad ran out and just said to him that he was—in no uncertain terms—not allowed back near our home.
Bob: Because he brought you home late?
Meg: Because he brought me home late and—
Bob: Now, wait! You were a college student?
Meg: Yes, I was a college student; but here’s what my parents said—and we do this with our college students—and that is: “This is our home. Now, I know”—and we say this to our kids / this is what my dad said to me—“I know you’re off at college doing whatever you want to do. You’re there / you’re responsible; but when you come home, it’s our rules because it’s still our home.
“So, you don’t go out and float until three in the morning just because you may at college. You don’t do that when you are at our home.” That’s what my dad let me know—that, still, when I came into the home, I was back under his wing.
And I will tell you—I learned about the gentleman who took me out that night—that, sure enough, he really was a bad egg. I couldn’t see it; but my dad could sense it, early on, when he first met the guy. He really literally ran him out of the house and that was that. I was humiliated, and I was furious with my dad, and felt like I wanted to run away from home—and I was 20 years old—but still, I realized my dad was much smarter than I at that time.
Dennis: Yes, he actually yelled at your dad; and your dad yelled back at him.
Meg: Yes; he did.
Dennis: But you felt—bottom line of bottom lines—as a woman, even though you were ticked off,—
Dennis: —and embarrassed, and full of shame at that point, you felt protected—
Meg: Very protected.
Dennis: —and special as a young lady.
Bob: When did you feel protected because, at the time, you just felt mad?
How old did you have to get to—to look back and go—[Laughter]
Meg: I was really protected; yes. I was so furious; and I was so convinced, as a young woman at a women’s college in the 1970’s, that I knew far better about who I dated—the character of people I dated—than my father did. But it really was—it was probably within months, I believe, when I learned about some of the antics that this fellow had pulled, unbeknownst to me—that the sort of sixth sense that my dad had / that he was a really bad egg and my dad got into a confrontation—but I was sort of feeling like I was falling in love and glossing everything over, but my dad saw right through it. And so, when I learned that this gentleman was kind of a bad egg, that’s when I really realized I was protected. My dad was right.
Bob: You mentioned earlier this week that—and this has become one of those practices that’s become a part of the culture—after the prom, everybody goes over to somebody’s house; and they just have a sleepover.
Bob: Boys and girls.
Meg: Boys and girls.
Bob: And the girls are upstairs and the boys are downstairs, maybe; right?
Dennis: That’s not the way it works.
Bob: Mom and Dad are there, and it’s just couples cuddling up. Is that what’s going on?
Dennis: Yes; and maybe, Mom and Dad may not be there.
Dennis: I mean, it’s a pretty loose situation.
Meg: I will say this happens to Christian families / non-Christian families. It’s just the trend; and that is—the expectation is, again: “After prom, our kids are going to do things that are out of control. They’re going to drink / they may drive—we need to keep them safe. So, we’ll bring them to our home, take the car keys from them, and then, they can have their party here.” It really turns into a sleepover—a coed sleepover.
I and my husband always told our kids that: “Really, nothing good happens after midnight. You can have all your fun before midnight. Nothing good happens—there is no reason you don’t need to be at home in your bed. I don’t care how old you are—until one in the morning—at least by one in the morning.”
But this is the trend; and again, this is where we have sold out with our kids, as parents, because we go: “Oh, yes. Well, if that’s what all the other parents are doing.” We feel the peer pressure. So, we jump on the bandwagon and let our kids go and do that also.
I think it’s a very bad message to our kids: “’A’: We expect you to be out-of-control. So, we’re going to keep you safe.” Why don’t we just expect them not to be out of control, and to get in the car, not drunk, and drive home? and “If you made a mistake and you did drink, here’s the phone number. I will be happy to come pick you up, no questions asked, and get you back in your bed.”
But really, what happens at a lot of these parties is—the parents say: “We will be there, and we will be up”—but they’re not. They go to sleep; and then, some parents think, “Well, you know, my kids are good kids,”—I hear this all the time—“They go to youth group. They’re good kids. They’re not going to get into trouble.” Studies show that Christian kids have about the same sexual activity rate as non-Christian kids. So, we can’t have our blind folders on.
Dennis: And in all these matters, Dad needs to step in there and provide the leadership.
He needs to be strongly-engaged and involved. I want you to comment for just a moment about the importance of fathers dealing with the issue of modesty.
Dennis: This was a big deal in our home. I have to tell you, Meg—I didn’t feel like I was a winner here. I always felt like I was the bad guy. I’d take our daughters on a date, and we’d try to find clothes that were suitable. That was an assignment—that was a few years ago. Now, the clothing is even skimpier. I mean, how do dads navigate these waters?
Meg: Yes. They need to follow their instincts, they need to be bold, and they need to not parent out of fear. Again, so many dads back down because they say: “Well, this is what all the kids are doing, and I want you to fit in with your other friends. I don’t want you to be called names. I don’t want you to look like the prude in the class. So, I’m going to relax here and just sort of let you wear what you want to wear to school, or to prom, or whatever.”
Modesty is self-protective. It’s a wonderful asset.
Adults should have it. Children should have it because that’s how we protect ourselves. But we—particularly kids who go through sex-ed programs in public schools—get a lot of that torn down because they are forced to hear and see a lot of things that they don’t want to see and hear, particularly, as it relates to sex.
A girl’s sexuality is in large part shaped by her relationship with her dad. Her dad needs to show her and teach her that her body is beautiful and that it should have boundaries placed around it: “And here’s why you should place boundaries. There are places on your body that should be not touched, and they’re off-limits to anybody. Maybe, as you are older, Mom can see these or your sisters can; but certainly not me or your brothers. Your body is gorgeous. It’s perfect / it’s wonderful,”—make girls feel very good about their bodies. That’s how you protect their modesty and encourage kids to wear appropriate clothes.
—it really wasn’t an issue in high school because they had a dress code in their school, which was, “No skin from neck to knees.” I could live with that—it was great! So, it really wasn’t much of a problem. The kids sort of bucked it at first; but then, as they got older, they really liked it. And now that they’re out of college and out of the home, they see the value in that. They’re very grateful for that.
I wonder how girls—who are 16-, 17-, 15-years-old—allowed to go out of school, pass by their dad at the breakfast table in a shirt that’s showing a tremendous amount of cleavage, their midriff is showing, they have a very short skirt on—and then, they grow up to be mothers themselves. What will they think when they think, “What was my Dad thinking to allow me to walk out of the house looking like that?” They will think worse about themselves. They will look down on themselves. That’s really how we allow our girl’s modesty to not stay intact—is by allowing the rules to be broken—allowing them to go out of the house wearing things that are very, very inappropriate.
Bob: This is an interesting line for dads to know how to navigate because, on one hand, you are talking about affirming your daughter’s beauty—
Bob: —and affirming the need for her to be protected and to be covered up. Yet, at the same time, we don’t want to dwell too much on physical appearance. In fact, one of the things you talk about is the whole phenomenon of eating disorders—
Bob: —and the role that a father plays in that regard.
Bob: Talk about that.
Meg: Well, I feel strongly in encouraging and affirming a daughter’s character. This is a great thing that dads can do. Rather than complimenting her on her grades or her athletic performance—which are pretty easy—or her music, and certainly on her looks, or her weight loss or weight gain—which a lot of dads do—big, big, big, no-no—talk about the things that are very important to you in her.
If you look at how Paul opened all the epistles, he didn’t say:
“Oh, it’s so nice to be writing to you again. You look so good. Have you lost weight?” That’s how we greet people in our culture—women do. I don’t know if you guys do, but that’s what women do. We are used to complimenting.
Bob: Here’s how guys do it: “Hey. What’s up?” That’s how we greet each other; okay? [Laughter]
Meg: Well, we women go: “You look so great! Have you lost weight?” It’s really one of my pet peeves because weight isn’t important. We say it isn’t important; and yet, we talk about it all the time.
If you believe your daughter’s character is important, talk about that—affirm that. Compliment her on her courage. Compliment her on her patience—how compassionate she was / how she served somebody. Don’t say: “Huh? Are you losing weight?” / “Huh? Are you gaining weight?” Even things like: “Oh, that dress looks so nice on you,” or—over and over / every once in a while is fine—but if you say something about a daughter’s weight or how she looks in a certain outfit, it’s a no-win comment for you because what you say is not what she hears.
She is hearing: “Oh, Dad likes the way I look. I better work harder at it to get his attention,” or “Gee, Dad thinks I’m fat. I better lose weight to make myself admired by him.”
Dennis: You have been a pediatrician now for over 20 years; right?
Meg: Yes; yes.
Dennis: Talk about the increase you’ve seen in eating disorders. I mean, has it—
Meg: Oh, tremendous increase in bulimia nervosa as well as anorexia nervosa. Bulimia is where girls will overeat, and then, they will induce vomiting / or girls with anorexia, who will starve—very complicated issues. But what we do know now is that the studies show that fathers are pivotal in affirming and encouraging a healthy self-esteem in a girl. The number one way to encourage a girl’s self-esteem is to receive physical affection from her father.
Now, are all girls who have a low self-esteem going to develop an eating disorder? No.
But girls with a low self-esteem, who are very conscientious / who tend towards being perfectionist—these are the girls who want great grades, they want to be perfect athletes, they want everything perfect in their lives, and they want to be perfect for their moms and their dads—these are the girls who will develop eating disorders because they feel that they need to do this to keep garnering attention and affirmation from Mom and Dad.
Dennis: To keep an image up that has approval attached to it.
Dennis: So, what a father needs to do is— he needs to affirm who they are and who they’re becoming—not just what they do and how they look.
Meg: And ignore her weight—exactly. Ignore her weight. And parents say, “How can you do that in this culture?” Unless your child is seriously obese and needs to go on a diet for health reasons, ignore her physical appearance because that’s where our culture is affirming thinness, and anorexia, and beauty in a way that is really sickening.
There is a trend on the West Coast in the past couple of years that one of the gifts that was being given to teenage daughters, when they graduated high school, was breast augmentation surgery.
Bob: I heard about this.
Meg: Yes. It’s really, really sickening. We have become so superficial. So, here is a perfect way that we can counter this—by talking about a girl’s character and affirming that. If a dad does that, it really stacks the odds against her developing an eating disorder.
Dennis: I know of a dad who has a couple of daughters. Just one time he said—he made a comment about weight, or weight gain, or weight loss—and it was during the time that these young ladies were teenagers—very insecure, trying to find out who they were. I mean, it was fascinating to watch them almost instantly begin to obsess around that one statement.
Bob: Meg, you talk about how important it is for fathers to point their daughters in the direction of God.
Bob: Unpack that a little bit for us.
Meg: Sure. I write in there that, really, a daughter’s first experience of male love is with her dad. I see so often, women / adult women—who are mothers who have had a negative experience with their own father— shut down when it comes to prayer, to God, praying to Christ, to accepting Christ as their Savior because they want nothing to do with maleness. It’s far too frightening.
Dad is the pivotal person in showing a daughter that maleness is good and maleness in God is acceptable. Now, this sounds like an over-simplification; but for many women, it’s a real hang up. They don’t want to have a deep, intimate relationship with a male figure—even God, who is perfect / even Christ who died on the cross for them and is perfect.
It’s very intimidating.
But a father has a perfect opportunity to model his intimate relationship with the Lord, in that: “I am just man. He is God the Father, and He is perfect. First of all—I, as your father, will make mistakes; but it’s okay because God the Father is more perfect than I. I will mess up; but when I do, you can come with me to God the Father and He will help us with this.” That will show her who God’s character is, it will make her feel safe in approaching God, and it will make her feel good about maleness. That’s something that’s very much needed in families today— in girls who are very skeptical of male figures and close off when it comes to relating to God.
Dennis: Meg, I really like the way you’ve encouraged dads—just to step into the lives of their daughters, and not step back, or get pushed out and remain outside of their lives.
You’ve cheered them on without putting them down.
Bob: Yes. I felt the same way as I read your book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. This is designed to encourage us—not to beat us up as dads. And I think you’ve done a great job with that. We have copies of the book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’re a dad and you’ve got a daughter, you ought to have a copy of this book.
And if you are a dad and you have a son—or if you are a mom and you have a son—you ought to get a copy of Dr. Meeker’s book, Boys Should Be Boys. Both are available when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order from us online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order by phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, if you live in or around Spartanburg, South Carolina, do you know what was happening a year ago today? Wes and Wendy Greer were getting married. The Greers are celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary today. “Congratulations to the Greers!” They listen to FamilyLife Today, and they recently went through our Oneness Prayer Challenge as a newlywed couple. We just want to congratulate them on their first wedding anniversary.
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Now, tomorrow, Jonathan McKee is going to join us. We’re going to talk about “TheTalk”—actually, about the talks that all of us, as parents, need to be having over and over again with our kids as they grow—talking to them about their sexuality, and about the birds and the bees, and about all of the aspects of human sexuality— at an age-appropriate level, obviously. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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