I love all my three children, but there is something different about the relationship between a father and a daughter. Perhaps I instinctively feel more protective towards her. She is my princess, my pride and my joy.
The future is difficult to predict. Compared to the world that I grew up in – the 1970s and 1980s, there is a lot more that my daughter and the young people of her generation will have to grapple with. In the business world, it is often described as a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. What she will face and confront in her lifetime will be far beyond what I know or can even imagine. The COVID-19 pandemic is just a very stark and graphic illustration of how uncertain the world is.
To be future-ready in such a VUCA world, there are four things that my daughter would need – the ability to continually learn, unlearn and relearn; deep empathy and sensitivity to foster inter-personal connections and build strong relationships; resilience to adapt well in the face of adversity and bounce back quickly from setbacks; and a strong moral compass to help her navigate a world where truth and morality have become subject to redefinition by anyone and everyone who wants the world to bend itself to accommodate their specific interests and beliefs.
Raising an independent thinker
My daughter is a final-year undergraduate studying occupational therapy. She chose her course of study totally on her own, based on her interests and in particular her passion to help other people. I do see signs of her deep empathy, so I felt she was making a good decision in pursuing that profession.
I am also glad she is able to think independently and articulate her views on a range of issues, such as climate change, politics, race relations, and gender issues. I do not intend to make her think what I think, but I do hope to help her develop critical thinking skills so that she can work through important issues herself, form well-reasoned perspectives and make informed and balanced decisions.
The more we empower her to make important decisions, the more she learns how to weigh the different considerations, and fully understand and appreciate the reality of trade-offs and consequences.
Empowering my daughter to make decisions
From a young age, perhaps her early teens, we have tried to work through important decisions with her. While my wife and I may have our own views, we do discuss important decisions with her, and as far as possible give her the option to decide on anything that affects her directly.
In a way, the more we empower her to make important decisions, the more she learns how to weigh the different considerations, and fully understand and appreciate the reality of trade-offs and consequences of her decisions.
Helping her be the best she can be
While there is no single parenting philosophy that I adhere to, I hope to help every family member – my wife, my children – to be the best that they can be. For my children, I do not want them to live my life. I do not want them to achieve academically just to make me happy, or excel in sports or arts just for my pride or pleasure. Whatever gifts and talents they have, I hope to nurture and fully develop these gifts and talents.
For my daughter, I want her to be the best she can be. As she has chosen to be an occupational therapist, I would like to help her become the best occupational therapist she can possibly be. And when she decides to marry and start a family, I also aim to help her become the best wife and mother she can be. So it is all about her, not about me.
I try to be interested and involved in things she is doing, whether it is her studies, her interests or her friends. There is a fine balance between being genuinely interested and interfering or judging her on her choices. I also try to schedule one-on-one time with her, so that we can continue to build up our relationship.
Show her in tangible ways, not just in words, that she is loved and valued for who she is, not just because she performs or achieves.
Dealing with disappointment
Disappointment can weigh heavily on our children’s hearts, and I find this to be particularly true for daughters. In such situations, we have to be patient, empathise with her disappointment and help her process her feelings. If she has put in the effort and given her best, do encourage and affirm her. Show her in tangible ways, not just in words, that she is loved and valued for who she is, not just because she performs or achieves.
You may wish to consider letting her explore other areas where she could be more naturally gifted. Take time to help your daughter identify her natural gifts, talents, interests and passion, as she may or may not be suited for the areas where she is encountering challenges.
Most importantly, let’s keep affirming and reassuring our daughters. They need to know that even if the world crumbles around them, we are always there for them.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Tony Soh will take over the reins as Board Chairman of Focus on the Family Singapore with effect from 5 April 2021. He has been Vice-Chairman since 2017, and currently serves as Deputy CEO of National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). Tony is a loving husband to his wife Ting Ai, and an active father to three young adult children – one of whom has autism.
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