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I bet all of you reading this right now remember your first heart break. You probably remember the person’s name, how the relationship ended, how much you cried. Yeah, it was that serious. And you never forget it.
Love is a crazy thing. And for most of us, we learn what love looks like from our parents. Whether it’s from watching your mother and father interact in the house, or the love from a single parent playing both roles.
Before we ever opened our hearts to be hurt by someone outside our own doors, our parents held that power. They shaped our interpretation of what it meant to love and be loved because they were essentially our first loves.
So now that I am a parent myself and use the term ‘heartbreak’ in relation to my daughter, understand that it’s deliberate. I know the explicit responsibility I have of being my daughter’s first love. I live with that reality every single day, and my choices as a person and as a parent are guided by that awareness.
Truth is, we parents start out as being superheroes. I’ll speak for myself and say that I know my daughter idolizes me. Granted that’s harder for her to admit now that she’s a teenager and her friends matter more than food, but the respect and admiration is still there.
And let me get this out the way now and say that I have not been the perfect parent. I’ve made wrong decisions, said and done the wrong things, and just plain made some dumb mistakes. No parent is perfect like no person is perfect.
Truth is, we parents start out as being superheroes. I’ll speak for myself and say that I know my daughter idolizes me.
But there’s a difference between making mistakes and disappointing your child. Continually disappointing your child is one sure way to break their heart.
I want you to really soak up that last sentence. I’ll say it again. Continually disappointing your child is one sure way to break their heart. And protecting your child’s heart should be top priority after food and shelter.
It’s that important. As a father who’s helped raise a teenage daughter, I’ll tell you right now that children remember a lot more than you think and are much more perceptive than they may let on.
At the earliest stages of my daughter’s awareness, I could feel her connection. The way she laid her head on my shoulder. Her wanting to be close to me anytime we were in the same room. The way she ran halfway across the schoolyard when she spotted me coming to pick her up, and jumped straight into my chest.
Much of that connection was based on presence. As she got older and more aware, her expectations also matured. That connection they feel to you as a parent is not just based on presence, it’s also based on promises. Promises that I make and must now keep.
So it might be okay to promise your daughter a bike for her birthday and not come through. It may be okay to say you’ll let her stay up late with you and fall asleep. Or worse, decide to go out on your own instead. It may even be okay to apologize and say you won’t do it again.
There’s a difference between making mistakes and disappointing your child.
Until you do it again. And then again, and again. Till each minor disappointment starts to add up. And little by little their expectations dwindle. Their faith in you dwindles. Till finally, something in them breaks.
The next part I’m not sure of. But I do believe that once you get to the point where your child feels like they can no longer depend on you, once you’ve broken your child’s heart, they’ll never forget that feeling.
And I’m no psychologist. I haven’t done any surveys or studies. I’m simply an observant father. I’ve seen these things happen. I’ve been part of this situation myself and have been disappointed by my own father. I know my daughter’s love for me is precious and I protect that with every ounce of strength I have in me.
So I don’t make empty promises. I’m there when she wakes up in the morning. I’ll put my laptop down for a while when I notice she really wants my time. I do this because she’s my daughter and I would do anything for her.
But I also do this knowing that all of my interactions with her are being catalogued. And when she reaches back into her subconscious, I want her to draw on those moments she could clearly recognize my love.
So I say to all fathers raising daughters. All parents raising children. You are your children’s first love. How that experience manifests itself will stay with them forever. I really do believe that it’s up to us to make sure that first experience is beautiful.
Their faith in you dwindles. Till finally, something in them breaks.
Not flawless, but within that imperfect relationship you must not allow your child to become broken by your disappointments.
Let them feel true love. Let that love be the feeling that stays with them. And let that feeling be their foundation for every future relationship they enter. So they can know how to exist, how they should be valued, and understand instinctively when the love is wrong.
This is the greatest gift I have given my daughter in my time as her father. And this is what I will continue to provide as dutifully as I do food and shelter. Her heart is that important.