Suddenly, the only child at the dinner table is my 15-year-old daughter, who squirms uncomfortably in the unwavering glare of parental attention. Without her sister, now away at college, for cover, my eyes are focused on my younger girl’s every move, and I don’t think she likes it very much.
It is not as if she was ignored before, coming and going as she pleased or staying up until all hours. I kept an eye on her, but there were always other activities in the house, other games and performances for me to attend. I’ll admit that my follow through might have been lacking at times, forgetting to pick up the notebooks I said I would get her or taking way too long fixing the light in her room.
Not anymore. She has my undivided attention.
Already I see changes suggesting she is avoiding my gaze. This is the kid who always did her homework in the kitchen, right in the center of our home’s activity. Suddenly, as soon as dinner is over she is off to her room, books in hand.
She has adopted a different strategy when it comes to television, inviting friends over to fill up the sofa so there is no room for me to sit and watch with her.
I write some of this off to her getting older, carving out more independence and privacy, seeking the company of peers instead of the dad. Some of this behavior, though, seems designed to shield her from my scrutiny.
When we are together, there is more time to ask about her day, her classes. My mind is less cluttered by her now-absent sister’s activities and demands so I actually remember what my daughter is up to, what she is planning, where she has been, the names of her teachers. We talked in depth about her English homework the other night, something that just would not have happened a year ago unless there was a problem.
I see the risks for both of us. My girl does not want her teenage life intruded on, protecting her emotional space from parental interference. For me, it would be so easy to start micromanaging her activities, such as overseeing homework in a way I’ve never done before, proofreading papers or double-checking math problems.
The bigger risk is that I will expect her to fill the void her sister has left, not just in dinner conversation but in my life as a parent and person. Having more time on my hands does not make it my girl’s burden to fill it. As much as I like her and find her interesting and fun, I did not have kids simply so I could fill up my weekends.
I tease my daughter that her sister got three years of my attention as a baby, now it’s her turn. She would like to pass on this offer, thank you very much. I guess I need to find a hobby, make friends, anything to keep some balance with my girl because too much dad is too much of a good thing.