Intrusive friends

Dear Mr. Dad: One of my 11-year-old daughter’s friends spends a lot of time at our house. She often wants to tag along on activities when I’d prefer to spend the time bonding with my daughter. I suspect the other girl’s dad isn’t around much. Is there a way to include this friend in some things but carve out some father-daughter time too?

A: Congratulations on recognizing the importance of spending quality time with your daughter at this critical age of her development. Adolescence is a hormonal and social horror show, and the extreme emotional swings, self-doubt, physical changes, and peer pressure adjustments your daughter is going through will play havoc with her life—and yours.

Even though they won’t admit it, many girls your daughter’s age crave their dad’s attention and approval as confirmation of their continued importance in his life. They also want their femininity to be validated by the man whose opinion means more to them than any other at this point. Sending her the message that she’s an important part of the family—which you’re definitely doing—and that you value spending time together will do plenty to help your daughter embrace her new identity. Girls who don’t get that kind of fatherly affirmation might look for that attention elsewhere—from boys her own age or men. And no one likes where that goes.

You may be right about your daughter’s friend’s father. The fact that she hangs around your house so much suggests that she may be looking for meaningful interactions from a father figure—something that could be lacking in her own home. While it’s natural for you to resent her intrusion into your father-daughter activities, you might try spending a few minutes talking with her about school or hobbies so that she feels included and appreciated. Occasionally, if you feel comfortable with the idea, suggest that your daughter invite her friend along for ice cream or a basketball game. You can always bring your wife and other kids along to make the situation more natural if you feel like a fifth wheel while the two girls gab away.

But keep scheduling those one-to-one outings with your daughter. She wants to share her life with you and get your opinion about friends, classes, and interests. And every once in a while she may want to know what’s going on with you, too. Talk about favorite films, books, or video games, and compare your adolescent experiences to hers, which will probably make both of you laugh as you realize that some things never change.

Children grow up all too quickly. Before you know it, your daughter will be off to college and then start making a life of her own. Cherish the time the two of you are able to spend together. While it’s fine to include a friend occasionally, don’t give all your free time away to others. Save some for building a life-long relationship with your little girl.