Teenagers have a special gift. They know just what to say to get parents on opposing sides of an issue. Let’s pretend your teenaged daughter wants to wear an outfit that her friend loaned her. You being the dad really haven’t paid much attention to what she was preparing to wear tonight. She gets ready to leave, and you are involved in something. Maybe you’re cleaning the kitchen or washing your wife’s car or something. You know you’re always doing productive things for the family right?
So out comes your daughter and she says, “Bye dad.” You look up and notice that you don’t recognize those shorts that she’s wearing, and she’s just about to get past you. You think to yourself, “Man, those shorts don’t look okay.” What do you do? Thoughts speed through your mind like a flash of lightning.
What happened to my little girl?
What would my lovely wife say about those shorts?
My wife would look really good in those shorts.
I wonder what my wife is wearing right now…
Is that a scratch on the car?
I need to finish washing this car so I can go fishing.
What time did my wife say she would be home tonight?
Where are my keys?
You stop. Does your daughter have your keys? No, the important thing to stay focused on right now is that your daughter is about to get away, wearing the most inappropriate shorts, and who’s going to get in trouble for it when your wife gets home? You’re daughter? No. You are! Why? You’re going to get in trouble because you know teenaged boys better than your daughter does. More specifically, your daughter is testing your boundaries, and she is attempting to take advantage of a psychology term called, “Splitting.” This is when your daughter attempts to elevate one parent while demoting the other parent. You are demoted by her attempt to avoid you. Your wife is elevated in this example, but your daughter avoids her, because she knows she wouldn’t be allowed to wear those clothes if mom was there.
Your daughter knows your wife is not home. She knows that you are a softy. She is attempting to split you from your wife. She knows that she can take advantage of the fact that her mother is not here to help reinforce the rules about her dress code. She assumes that since you are not able to communicate with your wife at this very moment, she will have the advantage of plausible deniability about her choices. She knows the rules regarding her clothes, but she can just say she didn’t know. Since you saw her in her clothes, and you let her out of the house it must be your responsibility. News flash! It is your responsibility. You have just as much responsibility to point her towards her behaviors as her mother does. You also have the added responsibility to remind your daughter that you and your wife are on the same page about everything. (Even if you're not on the same page about everything.)
You also have the fatherly task of assuring that your daughter understands the role of safety in the outside world. She needs to know that it relates to what she is wearing too. It may be fine for someone else’s family to put their daughter out there as an advertisement for a men’s magazine, but your daughter is a teenager. She does not need a man for a few more years. She needs to understand this concept in a manner that communicates that she has value as a young woman. The best way for you to do this is to communicate how much you value her and your own wife.
This is where you tell your daughter that you and your wife have already discussed the acceptable way to dress with your daughter. You can remind her that she has already agreed that she will not wear those shorts since they violate the rules for clothes. Tell her that your love for her and her mother is what motivates you to tell her to go back inside and change clothes before she leaves. Tell her that she can go out with her friends when she demonstrates that she is going to make better choices with her clothes. Do something, but don’t let her split you from your wife by letting her leave. You set the expectation that she can attempt to come between you and your wife in the future if you just let her go. If she continues this pattern, she may believe that it’s okay to try to continue coming between mom and dad.