Psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman shares valuable parenting lessons with personal stories and humor as he discusses the indelible imprint a father has on his daughter's life. (Part 1 of 2)
Listen online, or purchase the download.
Jim Daly: Dr. Leman, you have one son and four daughters. What's been the biggest surprise in parenting them?
Kevin Leman: Well, I mean, I love my daughters. I mean, they're wonderful, but they're awful weird. (Laughter)
Jim: There's a place to start.
Kevin: I mean, it doesn't take long for drama to come into their life. They are so different; I think that's probably what hit me the most. They are so much more different than young men are.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, there's a stark difference between boys and girls and parenting them requires some special wisdom. We'll hear more from Dr. Leman about how you can really make a difference in the life, particularly of your daughter as a dad.
This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, we welcome a good friend back to the studio. He always has energy and insight and we've invited some friends to join us in the studio to listen along and maybe ask some questions along the way, too.
Jim: We have. It's gonna be fun today. It's always great, as you said, John, to have Dr. Leman in the studio. It puts a smile on my face. Kevin, let me say to both you and John, actually, you both have daughters. I don't. So, when you talk about it being weird, I think having boys is kinda weird, too. Is that natural?
Kevin: Well, kids are kids. (Laughter) I mean, kids say dumb things, do stupid things, okay? Now if anybody is offended by that, call your insurance agent (Laughter) and ask them why you pay so much money for your 16- or 17-year-old son or daughter to drive the car. And they'll say something to the effect of, "Well, Leman, you pay the big bucks because they do stupid dumb things."
Jim: That's it.
Kevin: So, God gave us parents. We are the guide. You know, if you've ever gone rafting in the rapids—
Kevin: --you made it through the rapids because you had a guide. And I think parenting is like that, whether you're talking about boys or girls. But girls need a good dose of masculinity. And it's sort of like making a cake. And if you leave out one major ingredient, the cake is gonna fall flat.
Jim: Well, let me ask you though. You know, in your book you talk about coaching your daughter's basketball team. What was that like?
Kevin: Well, it was at my daughter's school and I coached the seventh-eighth-grade girls' basketball team.
Kevin: And now …
Jim: Why did you do that?
John: What a good father.
Kevin: I am a former athlete. I want to go on record (Laughter) in saying that. This body, believe it or not, is the body of a former athlete. The Yankees offered me $60,000 to sign out of high school--
Kevin: --for a contract, but I didn't have that much money.
Jim: That was good money in those days. (Laughter)
John: You didn't have that much money. (Laughter)
Kevin: But anyway, I digress. I was coaching and it was time out, okay? And my center comes in to me with tears in her eyes and she's a tall, skinny great kid and she says to me, "Number 22 scratched me." (Laughter) Well, I looked at her. I mean, I'm a man. I looked at her. I said, "What am I, your mother?" (Laughter) Well, apparently, that was the wrong thing to say, because she bolted in tears to the locker room.
Jim: During the game.
Kevin: Oh, yeah, during a time out. But this is the best part. Of the five kids that were playing, three of 'em understood the game of basketball. The other two were out there just 'cause you had to have five people, you know what I'm sayin'?
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah.
Kevin: But when she bolted, the other two players bolted with her to give her comfort.
Kevin: So, I'm sittin' there with two kids that don't know a hockey stick from a basketball. The ref comes over to my face; said, "Leman, "hey!." He blows the whistle. "Get your team out there." It was crazy. It was such a great learning point in my life, because I learned that you cannot talk to a young girl like you can to a young son. They are different. And women are the relational wonders of the world. So, these young little girls grow up to be what? Adult womenand there certainly is some similarities between young kids and older women. They hug anything that moves. They're relational.
Jim: They are and Dr. Leman, there's been so much more research coming out now about the importance of dads. Your book, Be the Dad She Needs You to Be, I think is timely obviously. It was a while ago that it came out, but that theme of the dad's importance in families is so critical today. I wrote The Good Dad, because dads have a significant role to play and I think we've rightfully lifted up mom and over the last 30, 40 years and the importance of mom. But dad's been kind of during those decades pushed to the side. But now his importance is resurfacing. You touched on it, but why are dads so critical to the development of daughters and boys?
Kevin: Wow. Again, it goes back to this basic point, that every young woman needs a good dose of masculinity in her life, as does every young man, need a good dose of femininity in his life. And you're right, Jim. Every piece of research you look at says, so goes dad, so goes the family.
Jim: Now dads are gonna use that both negatively and positively. Describe both. What is a good dad? What is that good dad doing that's positive, that he's succeeding at? And where is room for improvement, where the dad may not be doing it too well. Give us examples of both.
Kevin: Well, I think if you're an engaged dad, you have an interest in what your daughters are doing, okay? And you engage your daughter in conversation. Again, they're wordsmiths. Most of us as men are not wordsmiths.
Kevin: So, you have to have open conversations with kids, like "Tell me more about that." You know, I'm on record as saying, just in general when you look at parenting, "Don't ask your kids questions." And that's like asking a fire not to burn for women.
Jim: What would a question be like that we shouldn't ask?
Kevin: Well, a questions is, "How was your day at school, honey?" Well, I want to give the answer, "Fine." "What did you do in school today?" "Nothin'." Teenager, "Where you been?" "Out." "What'd you do?" "Nothin'." I mean, you might as well spit in the wind.
Jim: How should you ask or talk to your teenager?
Kevin: No. 1, don't hit 'em with a question. And people say, well, Leman, if I did that, they wouldn't talk. They'll talk, because you know what? They want your approval. They really do and that's one point that parents miss, is you just sorta wait. [The] kid says something, you say, "That's interesting; tell me more about that."
Jim: Hm. For dads to measure whether or not they're engaging their daughters particularly, but this works again, for sons. You've got a little question sheet, which we can post, John. But you pose a few questions, which I think I could answer most of 'em.
Kevin: Well, is that the one where I ask—
Kevin: -- would you know the name of the pediatrician?
Jim: I told John the only reason I know that is 'cause I went last week with the kids. (Laughter)
Kevin: Well, read that list.
Kevin: I …
Jim: Yeah, I'm gonna do it. So, these'd be some of the questions. Let's hit it, John. Let's see how you do.
John: Oh, no.
Jim: Who is your daughter's homeroom teacher?
John: She's in high school. I have no clue where her homeroom is.
Jim: Name one teacher.
John: Mr. Berry--
Jim: Okay, you passed.
John: --last year.
Jim: What's her toughest (Laughter) subject?
John: Toughest subject, math.
Jim: Hold it. Mr. Berry was last year's teacher?
John: Yeah, minor detail. (Laughter) I know one of the teachers.
Jim: Well, that's called cheating.
Jim: Well, what about this year?
John: I don't know. (Laughter)
Jim: What did she wear yesterday?
John: She wore a hoodie and jeans. She wears skinny jeans a lot.
Jim: Okay. I think everybody at that age wears skinny jeans.
John: The fun part here is she …
Jim: Kevin, you and I are not wearin' those. (Laughter)
John: I might not be telling the truth on any of this, by the way.
Jim: Oh, you better.
John: No, I …
Jim: Okay, here's another one. Who is her best friend?
John: That would be Claudia.
Jim: Her latest crush?
John: She has none.
Jim: Okay. What does her bedroom smell like? Boy, don't ask that about teenage boys. (Laughter)
John: She has a hedgehog, so it smells a little bit like a hedgehog in there.
Jim: Okay, that sounds a little—
John: I take a breath.
Jim: --a living hedgehog?
John: Yeah, it's a pet--
Jim: Is that in—
John: --in a cage.
Jim: --your HOA? Can you do that?
John: Yeah, there's none.
Jim: I think that's outside our HOA. (Laughter) What's her absolute favorite food?
John: Food? Potatoes--
John: --breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Jim: What's her pediatrician's name? (Laughing)
John: She does not have a pediatrician. (Laughing)
Jim: She could; she's a teenager.
John: You know, my kids don't go—
Jim: Yeah, that's—
John: to the doctor.
Jim: --you're deflecting the question.
John: I know.
Jim: That's the point.
John: Uh …
Jim: What are you trying to say there, Dr. Leman?
Kevin: Well, I'm just telling you, it's really easy for us to go about our business and part of the problem today in rearing kids is, our plates are full, okay? About 79 percent of families with kids under the age of 18, both mom and dad are working outside of the home. So, mom is bringing home the bacon, but she's also frying it. So, everybody's stressed to the max, okay. Time and activities pull people apart. And so, it's physically hard to keep engaged in your kids' lives unless you spend time with your kids.
Now again, I go back to daddy-daughter. These kids, when they want to talk, they're gonna talk. I remember literally telling one of my daughters, "Honey, all right, listen. I gotta go to bed," because they're gonna talk when they want to talk and sometimes it's 10 o'clock at night. I'm one of those guys that go to bed early. And we must've talked for 45 minutes and we're just sitting on the edge of the bed. And it's great, but you gotta listen to 'em, okay. Listen to 'em.
And what men love to do is tell women what to do. There's not a woman on this earth that wants to be told what to do by her husband, okay. And little girls are no different. You have to embrace them, embrace their femininity. I mean, I bought my daughter a training bra. You oughta go through that experience some day. (Laughter)
Kevin: So, I said to my daughter; I said, "Hey, I found a really nice one here. It's orange and got white dots on it." "Dad, dad." (Laughter) And you know what? One of the things the Lemans did though, I mean, we had fun. We had fun. I remember one of our daughters took liberty once and she called us "stupid," okay. She was in seventh grade.
Kevin: I remember the day.
Jim: That's about the age—
Jim: --it happens.
Kevin: We were stupid. Well, it just so happened that, that very week was when parents visited the classrooms. And the kids had to introduce their parents. Now with God as my judge and some people will cringe when they hear this, but let me tell you what Sande and Kevin Leman did. When our daughter introduced us to her seventh-grade class, we held hands and we dipped our knees to a little tune we invented called "We are Holly Leman's stupid parents; we are Holly Leman's stupid parents." (Laughter) That's how we introduced ourselves.
Jim: Did you watch Holly's face?
Kevin: I can tell you that Holly today is a principal, was an English major in college, graduated with honors, married to Dean. And she respects and loves her parents very much. But there was a time when she needed a little taste of what I call "reality discipline." And I think what parents need to understand is, there's times where I call it "parental poker."
Kevin: And we do have four aces. We are the authority in the home. Your daughter, dad, wouldn't have underwear on today if you didn't buy it, so who's kiddin' who? You have all the gold in your back pocket. So, my point is, there's times where you do a little push back, that God didn't put me on this earth to be run over by you.
Jim: Now the question is though, where's that line of reasonableness? And where's that line in terms of the Christian faith? I mean—
Jim: --can we go too far in shaming our child?
Kevin: Sure you can, absolutely. That's why I said some people'll cringe. They'll say, "Oh, my goodness. You are gonna damage that kid's psyche for life." And that's why I told you, you know, Holly is a principal of a very tough school in Tucson, Arizona. And we are so proud of her and her wonderful husband, Dean.
But you know, kids need to be held accountable. And here's a thing for dad to understand. You represent Almighty God in the truest sense of the word. So, the question is, are you an authoritarian father? "Hey, you listen up. You're gonna do what I tell you to do. Hey, don't make me come over there. Hey, you want somethin' to cry about, I'll give you somethin' to cry about." I mean, how many of us grew up with that? A lot of us, because all of our means of rearing kids today is premised on authoritarian methodologies.
Okay, now here's the key question. Is God an authoritarian? Now here's a brave statement. There's only one way to rear a child today. Now when you paint yourself in that corner, Leman, you better have a pretty good comeback here when you say there's only one way. And I said there's only one way, because the authoritative parent—not the authoritarian—the one that stands in healthy authority; and that's what Saint Paul tried to teach us in Ephesians 6, versus the laissez faire permissive parent. You know, "It's 8 o'clock. Have you chosen to go to bed yet?"
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Kevin: Those parents are a dime a dozen. But in between there we find the authoritative parent and that's why I say that if you're gonna train up a child, okay, you train them up being an authority. I think most of us train children down. We don't train children up. And I think you have to understand, these kids are all gonna grow in different directions. And I'm the guy that wrote The Birth Order Book. The firstborn goes this way, second born goes this way. I mean, does God treat us differently? Yes, He does. He made us all different. And so, that's part of the mix that has to happen, I think in a healthy family.
John: Well, there's a lot to chew on already in our short time in the studio with Dr. Kevin Leman so far. We have much more and if for whatever reason, you can't stay with us, you'll find a CD or download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or you can give us a call and ask us about that. The book that we're covering today is Be the Dad She Needs You to Be. And when you make a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today, we'll send that to you as our way of saying thank you and as way to get some practical tools and some great insights into your hands. And you might know somebody that could benefit from this book. If it's not you, if like Jim, you don't have daughters, but you know somebody who does, get a copy of this and put it in their hands.
Jim: That's a good idea, John. Hey, Dr. Leman, you ended there as John was describing your book, talking about personalities. Let's dig into that for a minute, 'cause a lot of people are intrigued by that. Your daughters for example, just give us a description, firstborn, second born. How did they play out in your family? And how does that apply to my family?
Kevin: They must have all read The Birth Order Book, because they played it out pretty well. (Laughter) The firstborn, Holly was the English major, reading at age 3, even a little bit before 3 she was reading, loved words, loved school, read books voraciously.
Krissy could read people and she loved reading people. And she's a social being, if there ever was one. And notice her name "Krissy." Her name is Kristen. The only person that ever called her "Kristen" was a motorcycle cop one evening. (Laughter) And they're completely different.
One son in the middle, Kevin, okay, who is functionally not a middle child, even though he's in the middle of four girls, he's a firstborn son, okay? And he has the calmness of his father. Things roll off him really easy, but he's a detail person. He's a writer. And then I have Hannah [who] was our little surprise. She's the baby of the family.
Jim: Now you had her, I think …
Kevin: At age 42.
Kevin: I was 44; Sande was 42. And we were so delighted, but that's a kid that … I mean, I shouldn't say. I prayed hard for that kid. I remember droppin' her off at school one day, 10-years-old. And she's walkin' away from the car and her flute flies out of her backpack and she still keeps walkin'. (Laughter) And then a book fell out and another book and I thought, does she not hear? Is she impaired? And she kept walkin'. I remember extending my hand out to her like this was yesterday. I said, "Lord, keep Your hand on Hannah."
And yet, Hannah today is creative director of Children's Hope Chest, socially active. She's … she does just a great job and her husband's off to med school now, but she was our surpris
e.She's the baby of the family.
Jim: Does she act like baby—
Kevin: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --or act like a firstborn?
Kevin: Oh, yeah, she could sell dead rats for a living, but (Laughter) looking back, she was manipulative, social, outgoing, never met a stranger. I mean, sugar wouldn't melt in her mouth. I mean, she was just as sweet as they come. And she was a surprise.
Then we had the shocker at 48 and she's like an only child, little Lauren. She's got her own business today. She did an internship at Dream Works. She's a senior over at a college in L.A. area. Very talented, gifted, but she's like an only child, because there's the big gap. So, she was a little adult by age 7.
Kevin: And so, when you talk about birth order and personality differences, just realize that all these cubs came out of the same den and they're all very different. And as a parent, you have to learn that God has given each of these kids a different gift and you need to be there and have their back on it.
Jim: Getting it back to dads though, how does a dad get to know each daughter? I mean, you had four daughters. How do you do that? How do you personalize your fatherhood? Because in this pressed era that we live in with all the time constraints that you talked about, a dad, in your case, having to come up with four recipes, if we can refer to it that way.
Kevin: Well, you know, we always ate dinner together, you know. We took time and I made time. The Lemans were never a part of the social scene. We didn't get into kids' activities. You know, we had one rule—one activity per kid per semester and that was it. So, we weren't marshaling kids around.
And we had fun. And I just mentioned Hannah. The University of Arizona won the national championship in basketball back in '97. And Hannah was then I think about 8 or 10 years of age. And we were gonna go down and meet the team at the McKale Center when they came in. But their plane was delayed and she had school the next day.
And so, Mrs. Uppington pronounced that would be my wife, Sandra, she pronounced that school night now, we won't be able to go down there. Well, good old dad, the rule breaker, I woke her up at about quarter to 12. I said, "Hannah, wake up. Get your clothes on. We're goin' down to McKale." And boy, her eyes got big; woke her right out of a sound sleep. And she and daddy went down and we're down there at 12:30 in the morning when the team came in.
And the next day at school, yeah she was draggin', but she was tellin' all her buddies about, "Guess what? My daddy woke me up and we went down and we saw the team." I mean, I am very close to all my daughters. And they call me all the time. We talk all the time. We cry a lot. I'm sort of a mushy dad in a lot of waysand you know, I think you make those moments with your kids and you make those judgment calls.
And people always came before things. And I have so many Father's Day little notes from my kids saying, "Dad, thanks for teaching me that people are more important than things." So, it's all about the relationship.
Jim: Hey, you know, so often we talk about it. In marriage we talk about different people coming together. And that's so common. It's very rare that similar people end up getting married—
Jim: --because you're attracted to—
Jim: --those differences—introvert, extrovert—
Jim: --etcetera. When it comes to you and Sande, your wife, you're that mushy dad, that authoritative father. What about the couple where one is authoritarian, one is authoritative and that's part of the struggle that they're having in the childrearing, where one of the parents, either mom or dad, depends on their personality bent, is all about the rules, the task list. And the kids figure this out and that could put a lot of stress in marriage, because you parent differently.
Kevin: Well, when two people marry, at least six people just got married. Well, where am I getting' the six from? Well, you marry your in-laws. And whatever happened in that family, either good or bad is now part of that marriage. And you're right. If one's an authoritarian and one is, let's say permissive, there you've got the two extremes, the kids get angry because you're not on the same page. The kids see that.
And they will try to drive a wedge between you as a way of showing their displeasure. So, there's your argumentative powerful child. If you have an authoritarian parent in the home, I guarantee you, you've got a powerful child in your home. This is a kid who's gotta win every argument.
I wrote a book called Parenting Your Powerful Child. And I make the point that the power didn't come out of thin air. The kid learns it. So, a kid will really arch their back psychologically and say, I'm not gonna accept this, because I'm angry, 'cause you two are not on the same page.
So, husband or wife behind closed door, if you have differences, iron them out, but be a united front in front of the kids. And if you're in a blended family, I mean, my goodness, it takes three to seven years for a blended family to blend. And they actually don't blend, they collide, would be a better word. You have to be shoulder to shoulder.
So, again, being consistent, being even a little mundane, being predictable. When there's predictable things in families, kids thrive on predictability. The No. 1 fear of kids today in America is not nuclear holocaust, it's mom and dad'll get a divorce.
Jim: Well, and Kevin, I think the reason for that is, it is the holocaust to them and their family. When the divorce happens, kids don't know what to think. There is no predictability in that. What does it mean for me? All those questions that begin to rob you of your childhood. And those are great points.
And of course, these principles are timeless and applicable to almost every situation and we want to encourage you to get a copy of Dr. Leman's book, Be the Dad She Needs You to Be. And John, I think we need to provide this as a way of saying thank you for those of you who can help us financially and it'd be a pleasure for us to do that and thank you in advance for your support.
John: Yeah and you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459.
And when you're online, be sure to check our Dad Matters blog, which has a number of articles about ways that you can invest in your child's live.
Jim: John, also, I wrapped up a bit early today because I wanted to get at least one question in from the audience today and hopefully, we'll have more time for Q&A with Dr. Leman next time, but if you could step to the mic, give us your name and where you're from and then your questions.
Paul: Yeah, hi, there. I'm Paul from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. You said earlier on about not asking your daughter actual questions at certain times. How do you then get them to talk? I mean, if they don't want to talk right away, that's one thing I try. I do ask some questions and I get the, "Yeah," and "Uh-huh," and my daughter's in her early 20s and so (Laughing), that's tough even then. So, how do you actually get them to talk?
Kevin: Well, let me give you a few little things that I try to teach parents to almost memorize some of these little statements. They're statements that invite conversation without asking a question. No. 1, "Tell me more about that." "If anybody can figure it out, you can." "That's an interesting idea you've got there." "Hey, can I ask your opinion about something?" "Sure, I'm open to that."
So, when kids say things, just coming back with a statement that invites conversation is what you want. Sometimes you see an expression on a kid's face, where you know it's been a rough day. And uh … you can say something like, "Wow, looks like it's been a rough day." Now your kid, depending on their age, may not say a word. But they might come back two hours later and want to talk to you about something.
What you don't want to do is do the Q & A, 'cause kids, I'm tellin' ya, they throw us a piece of fish like you would to a seal just to shut us up. Nobody wants to be queried, okay. And as a sidebar, I see your wife is sitting right next to you. There is not a man on this earth that appreciates the "why" word, okay? And as men generally, we don't like questions.
So, anything that just says, "Hey, I'm open to that. That sounds interesting; tell me more," any kind of an invitation for conversation is where I'd go with that.
Jim: Would it be the same if you were to say, "Tell me about school?" versus "Tell me about your day?" I don't know if there's—
Jim: --a distinction there.
Kevin: That … no.
Jim: How do you start the conversation?
Kevin: So … no, I see … that's the problem. The problem is, that we always feel like we have to start the conversation.
Kevin: Why do we have to start the conversation? Why can't we drive in silence? You know, I'm on record as saying, when a kid puts that CD in or turns on that radio station that you hate, I mean, if you really want to throw your kid a curve ball, try this. "Honey, turn that up." And the kid is astonished. "What'd he say? Turn that up?" And they turn it up a little bit and say, "More." And as they're bouncin' around, now again, you may not love the music, but I'll tell you, you want a conversation with your kid, you want a conversation? You want to ask a question about, who's singin' that? There's a question. Who's singing that? They'll tell you.
Now when you hear the group's name, you'll think it's a mortgage company or something. It won't sound like a group, believe me. But they have some interesting names for groups these days, but find something about the music to talk about.
What I'm saying is, you've gotta enter that kid's world. If you don't enter that kid's world, he ends up a slam and clicker, which means he or she goes to their bedroom. They slam a door. They click it shut and they text like a woodpecker that's got ADHD at all their buddies,
And that's why so many Christian parents are frustrated, because they bring the kids up in the church. They bring 'em to youth group. The kids leave the home and goodbye faith. They're gone. They don't even know what's goin' on in their kid's life.
Kevin: And so, I'm just saying …
Jim: So, they're not really connected.
Kevin: You have to connect and you have to get in their heads
Jim: Well, Dr. Kevin Leman, Be the Dad She Needs You to Be, man, we are scratchin' the surface here. We've gotta come back next time and I've got a few more questions for you, for those dads who are maybe strugglin' a bit with how to connect with their daughters in a way that has purpose and meaning. Can you stay with us?
Kevin: Let's do it.
John: Yeah, I think there's been a lot of hope offered to dads here and we'll try to squeeze in some more questions next time, as well.
Now again, you can order the book from us here at Focus on the Family. Our number is 800-232-6459 or you 'll find it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And we'll actually send that book to you, Be the Dad She Needs You to Be when you make a generous donation to Focus on the Family today. Again, the number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back for more from Dr. Kevin Leman about the father-daughter relationship. That's tomorrow, as we once again, help your family thrive.
Featured Broadcast Resource
Receive a copy of Dr. Kevin Leman's book Be the Dad She Needs You to Be with your donation of any amount!Give Now
Drawing from his own expertise, humor, and wealth of stories, Jim Daly shows fathers that God can make good dads into great ones - in spite of their upbringing or mistakes.Buy Now
Practical help and principles for every father in building a strong, healthy relationship with his daughter.Buy Now
Some quick questions to ask yourself from Dr. Kevin Leman's book Be the Dad She Needs You to Be.Read More
Dads: What can you do today to help your family thrive? Our Dad Matters blog is filled with support, inspiration and encouragement. Read our latest post on simple ways to invest in your family.Read More
Recent Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast Episodes
Kevin LemanView Bio
Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman and his wife, Sande, reside in Tucson, Ariz., and have five children.