The relationship between fathers and their young daughters is often very close, special and rewarding. However, when the daughters reach pre-adolescence, a common shift often occurs toward greater distance and even some estrangement between them. Though this change can be explained, it is regrettable and is a loss to fathers and a great disadvantage to their daughters.
A little girl is often the apple of her father’s eyes. Girls are sweet and cuddly, adoring, cooperative, cute and their fathers’ biggest fans. Having a daughter is for many fathers a newfound state of being in love again with mutual acceptance and delight. Every shared moment is received with enthusiasm and great happiness. Dads love to show off their little girls, entertain them, help them, teach them and see them shine.
Mothers are equally pleased with the wondrous nature of the connection between their daughter and her father. It brings the couple even closer to each other as the wife appreciates her husband’s capacity to co-parent their daughter.
It is when the daughter reaches puberty that some fathers step back from their girls. Some feel that they are in uncharted territory about guiding their daughters through their biological and emotional changes and thus defer this task to their wives. Some mothers, unintentionally, contribute to creating a distance between the daughter and her father. A 2005 study by the National Council on Family Relations explains that “maternal “gatekeeping” either encourages or discourages fathers from acting on their paternal identity”. Linda Nielsen, professor of adolescent psychology and women’s studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, found that “most daughters do go through their mother to reach their father, which has the effect of pushing him away and diminishing their odds of improving their relationship.”
Some fathers retreat from their teen daughters’ lives as their girls focus on peer influences. The jolted father feels rejected by his daughter’s newfound autonomy, acts of disinterest and preoccupation elsewhere and reacts by abandoning his shared role in raising his daughter.
Nielsen’s 15-year research confirmed previous findings about the positive impact fathers
have on their girls. She found that positive fathering produces well adjusted, confident
and successful daughters who relate well to other men in their lives. Mark Regnerus, a
sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, reported in a study involving 10,000
students between 7th and 12th grade, that girls who had positive relationships with
involved fathers waited longer to have their first sexual experience and that “Girls who
have poor relationships with their dads tend to seek attention from other males at earlier
ages and often this will involve a sexual relationship.” These results were not found to be
true between mothers and their daughters.
The benefits of fathers’ involvement in their daughters’ lives throughout the girls’ growing-up years are enormous. Yet, most men are not guided, helped or trained in how to best deal with their female teenagers. Thus, some fathers choose to withdraw from their girls’ lives to the detriment of both generations. The complexity of parenting an adolescent girl is compounded by confusion and few resources for fathers to share their feelings openly.
Fathers of girls:
• Know that your involvement with your daughter throughout her growing up years is imperative to her lifelong emotional, academic, social and psychological wellbeing.
• Tell her often that you love her, affirm her and spend time with her. It will secure her esteem and confidence.
• Be involved in her school, sport, and extra-curricular activities. She will feel supported and valued.
• Ask her about her thoughts, feelings and choices and validate her ways as you guide her.
• As she begins to develop, stay present in all the above ways. You can still hug, kiss and laugh with her. Your love will allow her to safely select male attention, rather than rush to it in desperation.
• If you find your daughter attractive, don’t fret. This is a normal reaction for a healthy father who is proud of his daughter as she blossoms into a woman. Share your assessment with your wife and you can both share the credits.
• Your daughter will know who to consult about her transitional issues. Be available, un-intrusive, but stay involved. Withdrawing from her may be viewed as rejection and be a painful loss.
• Your protective, guiding, supportive and loving presence will guide your daughter during her growing up years and will become part of her solid foundation for a healthy and secure life.