Nurturing Healthy Relationships Between Dads and their Little Girls
Your daughter’s dad is her GPS – Gender Positioning System – at least according to Peggy Drexler, Professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College and author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family. According to Drexler, girls grow up to be women who have learned how to orientate themselves in a “…fluid landscape of gender expectations.”
Fathers, intentionally or not, teach their daughters:
- How to interact with the opposite sex, including flirting
- How to communicate with men
- How to view themselves from a male perspective
The research conducted by Drexler, along with Dr. Margo Maine – author of Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and Food – all shows that a disconnect between fathers and daughters can be responsible for things such as negative self-body images, anxiety, and even depression. As much as modern families are changing the landscape of family structures, the research continues to demonstrate that daughters seek out approval from their fathers, even when they are adults and can cognitively and logically determine that the relationship might not be a positive one. The emotional connections that daughters want from their dads seem to transcend the evolution of families.
How Can Dads Build Connections with Daughters?
One of my favorite memories as a mother was the day my husband and I brought home our first child – a daughter – as young, inexperienced, and awestruck new parents. Snuggling on the sofa with our tiny cargo, my husband looked into her sleeping face and said that this exact moment reminded him of the memories he had of childhood Christmas. Excitement, wonder, and total anticipation.
Somewhere along the way my daughter grew up to be a beautiful young woman who is preparing to graduate from high school and go on to college, and it is even more important than ever that she has a solid relationship with her dad. Researchers have long been studying the father/daughter connection and keep coming back to the same conclusions: daughters need their dads. So how can moms help encourage those relationships?
Don’t give a choice – Make sure there are opportunities for your little girl’s dad to be the caregiver, even (maybe especially) during those first months. I was still attending night classes, so my dear hubby had to care for our little girl. Bathe her, feed her, soothe her, and begin to build the relationship that she would need – will need – for the rest of her life. This also helped to build my husband’s confidence as a parent, something that would come in handy for our children to come.
Don’t force him to be you – Dads have a different way about them. They sing different songs (in my case a little old school rock), maybe care less about coordinating outfits, and might not understand that fruit snacks generally have little actual fruit value. The trade-off for your toddler singing AC/DC while visiting Grandma, wearing a hideous outfit, with a fruit snack in her hair, is a relationship she can lean upon when she needs that male rock.
Be a gentle interpreter – Through the tween and teenage years dads sometimes need a little help interpreting. They don’t always understand that when their 13 year old daughter comes home slamming doors but says nothing is wrong, and then cries because there is no peanut butter left, that it is likely not about the peanut butter. Many times, when the look of horror crossed my husband’s face because he just had no idea how so few words could be so confusing, I would gently pull him aside and explain what I think might be going through our daughter’s mind. I don’t need to tell him how to react to it, I just need to interpret it so he can make a plan – whether it is buy more PB or ask her if she wants to go for a bike ride.
Give him a behind the scenes preview, not a play-by-play – Try to help keep your daughter’s dad up to speed on your daughter’s friends, boyfriends, academics, athletics, and all of the things that keep her so busy 24/7, but don’t give him the play-by-play unless he asks for it. Sometimes dads just want to know the facts – not how people were feeling about the facts.
Thank him – When you see your daughter’s dad extending his thoughts, energies, and affection to your daughter, tell him how much that means to you. Dads are doing this for the first time, too, and a little encouragement can go a long way. Remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be present.