Fathers Raising Daughters
By Michael Grose
A recurring theme of the 90's is "fathers need to be available,
visible and well-adjusted if we are to have well-adjusted boys". This
message has been spread by authors such as Steve Biddulph in Australia and
David Blankenhorn and Myriam Miedzian in the United States.
The recognition of the links between dads and sons is to be applauded
but in the clamour to highlight the plight of boys we have forgotten that
dads play an important role in the lives of their daughters too.
Traditionally a father's place in the family has offered girls a sense
of protection and safety. While this maybe a throwback to the caveman days
when part of the male role was to protect his family this is still partly
true today. The notion of a father who is home and available affords a
sense of security for young girls even if the only protective behaviours
men actually indulge in are the removal of the occasional spider from the
bedroom wall or to reassure children that they are quite safe from those
things that go bump in the night. There are not too many hairy mammoths
roaming the suburbs these days so a man's capacity to protect his brood is
severely limited. He can only do so much.
The real value of fathers in girls' lives is less tangible but more
far-reaching. It is from fathers that girls learn their major lessons
about the world of males. Okay kids may spend hours in front of television
observing men in their favourite soaps or watching action movie heroes
solve most of the woes of the world, but today's young people are not
easily fooled. They know the difference between celluloid heroes and real
life people even if they don't recognise heroes in the flesh. It is from
their fathers that both boys and girls gain their first-hand knowledge of
how ordinary garden-variety men think, act and speak.
The implications of this are scary. In a sense fathers teach their
daughters how they should expect to be treated by males when they get
older. They teach them by the way they speak and act toward them and
through their treatment of other females especially their own partners.
The high proportion of girls who grew up with violent fathers who marry
similar men or live in relationships with violent men is testament to the
strength of this type of conditioning. The message for dads is simple - be
gentle, be respectful and allow your daughters to be assertive towards
Fathers usually experience very special relationships with their young
daughters but can feel extremely awkward when their 'little girls' reach
adolescence. Many girls describe how a previously close relationship with
their father evaporated when they reached adolescence. Coming to terms
with a daughter's emerging sexuality is a problem for many dads which is
often reflected in a lack of physical contact and sometimes sheer panic if
his adolescent daughter appears seductive.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that fathers are linked to the
development of a girl's healthy self-esteem particularly in adolescence.
At a time when 60% of teenage girls have dieted presumably in search of
the perfect female figure presented in magazines a father's positive
comments may well make a difference to how his daughter see herself.
Reluctant as many dads are to complement their daughters' positive
comments about appearance and dress sense can be very reassuring. Most
girls, like boys, still want their fathers' approval - although many don't
know how to gain it.
The relationship between adolescent girls and their mothers is
frequently strained. Fathers often act as buffers between mothers and
daughters when the atmosphere at home becomes highly charged. Many dads
find the wisest policy is to remain a neutral ally even though both sides
may solicit his support.
For most of the twentieth century fathers have been sent the message
that their role is secondary in the lives of their children. Sigmund Freud
reinforced this notion when he reminded us, all those years ago, that the
mother-child bond was the only relationship worthy of note. Motherhood
became a type of main event and fathers were pushed to the side as a
Today we can see that good fathering does matter. It matters for girls
as well as boys. I suspect it also matters for men themselves as their own
wellbeing is closely linked to that of their children. Anecdotal evidence
suggest that, increasingly, fathers want to get things right between them
and their kids and they are less likely to respond with 'go see your
mother' when it comes to hands-on parenting issues.
About the author: Michael Grose is a parenting and
work-life balance specialist who always makes good sense. Michael helps parents
raise happy, confident kids and resilient young people, through his parenting
courses, seminars, keynote presentations, books and articles. Visit his website
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