As a psychoanalyst I treat families. The configuration may change but everyone is part of a larger family unit. When I focus on fathers and daughters, a particular pattern emerges. I often observe Dads who are unsure how to relate to their daughters. There is frequently a sense of bewilderment in how to stay close and engaged.
Girls are watching their fathers and how they relate to their mothers.and wives. . To my way of thinking, men are crucial in unraveling the mystery of husband-wife roles for their daughters.
It is much more comfortable and natural for a man to understand and ( relate to) his son. One primary way is through sports. He can also identify with his son’s body which is very familiar as well as his thought processes. Vanderbilt University conducted studies —showing that girls who are close to their dads while growing up, tend to develop into puberty a bit later than those who do not have the same ties and familial support. In today’s world, this is a good thing. Girls who stay close are less likely to need to test the waters of adult life too early.
I often see dads relate to their girls in terms of ambitions and expectations of what their daughters should do in the future. A dad’s work ethics, his successes and standards become a way of connection. Even in 2012, if there is a son, the daughter may be overlooked in terms of focusing on how successful she can be out in the world. I believe a portion of this conflict is because men are more comfortable when giving advice as opposed to tolerating the struggles his children are feeling and experiencing.
The lyrics to the John Mayer song “Daughters” touch me.
“Fathers be good to your daughters.
Daughters will love like you do.
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too.
Boys you can break
You’ll find out how much you can take.
Boys will be strong and boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from a womans good, good heart
On behalf of every man looking out for every girl
You are the weight of her world
So fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do.
These lyrics speak to the value of both parents. Importance is too often focused around mother-daughter relationship, the high intensity, the drama, the bond and continual on-going connection. My experience is that dad’s aren’t quite sure of what to do with their girls as they mature and begin the pre-pubescent years. The conflict is what to do and how to relate when it all seems so foreign.
Dads: Here is a checklist:
I feel comfortable with my daughter
I feel I understand her
I am affectionate with her and kind
I am there emotionally and physically
I express confidence in her ability to be as good as I am or better than I am
I involve myself in her interests
I encourage her to even do boy things
I let her know that I approve of her approaching womanhood.
What you can do as an involved father:
l. Focus on letting her know you have confidence in her
2.You will be there if needed
3. She is special and you are proud
4. Be very aware of your messages in commenting on other women. Do you comment on their weight and attractiveness?
5. Do not retreat. Stay connected in any way you can.
6. You’re job is to remind your daughter of her strengths. You are a guide.
7. Do not leave the job to her mom. Both of you are parents.
8. Create rituals in being together, going out for a meal, reading together, playing and/or watching sports, going to the theatre.
9. Involve her in your world. Let her know you.
I have found as I work with families that these issues are complex. With effective and sensitive communication, fathers and daughters form much closer and healthier relationships. This dyad often forms the baseline skill set for daughters to navigate the stormy waters life tosses up at all of us.
Dr. Gellman is a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, lecturer and author specializing in eating disorders, bipolarity, high conflict divorce and most issues relating to relationships. Dr. Gellman has been in private practice for over 30 years in West Los Angeles. She received her doctorate in psychoanalysis in the year 2000 from the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She earned her teaching credential at UCLA.