Family Life

Father-Daughter Bonds: How Our Dads Shape Our Lives

As Father’s Day approaches, sons and daughters recognize and honor the contributions of the wonderful fathers and father figures who have had a hand in raising them in a loving, nurturing, and inviting home. Similar to a mother’s role, fathers have an important and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives. A strong father-child relationship has a long-lasting effect on how children grow up and perceive the world around them, while a weak father-child relationship can lead to insecurity, abandonment issues, and other mental health problems. A lot of emphasis is placed on father-son relationships, but strong father-daughter relationships are crucial for the healthy development of young girls into adulthood.

WHEN DAD IS HIS DAUGHTER’S FIRST LOVE
As a father, you probably have a vivid memory of the first time the nurse handed you a swaddled baby in a pink blanket. You probably vividly remember counting her toes, each one soft and new to the world. At that moment, you probably also swore that you would never let anything bad ever happen to that sweet, innocent baby in your arms. As she began to grow and hobble around, you remember being there to catch her almost falling while learning her first steps. You remember the first time she hopped on a bicycle and you finally let go. And more than likely, her sweet face looked up at you and she said, “Daddy, you’re the best.” And that was that–she was forever wrapped around your finger. You are her first love.

THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF A HEALTHY FATHER-DAUGHTER BOND
When it comes to a healthy father-daughter bond, research has shown countless times that the positive effects of a strong father-daughter bond are undeniable. A positive father-daughter relationship can foster a sense of security and self-worth in the daughter, leading to better mental health outcomes. It can also contribute to communication skills, emotional regulation, and resilience. In addition, a secure father-daughter relationship can help the daughter explore her identity and create healthy boundaries.

Most children will have similar outcomes—whether male or female—with father involvement. However, the effects of an active father-daughter relationship will begin to show when the daughter begins puberty. A warm, inviting father-daughter relationship will lead to feelings of acceptance, improved self-esteem, and lower rates of depression and behavioral problems. “Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school, fail classes, and engage in risky delinquent behavior,” says Dr. Amy Mikolajewski, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Louisiana State University.

“A father’s biggest impact is indirect,” says Dr. Mikolajewski. “Having a father in a home means there is likely more financial stability, social support for mom, and indirect impacts that influence the children.” Fathers and mothers influence kiddos in similar ways. It’s more about that warmth and nurturing and closeness. It doesn’t matter the parent’s gender, as far as research goes. However, it can be apparent when a home lacks the protection and security of a father.

WHEN DAD IS ABSENT
The father wound is an ever-present feeling in the pit of your chest. What starts as just an absent father, begins to mold and shape into seemingly every male relationship a young woman might encounter. The desire to be loved as you are, the yearning for acceptance and security, and the anger and resentment of abandonment all mark the scars that a father wound leaves behind. What’s more, the father wound can affect every aspect of our lives––relationships, jobs, financial stability, self-esteem, and so much more. According to Dr. Mikolajewski, “Women with absent fathers tend to put less value on what a man can bring to relationships.” This leads to lower expectations for what a man in their life would fulfill. “If you think about secure attachment in general, if they have a secure attachment, that tends to set the stage for future relationships.” Healthier relationships set the stage for secure attachment in relationships. A negative father-daughter relationship can cause avoidant and anxious attachment or a disorganized mixture of the two.

YOUR PRESENCE IS A PRESENT
Fathers need to be involved in the beginning of their children’s lives. It starts at prenatal classes and follows through each developmental milestone their children face. At the Psychological Services Center of LSU, parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is designed to help address behavioral issues that children might have due to that lack of parent-child connection. Since children form attachments early, it’s imperative that fathers are there each step of the way to nourish and protect their kiddos. This will set the stage for the relationship they have with their children moving forward. As time goes on, your child will see you as a reliable, safe, and secure attachment.

For more information about PCIT, visit lsu.edu.

This article was originally published in June 2024.

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