A father’s influence on his daughter is significant. This is a topic that I have been interested in from a psychological perspective since I was young myself. While in graduate school, I researched this topic extensively as I was going through my own history AND while I was contemplating having a child on my own.
Eventually, my decision NOT to bring a child into this world with only one parent was informed by this research and more importantly my own intuitive sense. It felt more about me and actually felt quite selfish. It is one thing to become a single parent (mother) because of external circumstances. It is quite another to actually choose this for a child.
I’m not suggesting that there are not chldren who have grown and thrived in a single parent (mother or father) environment, of course. I am suggesting there is a distinct disadvantage and there is data to support this.
What this data serves to do, in my mind, is alert single parents to unique challenges they may not be aware of and provide some good information to consider for those, like me, who consider knowingly having a child by themselves.
In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know , Dr. Meg Meeker explains the important role fathers play in the lives of their daughters and how they can best utilize that role to instill strong moral values and healthy self-images in their daughters.
This is a powerful book for fathers who are already great Dads…
Fathers are their daughters’ first experience of male love, compassion, kindness, anger, and cruelty. These early experiences are imprinted on a girl’s brain and heart. For the rest of her life, every experience she has with a male is filtered through her experiences with her father. So if she trusts her father at an early age, she is more likely to trust men. If she has been hurt by her father, she will shy away from men and/or make poor choices about who she allows into her life.
By far and away, the single most important thing he can do is to love them. Men talk less than women, so daughters watch their fathers very carefully. They watch to see if he lies or tells the truth, stays faithful to their mother, works hard and speaks out against wrong behavior. Ninety percent of the influence a father has over his daughter’s moral values comes from his behavior. His behavior is intrumental in shaping her character.
Girls very naturally assign the role of hero to their fathers, usually without the father knowing it. A girl believes that her father is the strongest, smartest, and most capable man on earth. All he has to do is live a life of integrity, truthfulness, and moral clarity and he will be her hero forever. Girls don’t need their fathers to rescue people or make a lot of money or live in a big house. They define heroism as a dad who has strong character. This is what girls are looking for. Is that essential? Yes and no. She gives him the role of hero, so if he fails, she is disappointed. However, if he fails and recognizes that he disappointed his daughter, he redeems himself.
Girls gravitate toward what they know, not necessarily what they want. The familiar is powerful and often subconsciously causes girls to do all sorts of things they’d rather not. Many women swear that they will not marry abusive men if their fathers were abusive to them or to their mothers. But they marry them in spite of their best intentions, because they know what life with abuse feels like — and in a way it’s less frightening than the unknown life of happiness.
On the flip side, fathers with integrity raise daughters who seek husbands who are equally good. Most certainly, young women who have been raised by strong fathers look for great men and are far more likely to have solid marriages.
Fathers teach their daughters to know how a man should treat them… to know how valuable they are and to be very clear on this.
According to Dr. Meg Meeker, pediatrician, mother, best-selling author of six books, and one of the country’s leading experts on parenting and teens’ and children’s health, when a little girl has a loving dad in her life (whether biological, step, or adoptive), she has a distinct advantage.
Some “suggested findings” from Meeker’s research and my own include (note: these are from numerous different studies not one, of course):
• Toddlers securely attached to fathers are better at solving problems.
• Six-month-olds scored higher on tests of mental development when their dads were involved in their lives.
• With dads in the home, kids managed school stress better.
• Girls whose dads provide warmth and control achieve higher academic success.
Girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety and withdrawn behaviors.
• The likelihood that daughters engage in premarital sex, drug use, and alcohol plummets when their dads are involved in their lives.
• Girls with doting fathers are more assertive.
• Daughters who feel that their dads care about them and feel connected with their dads have significantly fewer suicide attempts and fewer instances of body dissatisfaction, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and unhealthy weight.
• Girls involved with dad are twice as likely to stay in school.
• A girl’s self-esteem is best predicted by her dad’s loving affection.
• Girls with a dad or male father figure feel more protected, have higher self-esteem, are more likely to attempt college, and are less likely to drop out of college.
• Girls with decent dads are less likely to flaunt themselves to seek male attention.
• Fathers help daughters to be more competent, more achievement-oriented, and more successful.
• Girls with involved fathers wait longer to initiate sex and have lower rates of teen pregnancy.
• 76 percent of teen girls said their fathers influenced their decisions on whether they should become sexually active.
• Girls who live with their mothers only have significantly less ability to control their impulses, delay gratification, and have a weaker sense of right and wrong.
• Kids do better academically when their fathers establish rules and exhibit affection.
Studies always have limitations, certainly. I’m sure some of these “findings” will be considered controversial at the very least.
Working as a school psychologist for 5 years, I had my own professional data both standardized from test batteries and anecdotally. I have my own personal data as well and this lens is really the most important one for me. I also have years of conversations with girlfriends about their relationships with their fathers and how it has all played out in their lives. It is really fascinating.
I definitely feel I made the right decision for me about having a child on my own. For those wanting to be single parents, there are plenty of children who are without any parents and adoption is a wonderful option to consider.
I think of Molly and Jilly and feel so grateful that they have a daddy like my brother, Michael. And, they have a fab mommy too, of course!!!
I also have friends who are such fine examples of a men and fathers for their children.
There is nothing more attractive in a man than him being a great dad – strong, competent, loving and honest.
I will welcome your comments and sharing your experiences.