Fast forward to today when I have since had three girls. As usual, the Lord had different plans for me than I had for myself.
With all of these daughters, I have been pondering how to raise wonderful women. As I have done so, I remember my mother often telling me that I was lucky because a father has a huge impact on the self-esteem of his daughters. I was lucky. I consider my dad to be one of the best men to ever walk this planet. I am fortunate to have married a man that I think is equally as wonderful as my own father.
Research supports what my mother always told me--fathers have a huge influence on the self-esteem of their daughters. Of course fathers impact sons, also, but given my perspective as a female, I thought I would focus on daughters today. I also want to encourage any parent who is parenting without a father present for any reason. There are many people who grew up without fathers who are confident, capable people. Most often, this is attributed to the extreme dedication and effort by the mother. Knowing what a father does for a daughter can help you think of ways to fill in these gaps.
Dr. Margaret J. Meeker, a pediatrition with more than 20 years of experience in counseling girls, wrote a book called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. In it, she lists some findings from her research on the important influence of fathers. Here are some:
- 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, children managed school stress better.
- Daughters whose fathers provide warmth and control achieve higher academic success. Girls involved with dad are twice as likely to stay in school.
- Daughters who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety and withdrawn behaviors.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.
- Daughters who feel that their fathers 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.
- A daughter's self-esteem is best predicted by her father's loving affection.
Meeker says, "From the first years of a girl's life her father is larger than life. She looks up to him, and for the rest of her life she craves his admiration, his respect and his affection."
Her research is not alone in these findings. This paper supports these findings. A tid-bit from this paper is:
"According to research conducted by Nielsen, “fathers generally have as much or more influence than mothers on many aspects of their daughters’ lives. For example, the father has the greater impact on the daughter’s ability to trust, enjoy and relate well to the males in her life …well-fathered daughters are usually more self-confident, more self-reliant, and more successful in school and in their careers than poorly-fathered daughters …Daughters with good relationships with their father are also less likely to develop eating disorders” (2007, ¶ 12)."So you can see that the father is a huge impact on his girls, but what can a father do to have a positive influence on his daughters? We want that impact to be positive, correct? I won't pretend to have all of the answers. I would encourage continual prayerfulness and observance of your daughter to analyze what you can do for your daughter. Here are some ideas for you.
- Be present in her life. Spend time with her, talk with her, be involved in daily things like bedtime, and invite her to help you with your own projects. My eight year old daughter doesn't have a special interest in tools, but she loves to be in the garage and help her dad simply because she wants to spend time with him.
- Be supportive of her. Attend her special events. My dad made it to everything he possibly could to support me in my various activities and events. My husband has been know to do things like leave work for an hour so he can go to his daughter's preschool class simply to read her favorite book to the class (he apparently read it the very best. She was concerned at my ability to read it correctly). He surprised her by coming and reading it. She was thrilled. Our daughters have supportive grandfathers. Our daughters have had recitals where they only had grandparents. Neither grandmother was able to come that night, but both grandfathers were there anyway.
- Go on dates. One-on-one time is great. Take your daughter out on special dates. My husband and I shoot for one special date per child per month. We alternate who we have on our special date. The children love this. From my own childhood, I remember one particular time when my father took my sister and I to the Phantom of the Opera. In January, we saw an advertisement that it would be in our area the next July. Just one time, we told our dad how we would love to see it. We never mentioned it again. He surprised us with the best seats in the house. My dad is not a "Phantom of the Opera" type of a guy. He is more of a Pittsburgh Steelers or New York Yankees type of a guy. This special date meant a lot to us. My husband takes our girls to do special things they love to do.
- Compliment her. Offer sincere compliments and encouragement. Your words will mean a lot.
- Offer physical affection. This isn't usually a difficulty in the father/daughter relationship, but be sure you give your daughter the cuddles, hugs, and kisses she needs from you.
Do not make the false assumption that your presence in your daughter's life is of minimal impact. Your daughter will look for a spouse that reminds her of you--for better or worse. You being male does not mean you will not have a huge impact on how your daughter views herself as a female--studies suggest you have even more of an impact than the mother. You are an important aspect to your daughter's life. Believe it and live it.