A lot can be said about the special bond between a father and his daughter. But sometimes that bond can be tested and stretched as girls grow and naturally begin to gravitate towards their mother for guidance and support through the tween and teen years.
But mothers actually have an important role to play when it comes to solidifying the relationship between dad and daughter. Madonna King, author of Fathers and Daughters: Helping Girls and Their Dads Build Unbreakable Bonds, says that we need to encourage dads to step up, even when they seem to be pushed away.
Why daughters push their fathers away
Madonna says that when girls are small, dads are the superheroes of their world.
“He’s big and strong. He’ll be the first in the pool with her, the last off the trampoline and she knows that,” she says.
The begins to change around the age of nine, when she starts to notice that there are different rules in different houses.
“That is the first time she starts to think he’s no longer unchallengeable, he’s no longer the giant. Then a couple of years later she will reach puberty. She’ll get a period and then she thinks, ‘He hasn’t lived experience in being a girl, so how does he really know what I’m going through?’”
At that point, a girl will often turn to her friends or her mother. Fathers on the other hand, might feel equally as awkward, and take a step back to give her privacy. Madonna says that while privacy is important, dads need to be conscious of staying connected.
Dads, here’s how to stay connected when daughters drift away
Madonna has the weight of 1,300 girls behind her. She spoke to them about their relationship with their dads and found that girls want to have a relationship with their dads, they just don’t know how to speak to them anymore (much like dads often don’t feel like they know how to speak to their girls).
The key is to start creating regular opportunities for catch-ups. This could be booking in a coffee on the way to school, taking the dog for a walk, or choosing another activity that they both enjoy.
“It has to be the same time each week and then when she starts to withdraw, as invariably most of them do, dads can still say, ‘That’s okay, next Thursday remember we’ve got our cup of coffee’. That means come hell or high water, he gets to sit opposite her once a week or once a fortnight. Just the two of them without Mum, without other siblings, and she knows he’s actually got her back.”
Listen to Madonna King on Feed Play Love:
Schools can do their bit too
Being involved with school helps parents get a handle on where their kids are at. When you’re involved, you get to know their friends and teachers.
Madonna says that dads are often excluded from this important insight into their daughters’ lives.
“Dads are facing a glass ceiling in the same way women have faced a glass ceiling in the corporate world. It’s hard for a dad to be in charge of the netball team, or just to be part and parcel of tuck-shop.
“Workplaces often see women as mums first and workers second, and I don’t think that’s right. But likewise, it’s not right that they see dads as workers first and dads second.”
Mums have to step back so that dads can step forward
While many families have changed in terms of parenting responsibilities, the ’emotional load’ is still mainly carried by the women in the household.
It’s difficult to step back when you know how things run, and you’re not confident a new set of hands will keep it all going.
But Madonna says that women have to take a step back, so that men can step forward.
“We’ve got to actually allow dads to make mistakes in the same way we have, so that they get good at something that they’re probably less experienced in than we are. I think that’s the first thing. And the second thing is with school and with extracurricular activities, just to take a step back and let dads be a bigger part of the decision-making process.”
If we help our dads connect with our daughters, our girls will thrive
If dads start a weekly catch-up now, when their daughters are little, they will be investing in a more connected future with their girls.
“A lot of dads describe themselves as second in charge, ‘Mum’s offsider’. But what their daughter expects from a man later in life is hugely influenced by them. They set the bar on what their daughter will accept.
“Research has shown that dads can increase their daughter’s academic performance. He can teach her calmness, cognitive thinking, practical skills. That doesn’t mean other people can’t, including Mum. But research has shown over and over that they’re skills dads can pass on. So how good would it be if more of them did?”