This could be considered a controversial statement in today’s society: A father (or father figure) is just as essential to healthy child development as a mother.
Most people who were raised with a loving father already know this in their hearts, but in case there’s any doubt, just check online. The internet and scholarly journals are overflowing with parenting statistics that address how having a father or loving stepfather present in a child’s life impacts everything from emotional well-being, health, criminal behavior and child abuse to teen pregnancy, substance abuse, lack of education, poverty and obesity.
Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, claims that the love of a father and a mother’s love are distinctly different. Fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love (K. Pruett, 1987). In other words, children take a mother’s love for granted, but they have active expectations and a cognitive need for their father’s presence and approval. A father therefore brings unique contributions to the job of parenting that no one else can replicate – especially for girls.
A Father gives his Daughter a Peek at the World of Men
A dad’s relationship with his daughter can be particularly profound in shaping her life, especially when it comes to her future relationships with men. This makes complete sense, considering that, for most young girls, her interactions with her dad are the first she has with an adult man.
Women who enjoyed involved, committed fathers (or father figures) as girls are more likely to have healthier adult relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They can then more easily discern which behaviors are inappropriate.
They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men – they don’t wonder how a man’s facial stubble feels or what it’s like to be hugged by strong arms. This knowledge builds emotional security as well as safety from the exploitation of predatory males.
Studies have shown there is a close connection between fatherly affirmation and a woman’s:
- fear of intimacy
- comfort with womanhood
- comfort with sexuality
In fact, research indicates that the closer a girl is to her father, the more delayed puberty will be for her and the later she will become sexually active.
A Father Sets the Stage
A woman’s relationship with her biological dad or some kind of father figure in her life sets the stage for all future relationships with men.
If a father was there for a woman when she was a girl, both physically and emotionally, she learns that this is what she can expect from men and this characteristic is what she looks for and gravitates toward in her own relationships with men. If, as a child, she never experiences a positive relationship with an adult male, her choices for male relationships may not be in her best interests.
Dr. Bruce Robinson wrote a book that talks about what daughters learn from their fathers and in particular from the unconditional love a dad can offer:
- Dads help their daughters feel self-respect and acceptance.
- They demonstrate that men and women can negotiate fairly, and teach them what to expect from a male-female relationship.
- Most importantly, they show a girl how to relax and be affectionate around men without being sexual.
The Bottom Line
In an ideal world, each daughter would have a loving father who’s active and involved in her life. As a top paternity test company, we know that’s not possible. Whether you are a single mother or a same-sex female couple raising children, a father figure can help fill the need. It could be an uncle, grandfather, teacher, pastor, or trusted neighbor. Whoever he is, a girl should be able to identify with him on a deeply psychological level and get the guidance she needs to navigate childhood and become a strong, resilient woman.
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Kyle D. Pruett, The Nurturing Father, (New York: Warner Books, 1987), p. 49. http://kylepruettmd.com/
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C.: 2011.
Source: Matthews, T.J., Sally C. Curtin, and Marian F. MacDorman. Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1998 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2000.
Source: Bush, Connee, Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. ‘Differences in Empathy Between Offender and Nonoffender Youth.’ Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (August 2000): 467-478.
Source: Teachman, Jay D. ‘The Childhood Living Arrangements of Children and the Characteristics of Their Marriages.’ Journal of Family Issues 25 (January 2004): 86-111.
Source: ‘CPS Involvement in Families with Social Fathers.’ Fragile Families Research Brief No.46. Princeton, NJ and New York, NY: Bendheim-Thomas Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and Social Indicators Survey Center, 2010.
Source: Hoffmann, John P. ‘The Community Context of Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use.’ Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (May 2002): 314-330.