Psychologists traditionally focus on the mother/child relationships and mostly ignore fathers, especially the father/daughter relationship. However, new research is increasingly concluding that fathers greatly influence their daughter’s self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, gender roles, mental and emotional health, and achievements in academics and career. What’s more surprising is that a father has a deeper influence on his daughter’s future relationship with men than does her mother.
Dr. Jennifer Del Russo wrote her 2009 dissertation on this very subject, identifying six general styles of fathering and their impact on their daughters’ adult relationships with men. Here is a brief summary presented in the hope that it may provide a fascinating insights, especially for those women who are struggling with online romances and infidelity — either their own or their partner’s.
Daughters of Sexually Abusive Fathers
Sexually abused girls grow up to be adults at high risk for posttraumatic stress syndrome, eating disorders, self-cutting, and substance abuse. They struggle with feelings of worthlessness and shame, and may believe that love is never to be trusted, particularly in relationships with men. Because they devalue sex, they tend to be sexually promiscuous. Some women go on desperate searches redeeming relationships with the “ideal man,” going from one man to another seeking him. Usually no man could ever live up to their fantasy.
Unless they get good professional help or find a partner who is heroically supportive, they can suffer deep pain their entire life. Brandie Estes, a survivor of sexual abuse, put it this way:
I mattered, God damn it
I had a voice
But you stole it
With your sin of choice.
Daughters of Physically Absent Fathers
If a father is absent from the home through abandonment, divorce, or death, his daughter tends to enter puberty early, date early, have sex early, and is at a higher risk for teenage pregnancy. If his absence occurred when his daughter was very young, she is likely to feel separate and misunderstood by others. If she feels abandoned by her father, she often creates a fantasy of an ideal man, and goes from one man to another trying to find this ideal and to camouflage her feelings of rejection by her father.
Daughters of divorced fathers are more likely to seek male attention and initiate physical contact with men. Daughters of widows are more likely to avoid men and act anxious around them.
Daughters of Emotionally Absent Fathers
The pain of these daughters is as devastating as the pain of the daughters of physically absent fathers. Emotionally absent fathers are aloof, withdrawn, stoic, and sometimes control the family through silence. Their daughters often have sex earlier and are more likely to have fantasies of the ideal man and enter into serial relationships looking for it. If the daughter feels that her shortcomings pushed her father away, she may go for one man to another to hide her feelings of rejection. She is more likely to marry an emotionally distant man and to keep trying to fix him or to remain in an unsatisfying marriage. These women are less successful in interpersonal relationships and feel emotionally disconnected from others.
Daughters of Doting Fathers
If a father treats his daughter like a pampered pet and solves her problems for her instead of teaching her how to solve her own problems, she learns to suppress her autonomy and develops a compliant and placating style in her relationships. She will be unable to stand up to her husband, and may become overly dependent on men. These daughters often achieve academically, but not in their careers.
Daughters of Mentoring Fathers
Father and daughter often become too close in these relationships because he depends on her for emotional support. The father shapes his daughter’s life into patterns that fit his needs, and she feels unable to separate and differentiate from him. These daughters often work with their fathers as adults, are less likely to marry, and may substitute achievement for sexuality.
Daughters of Demanding/Supportive Fathers
This father treats his daughter with sensitivity and provides emotional support for her growth, while still demanding that she is successful in her endeavors. He is empathetic and understanding, while being clear that she is to live up to certain standards. These daughters are highly successful in both academics and careers and are most likely to achieve happy and supportive relationships with men. The demanding/supportive style is the gold standard for fatherhood.
Del Russo, Jennifer Marie (Psy.D). Emotionally Distant Fathers and their Adult Relationships With Men. Proquest Dissertations and Theses, 2009.
Hartney, Eliza. “Why Sexually Abused Children Grow Up to Have Abusive Relationships in Adulthood,” www.about.com
Nauert, Rick (PhD). “Childhood Trauma May Hinder Adult Romance,” Psychcentral, April 5, 2012.