Most people visiting Daughters.com are seeking ideas to increase and sustain girls’ self-esteem and self-efficacy in a world that presents many obstacles. One innovative step produces good results, even though it’s not always easy to take: See Dad.
The power and potential of dads and daughters relationships remain fairly invisible among advocates for girls and professionals working with girls and their families. But a moment’s reflection reveals how important Dad and/or Stepdad is in Daughter’s life.
Nearly every adult woman can identify ways her father and/or stepfather influenced her. Ask any group of adult women about their relationships with their fathers, and you rarely get a lukewarm answer. You’ll hear something along the lines of either “He’s one of my heroes” or “He’s an [expletive deleted].”
I have little tolerance for discussions of (or arguments over) whether mothers are “more” influential than fathers (or vice versa) in a child’s life. Each of a child’s parents has tremendous influence–in terms of nurturance, expectations, responsibilities, affection, discipline, support, and much more. When it comes to child rearing challenges, responsibilities, joys, and concerns, you and your daughter’s other parent(s) have much more in common with each other than you have different.
That said, Dads and Moms retain certain unique influences in the lives of their daughters and stepdaughters. A father’s actions (and inactions) set the standard of “man” for his daughter—what she can expect as normal from boys now and men later. Dad also profoundly affects his daughter’s concept of “partner.” His behavior in relationship with his daughter’s other parent(s) sets her standard for what’s normal and acceptable from her own eventual life partner(s), regardless of gender.
Yet, when I gather with family professionals, dads and stepdads seldom enter the conversation. They tend to be invisible to most people working to help families—despite the fact that a father or stepfather’s meaning and influence is unavoidable in a daughter’s life. It’s like Dad is hidden even when he is in plain sight.
I train professionals like teachers, therapists, and others on how to start recognizing (and making smart use of) this readily available resource. They are invariably thrilled to learn ways to mobilize and utilize dads. If you care about girls, I urge you to quickly learn how to integrate fathers and stepfathers more centrally into your work—if for no other reason that the fact that your work will get done more efficiently if you make smart use of this “new” tool!
When a dad or stepdad learns to listen to girls, takes his daughter seriously, and shines the spotlight of is healthy attention on her—she is far better inoculated against the dangers she faces in our world. That’s what we want, and the potential of dad-daughter relationship can get us there.
Joe Kelly is the best-selling author of Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter and 5 other fathering books. He has two daughters and one grandson.
Work with girls or their families? Learn evidence-based strategies for engaging and utilizing dads through one of Joe’s in-service trainings.