Father’s Day is the specified time each year we feel obligated to call our dads, grandpas, and other father figures to acknowledge how much we appreciate the things they do for us. And for those who have lost that person, the day is one of reflection for what they taught us and the memories shared.
Yet, outside of the annual dedicated day in June, the role that father’s play in our lives often goes under the radar. Or, when addressed they are packaged in cliché sitcom typecasts of the lovable putz or used to frame societal stereotypes of boys and men.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth – particularly when it comes to daughters. In fact, extensive research has shown that fathers make a world of difference in the lives of little girls. And I don’t mean just biological dads or dads who are physically present, but father figures who are emotionally invested and active in the lives of their daughters – at every stage of development.
Father’s Play A Unique Role
American traditions are often built on stereotypes of ever present, doting mothers and bread winner, absentee fathers. And with that in mind, fathers are frequently left out of the conversation when it comes to childhood development, emotional maturity and mental health. However, according to adolescent psychologists, daughters who had strong relationships with their fathers growing up (no matter their economic or educational background, race or religion) get better grades, go on to make more money, and are more emotionally resilient as adults than peers who did not.
Specifically, fathers play a bigger role in certain aspects of development that are directly linked to risk-taking behaviors and self-regulation for a couple of reasons. First, there is a body of research showing that mothers tend to be more protective (often called helicopter parents), while fathers tend to let children figure things out on their own. And it’s that aspect of throwing your kids up in the air, rough housing with them outside, or letting them fall down that might be partially responsible for learning fear parameters early. But there’s also a secondary component of making a child feel loved and lovable that balances risk with security.
Money, Men, And Mental Health
Psychologists have concluded that women perform better in what they refer to as the 3Ms = Money, Men, and Mental Health if the father-daughter relationship is strong. But each of these three are not necessarily linked in the ways we tend to think, such as a “good role model” for a partner or demonstrating work ethic. Instead, the reasons women with good dads out-perform their peers has to do with how well they assess risk, how they approach challenges and the security and confidence they have in forming relationships.
Money: Daughters who have solid, supportive relationships with their fathers tend to get better grades. They also tend to graduate at higher rates and are more likely to enter into STEM professions. It is believed that this is due not only to added confidence and agency, but additional assertiveness that is learned from fathers. Further, that risk taking in career challenges like entrepreneurship is driven by those same forces. And yet, a counter affect appears to be that women with strong relationships with their dads take less risks when it comes to activities such as binge drinking and recreational drug use.
Men: While it’s common to hear that a father sets the example for his daughter when it comes to seeking a partner, dating and/or marriage, it actually appears to have more to do with how the dad makes the daughter feel in their one-on-one relationship and not how the dad makes the mom or adult partner feel in their relationship. Beginning around age two, making a daughter feel loved and lovable means that when they enter the real world, they aren’t hungry for attention, attachment or love to fill a void. Instead, they will have internalized the way it feels to be both secure in themselves and in expectations for a partner. This feeling of security can also greatly influence confidence and actions such as seeking approval or validation from others.
Mental Health: Before the age of four we begin to learn how to deal with stress. In fact, cortisol (nature’s built-in alarm system) is very active in the brain, teaching us how to control our mood, motivations and fears. And it is often rough-housing with dads, jumping off of couches and being tossed in the air that instigates setting those boundaries. The ability to take risk, but also be safe demonstrates ways to approach future risks and challenges, while simultaneously teaching us to self-regulate our reactions. Thus, the result of having a physically and emotionally present dad appears to be more emotionally resilient and self-confident women, who report less anxiety disorders and depression.
While there is still much to learn about human relationships, childhood development and parenting, well-fathered women appear to have a lot of advantages as they face the world. And further, even in situations where the father figure isn’t present every day (such as divorced or unmarried couples), the bond is what matters most. Situations may be different for every family, but the greatest takeaway for everyone is that a good dad makes a great daughter. So this father day, ladies, let your dad know just how much he’s meant to you, and all your successes.
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