Fathers and Daughters
Dr. Linda Nielsen, Ed.D., a professor of psychology, has a heart for helping daughters to improve their relationships with their fathers. Not only has she written a book on the subject (Embracing Your Father: How to Build the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted with Your Dad), she has developed and taught a popular Father-Daughter course at Wake Forest University for the last ten years. Both the book and the course provide practical tips, insights, and research to help daughters improve their relationships with their dads. In the following interview, Dr. Nielsen shares her thoughts on fatherdaughter relationships, her book, and her college course.
Q: Why does the kind of relationship a daughter has with her father matter?
A: The daughter who has a comfortable, communicative, supportive relationship with her father generally has these advantages over other daughters throughout her lifetime: (1) She has more self confidence and isn’t as easily pressured into doing things she doesn’t want to do sexually in order to please boys or to boost her self worth. (2) She’s able to assert her beliefs comfortably and is more satisfied with her appearance (less critical of herself ). (3) She has the skills and attitudes that help her create healthy, loving relationships with men – trust, communication skills, assertiveness, self-confidence [and is] not as overly dependent (needy, clingy) on males for feelings of self worth. (4) [She is] more willing to attempt challenging tasks which, in turn, usually result in better jobs, higher incomes, and financial self reliance. (5) [She is] less likely to develop eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, or to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Q: How can a daughter create a more meaningful relationship with her father?
A: Don’t be sexist or discriminate against your dad because he’s a man. Give dad the same chance you give mom to get to know you and to get to know him. Don’t shut him out “because he’s a man” or “because fathers and daughters aren’t supposed to know each other well or spend time alone together.” Spend time alone with dad and ask more personal, meaningful questions when you’re alone with each other, like “Dad, what were some of the happiest times in your life?” Communicate directly with him. Stop going through other people [i.e., mom, or others] to communicate with him. Understand the difference between asking your dad for advice and asking him for approval. Then tell your father at the outset which of the two you want and stop interpreting his advice as criticism.
Q: How can mothers and stepmothers strengthen father-daughter relationships?
A: Step back, step back, step back. Give father and daughter lots of time alone with one another without acting hurt, jealous, or competitive. Don’t keep pointing out how he could do things “better” with his daughter. Don’t keep secrets with the daughter behind her father’s back. Build a strong marriage so the daughter doesn’t have to offer any of the adults the emotional support or intimacy they ought to be getting from a spouse.
Q: What is it about the father-daughter relationship that intrigues you and led you to create a course on the topic?
Reprinted with the permission of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
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