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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 23-Jul-15 10:02:56

Daddy's girl

Just how important is the father-daughter relationship, and what are the consequences of severing that connection? Author Lisa Ballantyne wonders why society is so quick to acknowledge the importance of the father-son bond, but glosses over the crucial role a father should play in his daughter's life?

Lisa Ballantyne

Daddy's girl

Posted on: Thu 23-Jul-15 10:02:56


Lead photo

Does the lack of a father-daughter relationship affect girls for the rest of their lives?

With Father's Day over for another year, I was musing on fathers and children. Research suggests fathers spend seven times as much time interacting with their children than their own fathers did with them, 40 years ago.

The role of fathers is often emphasised in relation to their sons, but are fathers not just as important to daughters? Men are seen as important role models for boys, but are they not just as vital to their girls?
There are roughly two million UK children living in fatherless households. There has long been a statistical connection between fatherless households and teenage pregnancy, crime and disadvantage, but does the reason for this go deeper than broken homes and reduced economic potential?

I have always been fascinated by the fact that girls who grow up without fathers reach sexual maturity earlier than those whose fathers live with them. Girls who grow up with stepfathers mature even more quickly than fatherless girls. The presence or absence of a father - something that is often seen as a social phenomenon - leaves a physical imprint in daughters through early puberty and also often through early sexual activity. There have been a number of studies positing reasons behind this, and considering comparisons to animal counterparts (it's a phenomenon observed in apes too); but the jury is still out.

I contest that girls need their fathers as much as boys do, and that fathers have as big a role in nurturing children's positive development as mothers.

I write often on the theme of nature and nurture and the truth is that people are often a quintessence of both these things. Things which we perceive as merely social have profound physiological consequences, and not just on a genetic level - the impact can be immediate. What happens in our families affect us physically and can have far reaching consequences.

Girls reaching maturity earlier has been linked to depression, risk-taking behaviour and early pregnancy. But it is not so much about blaming absent fathers, or once more pointing out the challenges for single mothers, but acknowledging that fathers are extremely important to their children and specifically to their daughters. Girls who perceive their relationships with their fathers as close and supportive tend to have higher self-esteem, which leads to greater success in life.

One in five fathers lose touch with their children two years after break up, but men are more likely to have frequent contact with a son rather than a daughter. Those who are actively involved with their children before the breakup tend to stay in regular contact - but significantly see less of girls than boys. Is it a lack of confidence on the part of fathers towards their daughters, or a misguided expectation that boys need dad more?

I contest that girls need their fathers as much as boys do, and that fathers have as big a role in nurturing children's positive development as mothers. Of course, not all family relationships are nurturing and positive and bad relationships are worse for children than the consequences of separation. But given the right circumstances, fathers have a profound impact on their children - especially girls. Nature is in the nurture, and nurturing fathers are extremely important.

Lisa's new book Redemption Road is published by Little Brown and is available now from Amazon.

By Lisa Ballantyne

Twitter: @ballantyne_lisa

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jul-15 10:54:39

And? confused

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jul-15 10:55:18

That is such a pointless post.

Tegan Thu 23-Jul-15 11:07:04

No it isn't; it's very interesting. The sex of our children totally affects the dynamics of family relationships almost from the minute they're born. In fact, having a son and a daughter I have a few theories of my own but they're really too private to discuss on an open forum.

Stansgran Thu 23-Jul-15 12:02:47

I thought it was interesting. I didn't know about girls maturing later or earlier because of father's role. If anyone grew up without a father figure is this true for them? And would a strong grandfathers role act in the same way. I think girls seem to reach puberty earlier than these days . I hear of friends DGDs at 9or 10. When I was at school it was 12 to 13.

Tegan Thu 23-Jul-15 12:16:19

Daft idea probably but do they mature earlier due to modern day diet ie eating more meat and that meat coming from animals that may have been given hormones of some kind?

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jul-15 13:11:36

Well, there is not much anyone can do about it if a dad is not interested.

How do they judge "sexual maturity"? Just so much boll crap.

narrowboatnan Thu 23-Jul-15 14:06:59

I wonder how this sits with same sex parents? Elton John and his husband/wife for example. They have children to bring up, so are they both Fathers? Mind boggling if you think too deeply about it so I think I'll just go for a lie down.

mazza245 Thu 23-Jul-15 14:09:53

This thread has worried me but I won't tell my daughter about it as I don't want to worry her. She has a daughter, now 5, whose father has barely seen her since birth. He already has a son a few years older but split up from his wife and this boy is his be all and end all. He is good at football and his dad sees him constantly, not so with his beautiful little daughter! He did come and go for a while after she was born but wasn't to be relied on at all. They eventually split in February 2014 and he hasn't seen her since! He lives about 20 miles away and "it's too far", he doesn't have time with the football and work and he says "if he can't see her every day, then it's too upsetting to see her at all"! Of course, my GD asks about him, although it's getting less and she talks about her brother and wants to see him desperately. My daughter did, at first, beg him to just see her once a month or even once every half term, but no, it's too upsetting! He asked my DD to call and collect presents and Christmas and her birthday but not to bring his daughter with her. DD doesn't speak to him at all now. I find it incomprehensible as you see these dads doing anything they can to see their children but not him!

Now, this report says there are dire consequences to not having a dad in your life! More to worry about!

Tegan Thu 23-Jul-15 14:36:05

I wouldn't worry too much. When you think back to WWII many children grew up without fathers and we don't regard them as a 'damaged generation' do we?

Eloethan Thu 23-Jul-15 14:50:36

I sometimes think the unrealistic expectations a father may have for a son can be damaging. I have known a father who tried to fulfil his own thwarted sporting ambitions by pushing his son in the same direction. In his mid-teens the son rebelled and the story didn't end happily. I suppose something similar can happen with mothers/daughters, but I have never seen it.

I think a close relationship for sons and daughters with both mother and father is important - although the relationship with each parent is likely to fulfil slightly different emotional and practical needs.

As an only child, I had a very close relationship with my mum who, on reflection, I realise was overly protective of me. My dad (also an only child), was not a particularly "macho" type - it was mum who was the odd-job person, the decorator, the gardener and the driver. In some ways, by doing all the practical stuff, she facilitated my dad's helplessness, and also did the same with me. I am, like him, devoid of practical skills.

As a young child I think my dad was rather resentful of me, seeing me somewhat as a "rival" for my mum's interest and affection. I would have liked a closer, more demonstrably affectionate relationship with my dad but I'm not sure that the slightly "arm's length" (though basically loving) relationship we had really did me much harm.

I think the case of daughters of separated parents seeing less of their fathers than sons do, is very different. My feeling is that it would be quite hurtful and damaging to a girl's self-esteem, especially if she was aware she was being treated differently from a male sibling. Perhaps one valuable part of the father/daughter relationship is being able to safely experience close affection from a male who has no predatory intentions (though I realise that, sadly, this is not always the case). I wonder if this explains why daughters with absent fathers are more likely to reach physical maturity earlier than those with fathers who are still around.

ninathenana Thu 23-Jul-15 14:51:56

Is an absent father better/worse than one that lives under the same roof but has no interaction with his children ?

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jul-15 14:58:06

Don't worry mazza. It's not a report. Just the random ramblings of some author trying to sell her - completely unconnected - book. hmm

Eloethan Thu 23-Jul-15 16:19:05

mazza As jingle says, the writer is over dramatising a not-that- uncommon family situation in order to sell a book.

Children pick up on what they hear "between the lines" from adults and if what they hear conveys a concern that a child may feel unloved or unwanted, it may in fact create that feeling within the child. It is probably better to look at the situation much more positively - that your grand daughter has a loving and caring mum and grandma and that your love will see her through.

The absence of any close member of the family in a child's life is sad and presents some challenges but should not viewed as something that will inevitably cause problems.

Nikkiast Thu 06-Aug-15 17:20:47

I totally agree with Tegan.
This is a serious subject that we all too often do not take seriously enough.
Like Tegan I also agree that some of these issues are better discussed in private.

I am new here and am still finding my way about but I have sent a PM to Tegan on this.

Gagagran Thu 06-Aug-15 17:50:07

I was a war baby and my Father didn't see me until I was 6 months old. He stayed in the army after the war so my early childhood holds no memories of him, apart from one when I was about 4. I was wakened from my bed and carried downstairs and thrust into the arms of this strange man in uniform with a prickly moustache and a very sunburned face (He was on leave from West Africa). I can remember being terrified and having no idea who he was.

He didn't come back to live at home until I was 10 and it was a difficult time for all of us as he expected to take over as head of the house. There was a lot of friction.

It took many years before I managed to establish a relationship with him so Yes, his absence had a huge effect on me and my life and in many different ways.