Archive for mothers

Why the Father-Daughter Relationship is so important

With Father’s Day still in our sights it’s worth reiterating the pivotal importance of the paternal role.

In therapy, it becomes so clear that dads sometimes underestimate their influence on growing daughters. And women who have grown up with disappointing or punitive fathers can carry the impact of this into their adult relationships with male partners.

Mothers are historically seen as primary role models for daughters, and sometimes the significance of the father’s influence can initially appear to be more shadowy.

Where there is not a ‘present dad’ – then a secondary male can step in. Never underestimate the influence of grandfathers, uncles or good family friends.

The first important man in a small girl’s world will be this male figure. Children will regard themselves as they imagine others regard them. Women begin to find their sense of acceptance and value as a result of these early messages from their fathers. Adult male validation is an absolutely vital part of a young girl in gaining self-esteem.

The first family unit is where we all learn our powers of negotiation. Those who come from conflict averse or overly critical parenting will not easily be able to learn the value of safely expressing their own opinions. The father who is too powerful, or too passive, will not allow a woman a sense of safety when finding her voice with later male relationships.

Learning that her thoughts are valid and worth attention (even if not agreed with) is a good life lesson for any girl and being listened to will mean that she, in turn, will find it easier to listen.

Believing that her opinions count will help a girl to learn how to be assertive. This differs from sounding aggressive, which is more likely to stem from combative behaviour arising from early feelings of powerlessness.

Offering safe male attention is one of a fathers best legacies to a daughter. Understanding boundaries and privacy, and avoiding any negative or trite comments about her physical characteristics are essential.

Remember, the parents are the first couple that any child observes. How the father treats the mother is a powerful message. Parents who treat each other well, are companionable and can disagree (even heatedly) but resolve and safely make up will show daughters that this can be their expectation of a fair and respectful relationship in adult life.

Christina Fraser

Mothers’ Day

According to retail analysts there is no question about it – Mothers’ Day is big business. Estimates vary but Coresight Research predicted that approximately £260 million will have been spent on flowers and around £50 million on greetings cards for last Sunday’s celebrations. Add in the meals out, special treats and the presents and the total spend was predicted to reach £1.4 billion – a significant sum!

But it’s not just the retailers who see the significance of mothers. At Coupleworks, along with many other counsellors and therapists we see the role of our mothers, and our fathers, as being very significant in our emotional growth as human beings. Writing in her book ‘Hold Me Tight’ Dr Sue Johnson briefly describes the ways in which ‘Attachment Theory’ as pioneered by John Bowlby and others, has proved the significance of parents for our emotional development. Writing of him she says

“His experience spurred him to formulate his own idea, namely that the quality of the connection to loved ones and early emotional deprivation is key to the development of personality and to an individual’s habitual way of connecting with others”.

It seems unbelievable now that for much of the last century parents were not allowed to stay in a hospital with their sick children – they had to drop them off at the door and children suffered in the long term as a result.

In the therapy room it becomes obvious that people who have lacked that secure base of consistent and loving parenting often struggle when it comes to forming good relationships with their partners. For example, someone who has experienced their mother as being harsh and judgmental can often assume sub-consciously that their partner will behave in a similar way towards them. Or if an emotionally absent parent has dominated a child’s experience, they could then find it difficult as adults to be present to another, fearing a repetition of that emotional abandonment.

Becoming more conscious of these early patterns of relating can have a huge impact on our ability to be present and connected in our adult relationships. We cannot rewrite or change the past, but we can learn of its impact on us, and therefore become more able to find ways of deepening our connections with our partners. That process of separating or individuating from our parents is crucial to our psychological health as a person. To mourn the loss of what we haven’t had, or process the pain and trauma or early experiences through counselling is a healing process that often brings change and hope to our adult relationships.

Sarah Fletcher