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.