Raising a daughter can bring a variety of blessings, as well as, its fair share of challenges, especially when the daughter has a negative relationship with her father. This article will help you learn how to avoid causing harm to the mother-daughter bond when the father-daughter relationship is harmful.
Both mother and father need to set healthy boundaries for their daughter and co-parent as a united front, regardless of how well the parents get along with one another.
For a daughter, having a healthy relationship with her father that does not impede on or impact the bond she has with her mother, is essential for healthy psychological development.
If parents are unable to agree on how to best parent their daughter and there are unhealthy, enmeshed, or toxic relationship traits evident, it’s important to seek the help of a licensed marriage and family therapist.
The importance of healthy parental bonds
Whether you are living with the father of your daughter or co-parenting from two separate homes, it can be challenging raising a daughter with her father when there are aspects of their relationship that are either unhealthy in general or unhealthy and threatening to the mother-daughter bond.
While it is important for a daughter’s psychological development to have a father figure in her life, it is equally important for her to have a mother figure. Mothers are the original nurturers of a child. While there are various types of families today – some with two mothers or two fathers, or grandparents raising the child — a developing child needs to have positive relationships with their caretakers, regardless of how the caretakers get along with one another as a co-parenting team.
How both parents can best support healthy parental bonds
As a good rule of thumb, it’s always most beneficial for parents’ relationships with their children if they keep any disagreements, arguments, or fights between themselves and do not try to bring the kids into the middle of them. While modeling healthy ways to resolve conflict in a relationship or marriage is highly beneficial for a daughter as she develops, boundaries can become blurry, and relationships can become enmeshed (relationships where the other person’s needs are put before your own) and toxic when parents talk badly about the other person to their children or ask them to choose one parent over the other.
When your daughter is ‘daddy’s girl’
While there are instances where a daughter may become favorited by her father or a ‘daddy’s girl', this type of relationship mustn't become toxic or harmful to the daughter, mother, or father in any way.
It’s important to refrain from any behaviors as a father that would paint you as the fun parent while the mother is seen as the rule setter and punisher. If you are constantly spoiling your daughter, taking her to get ice cream, not making her obey mom’s rules, or undermining the mother’s decisions (telling her she can have the toy after mom says ‘no’), this pits the daughter against her mother. Parents need to form a united front and establish firm boundaries with their daughters to keep them safe. When a father spoils or enables his daughter, it can also cause the daughter to feel a power shift and become controlling or manipulative of her father and disregard her mother, as she believes she is the most important person in her father’s life.
When a child takes on the role of a partner to her father emotionally, mentally, or physically, it can have a detrimental impact on her psychological well-being, development, and bond with her mother. Such instances could occur when the father leans on his child for emotional support, nurturing, or advice, or it could be as extreme as sexually abusing his daughter.
While the latter may sound like something from a horror movie, it is an unfortunate reality in this world, and at least one in four girls will face sexual abuse as a child in the U.S. At least 93% of the time, the abuse happens from someone the child knows, and typically, it is a relative. Thirty-four percent of reported child abuse cases involve a family relative, and over 80% of the time, the victim is a female. Psychologists believe the prevalence of sexual abuse to be higher than the numbers suggest, as many children, especially males, have a tendency not to disclose instances of sexual abuse.
The costs of unhealthy relationships between a father and daughter
Depending on how extreme the enmeshment or toxicity is between a daughter and her father, as well as her level of resiliency, there are a variety of consequences for having an inappropriate relationship. At the very least, she can face blockages in developing a healthy sense of self-identity, she may face developmental issues, and, when there is abuse involved, trauma may result in symptoms of a variety of mental health disorders such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Personality disorders.
- Substance abuse disorders.
If you suspect that your daughter has been the victim of abuse by her father or anyone else in her life, it is important to seek help and make an appointment with your pediatrician and a child psychologist as soon as possible. From there, they can help determine if there is abuse going on and you will be able to take further action as needed. The sooner your daughter begins to process and heal from her trauma, the better her chances of developing healthy coping skills and emotional intelligence into adulthood.
When you do not suspect abuse
If you are not suspicious that your daughter may be experiencing abuse from her father, yet their relationship impacts your bond, it is best to speak with a licensed marriage and family therapist. As a co-parenting team, you can discuss any issues the two of you are facing in co-parenting and include your daughter in sessions to help set healthy boundaries as a team.
It can be tricky and difficult to come together as a unit to raise a child, even if you are happily married. This is because not everyone holds the same beliefs on how to parent and raise their children. When a couple is not getting along or is divorced, it can increase the struggle and cause a variety of issues that may impact the relationship a daughter has with both of her parents.
If you can communicate openly and honestly, you can help avoid enabling an unhealthy or enmeshed relationship between a daughter and her father while working to strengthen her bond with her mother in healthy, meaningful ways.
If someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, you are not alone and there are caring, qualified people available at any time of the day to speak with you. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for help and support.
- Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment Report 2020.
- SJSU Scholar Works. Where's My Daddy? Effects of Fatherlessness on Women's Relational Communication.
- Sociological Forum. Are They Really Mama’s Boys/Daddy’s Girls? The Negotiation of Adulthood upon Returning to the Parental Home.
- YWCA. Child Sexual Abuse Facts.