By Piyush Jain
Daughters can be quite attached to their fathers, but why do they love their dads so much?
This article was originally published on December 8, 2016. It was updated on November 10, 2020 by Ariane Signer.
Fathers have a unique bond with their daughters and it's quite different than the bond they share with their sons. While the mother-son bond is much acknowledged, researched, and openly talked about, the relationship of a father with his daughter has not been given as much focus. Many think that a father’s role is crucial in molding a young boy into an adult, yet many fail to fully understand the influences fathers have on their daughters. Psychologists have been emphasizing the mother-child bond as the primary influence behind the child’s character - until recently. Studies have been conducted showing that the father has a greater influence on his children than a mother when it comes to shaping behavior.
The psychology behind the father-daughter bond is derived from the Greek mythological character, Electra, avenged her father Agamemnon’s death by committing matricide with the help of her brother, Orestes, in the 5th century B.C. This helped coin the term 'Electra Complex' which is the female counterpart of the better known 'Oedipus Complex,' conceived by the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Studies have shown that daughters who have a better relationship with their fathers tend to have many personal advantages such as healthier romantic relationships, better behavioral traits, boosted self esteem, positive body image, good self-reliance, and better decision-making abilities. On the other hand, the absence of a father figure or an emotionally distant dad, has been cited as one of the most common factors for a girl to: grow up introverted, hold prejudiced views of the opposite sex, make rash decisions, and engage in unstable relationships, all while she turns relatively more destructive as she tries to cope with this lack in her life.
15 He Is The First Man In Her Life
A father is the first male a girl encounters in her life. Her ideas about the opposite gender are molded into being by observing him. Her views on men are a direct consequence of her relationship with him, how he addresses himself, and how he behaves with her mother. A loving father instills in her a positive outlook on men, makes her feel confident, able to love and trust, commit to serious relationships, and he contributes to her mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Conversely, a distant father who constantly argues and disrespects her mother leads her to assume that all men are the same - disrespectful and authoritative. She easily gets attached to her father as she learns what a man might be, and sees in him what a man ought to be.
Psychologist Dr. Linda Nielson conducted a study of college women for a period of 15 years, and found that her subjects invariably wished that their relationships with their fathers were emotionally and personally closer. They believed that with a closer relationship, they could comfortably talk about personal issues such as marriage and divorce, drug and alcohol use, financial matters, depression, eating disorders, and sex before marriage.
14 He Is Her Protector
Traditionally, man’s instinct is to protect. Men generally have more physical strength so the gender roles have been such that a man is sought for protection and a woman for care. This reels back to the ‘damsel in distress’ theme we so commonly encounter in mythology, arts, and music since time immemorial. A very early example is the story of the hero, Perseus, saving young damsel Andromeda, who was chained to a rock by the sea, by slaying a beast unleashed on land by the Greek god Poseidon.
Why are daughters attached to their fathers? A father, conventionally views his wife and daughters to be in need of protection and security, and he ought to provide that for them. This is also the reason why fathers are generally viewed as judgmental and apprehensive about boys their daughters date; they know how men think, and can occasionally identify the destructive men from the genuinely good ones.
13 His Daughter Is More Affectionate
Sons are often taught to be more in control of their emotions. This can be attributed to social norms, in addition to his own father reproaching him to become a more emotionally adjusted man and not a “sissy.” This makes them repress their emotions, which doesn't really help in bonding with the father.
Since daughters tend to be more expressive than sons, they are always eager to show their affection with simple gestures and expressions - the most effective being her smile. For a dad who works all day and comes home all worn out, a big ear to ear smile with a little twinkle in the eye from his daughter makes all the frustrations, work and toil worth it. Most fathers also regard their daughters as the ones who will take care of them as they grow older while assuming that the sons will forsake them for their wives once they marry.
12 He Cares For His Daughter As Much, If Not More
While it is a widely acknowledged fact that fathers play a huge role in the character molding of boys, their effect on girls is not much understood. As actor Ryan Reynolds once said, fathers are willing to ‘walk through a cement wall to get to her.’
Studies have shown fathers to be sterner in a boy’s upbringing, resulting in the child identifying his father primarily as a role model and behavior shaper, but much less as someone with an emotional connection. Reversely, girls enjoy a more lenient approach from their fathers, and are often accused of 'wrapping him around her little finger.' More than just differential treatment, this leniency can be attributed to societal norms where a girl is instilled with emotional expressivity and delicacy, and the boy is taught to repress such feelings that are considered “feminine.” The common conception, then, is that a dad's duty is to make his sons tough while he views his daughters as fragile and in need of protection; consequently, he shows his caring in a more emotional way with his daughter.
11 A Daughter Is More Compassionate
Emotional prowess is often viewed as a woman’s equivalent to a man’s physical strength. Women may be more easily hurt by emotional experiences than men, but they can overcome it in a shorter period of time. As women are generally more emotionally responsive, they imbibe in themselves the ability to listen to others and share in their grief. Daughters do exactly that, by evoking the repressed emotional side of a man.
Fathers, especially single dads, are typically more open about their problems when a daughter is around because he finds her more understanding of his choices and decisions; she is less judgmental than her male siblings. This again goes back to the differential upbringing theory mentioned earlier where boys are brought up to be tough and girls as tender and loving. This contributes to the father’s stronger bond with his daughter as she crosses her teen years and becomes more mature.
10 Opposites Always Attract
From a statistical standpoint, 88% of mothers polled in a survey conducted by the parenting website Netmums, admitted to treating boys and girls differently, despite acknowledging it to be wrong. Moreover, 55% of the mothers stated that it's easier to bond with boys instead of girls. This goes to show how moms who have both sons and daughters naturally connect more easily with their sons.
This trend is similar with the fathers; although studies have shown that fathers are more likely to yearn for a son for the experience of raising a boy in their image, this preference is changed when a daughter is born. When a girl is born into the family, a father’s attention inadvertently shifts towards her, often making her the center of his universe. Fathers who have experienced parenting both a girl and a boy almost always favor the experience of raising a girl, finding it more fulfilling.
9 A DaughterCan Be More Obedient
Fathers believe daughters to be more disciplined and obedient than their sons. There is much less friction between a dad and his daughter mainly because girls look up to their fathers as the best of men, and imbibe in themselves all the views and opinions the dad holds as true. This can again be explained how various cultures and societies impose on her the need to be delicate and ladylike, which translates into her becoming more obedient later in life - but this may not always necessarily be the case.
Studies have shown that a girl tends to unknowingly favor her dad’s taste in music, professional courses, politics, and even tends to hold his opinion on religion and spirituality. Her father is like a looking glass to the outside world, and all that she sees is tinted with what she learns from him during her childhood. This reflection is a boost to his ego, making him more drawn to his little girl. This makes fathers naturally lean towards their daughters and show them more affection.
8 The Age Factor
Age affects the way a girl bonds with her parents; different aged girls bond differently with each of their parents. While the son may have a steady relationship with his parents throughout his life, a girl’s relationship tends to keep changing and evolving, favoring one parent over the other.
Initially, since the mother is identified as the primary caregiver, the girl develops a deeper relationship with her. As she grows older, she begins to identify her father as the provider and resents her mother’s attachment to him, eventually viewing her as competition to garner her father’s affection (Electra Complex). She develops new wants that are fulfilled by the father, making her favor him more. As she reaches puberty, she temporarily distances herself from her father, and seeks her mother to guide her through this period of change. Once she is well-adjusted to this change, the bond with her father is once again repaired, and she seeks his advice on decisions, relationship and life in general.
7 Family Dynamics Influence Her
The environment around her - how her siblings view their parents, how her mother views her father - leaves a mark on a girl and influences how she connects with him. Fathers who repeatedly abuse their wives in front of the children have the most distant bond with their kids, and this is, in all fairness, their own doing. When it comes to taking sides, even if children bond better with the father, it is always the mother that is chosen by the child in such situations. She sees her own reflection in her mother, and such scenarios make her think that dad does not love her.
Siblings also influence a girl's relationship; a girl who has a father and a brother in her family has her affections divided between each of them. Her brother gains a bigger prominence in her life, so much so that if he resents their father, she resents with him, and if he extols dad, she too does the same.
6 Because She Will Always Be Daddy’s Little Girl
Fathers are found to forgive their daughters' blunders more easily than they do their sons'. They are also most hurt when a daughter defies them, since he holds the belief that she can do no wrong.
For a dad, even when his daughter is all grown up, married and ready to start a new family, she will still remain his little girl. When she is sad, she will find his shoulder to cry on, and his one hug will momentarily wash away all her tears. And when the time comes when he has to let go of her, it's the most heartbreaking thing he will have to go through. He unwillingly hands her over to a new beau, making a point to warn him that no harm should befall her, and if it does, papa bear will come looking for him.
5 There Is No Competition Between Them
In the poll conducted by Netmums, mothers described their sons in positive words such as ‘funny,’ ‘cheeky,’ ‘loving’ and ‘playful,’ whereas their daughters were described in a somewhat critical note with words such as ‘serious’ and ‘argumentative.’ While sons look up to their fathers, they are also in an everlasting competition with their dads to be the “alpha-male” of the household. Similarly, daughters have a feeling of inferiority compared to their moms in terms of looks, intellect, personality, or behavior, and thus strive to be better than them.
Various studies have suggested that daughters see their mother as competition and, to a certain extent, there is an ego clash between them. Thus, the daughter chooses to mimic her mother’s dressing style, her personality, even her way of thinking, in order to appear better in the eyes of herself and others. But it's an entirely opposite reaction with the father. Far from being competition, fathers tend to have an emotional effect on daughters, which helps build their character and decision making abilities later in life. Dad will make her feel pretty and special, and this is why they share a stronger bond.
4 The Psychological Basis
The ‘Electra Complex,’ a term proposed by Carl Jung, deals with the psychology of the father-daughter relationship. Jung collaborated with Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist who coined the name of its better known male counterpart 'Oedipus Complex.’ This anti-Oedipus is seen in daughters around the age of four, where the girl child has a psychosexual competition with her mother to gain her father's acceptance.
The term was derived by Jung from a Greek mythological figure of the same name, mentioned earlier, who avenged her father Agamemnon's death by killing her own mother with the help of her brother, Orestes. Freud explained that the female oedipal attitude was much more emotionally intense than the male, the fixation of which can result in the development of an under-confident, submissive woman. This also explains why the girl child often tends to internalize her mother's personality, an effort seen, as explained earlier, to gain her father's acceptance.
3 Attachment Theory
Put forward by John Bowlby, a psychiatrist, psychologist, and psychoanalyst best known for his work in child attachment; his theory states that the ability of an individual to have an emotional or physical attachment to another person gives him a sense of stability that helps them to take risks, improve in weaker areas of their lives, and encourage their personality development. Children are attached to their caregivers, whether it's the mother or the father, which leads to her being given constant security and strength during her younger years, and constant support throughout her later years. In her early life, since her mother will likely be the one to feed and nurse her, the mother will be identified as her caregiver. But as she grows up, her needs vary and develop into wants, and finds that her father may be more capable of fulfilling them. This makes her lean towards him more than she does with her mother.
2 Research Says So
The most solid proof that dads connect better with daughters is the statistics. In a poll conducted byParents.com, more than 90% of mothers and fathers have reportedly stated that their children have favored one parent over the other at some point in time.
Studies have shown both mothers and fathers to have a preference for sons. But they conclude that, in the case of dads, it is often those who lack a daughter that prefer sons. Fathers that have both daughters and sons are most likely to favor the daughter, ardently wishing for a daughter in the next pregnancy.
Why do daughters love their fathers so much? Probably because they know their fathers adore them so much! If you ask a dad why he loves his daughter so much, and treats her like a little princess, his answer would just be, 'because she deserves it.' This treatment is, at times, so extreme that the little princess grows up to believe that she is entitled to everything, and fails to learn empathy towards fellow human beings.
1 The Why
We have been addressing reasons why fathers connect better with their daughters. But a more important question is why they should.
Girls who don't have a secure attachment with their fathers tend to develop behavioral problems and have difficulty adapting to situations later on in life. As mentioned earlier, an absent father figure, or an emotionally distant dad, can cause a girl to grow up more introverted, with prejudiced views of the opposite sex, and with difficulties in creating lasting bonds with men.
NEXT: A Mom And Son Bond Is The Real Deal: 15 Stories
SOURCES: Bustle.com, FathersForGood.org, Fatherhood.gov, Child And Family Blog, Dr. Linda Nielsen, Simply Psychology, Healthline, Simply Psychology