Daddy's Little Girlilanawiles
In actuality, you are probably going to get a diehard fan of your husband.
This is a phenomenon more commonly known as “Daddy’s Little Girl”.
I thought maybe Mazzy would eschew stereotypes and opt for a more original lot in life, but alas— no such luck.
Mazzy only has eyes for her father.
My first glimpses of it was back when Mazzy said DADA before MAMA (many, many months before), but it has blossomed into much more than just an unfortunate speech pattern.
Mazzy loves Daddy more than anything.
Certainly more than me.
Her undying devotion is obvious the moment she wakes up in the morning.
A father’s relationship with his daughter has an amazingly powerful influence in shaping her self-image, competence, and femininity, as well as her perception of all the men in her life.
One of my first memories of my father is of the two of us playing with my new doctor’s kit. I was the physician, of course, and he was my willing patient. While other dads may have submitted to having their hearts checked and endured endless pretend shots with a giant plastic syringe, my father went the extra mile. He actually allowed me to sit on his lap and pluck hairs from his chest with my new medical tweezers. At the time, I thought his grimaces and grunts were hilarious; little did I know that he sat there in pain just to see the smile on his little girl’s face.
This is the same man who not only read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to my sister and me, but used food coloring to whip up green eggs and ham for us in the morning. As little girls at the pool, we would cling to his back while he swam underwater, or we’d stand on his shoulders and dive off into the deep end. When my sister or I brought home a high test score, he’d launch into the Mr. Rogers song, I’m Proud of You at the top of his lungs. But our dad wasn’t all fun and games. He didn’t bribe us for good grades; he expected them. While other tenth grade girls were heading off to the movies with their boyfriends, we were prohibited from going on independent dates until age sixteen. The make-up we longed to glop on was to be applied subtly, and curfews were strictly enforced.
Looking back, it’s easy to see we were Daddy’s Girls. Little did I know that his behavior and our relationship would influence how I perceived all the men in my life, and ultimately determine who I married. Nor did I suspect that the games we played and his expectations of me would go on to affect my confidence, ambition and achievements, even shape my view of myself as a woman.
As recently as the 1980s, the prevalent view among parents and family courts was that as females, girls identified most closely with their mothers, therefore fathers were more or less secondary, even irrelevant, to the upbringing of little girls. What that theory failed to take into account is the approximately three billion males that populate our planet, the same males that young girls play with and eventually work with, date, and marry.
Joe Kelly, President of Dads and Daughters, a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving father-daughter relationships, and author of Dads and Daughters, says, “A father plays the role of the first man in her life. He sets the standard for his daughter about what she will expect from boys now and men later.”
H. Norman Wright, family counselor and author of Always Daddy’s Girl, agrees: “Your father was the vehicle for introducing you to the opposite sex. He has colored your perception of men and shaped your expectations of how men will or should behave toward you.”
Boys play differently than girls. They communicate in different ways, and they tackle problems from different angles. For a young girl to understand and appreciate these differences, and for her to become comfortable around males, she needs lots of one-on-one time with a man she can trust. Simply by spending time with his daughter, a father teaches her how to relate and interact with the boys and men in her life.
The Female Factor
In addition to teaching her about men, a father has an amazingly powerful influence on a young girl’s femininity too. In numerous interviews with women, journalist Suzanne Fields discovered, “Competency and femininity are the twin values most of the women I interviewed stressed as the values strongly influenced by their father.” It makes sense. Fathers are the first men to pay attention to young girls, to hold them, and kiss them. Daddy is the first man to tell a toddler how pretty her dress is or how cute her painted pink toenails look. More importantly, he’s the man who prizes his daughter over all other girls and holds her up as the most beautiful, sweetest girl in the world. All of which directly affect her budding femininity.
Starting a Relationship
When do girls start becoming a Daddy’s girl? From birth. The minute a man holds his tiny daughter and whispers, “I love you” in her ear, the Daddy-Daughter relationship begins. But it can end right there in the delivery room if men don’t wholeheartedly commit themselves to fathering their girls. Kelly explains, “The relationship is built in changing diapers and wiping up puke. It’s then that you giggle, make noises and goo-goo eyes – engaging in healthy affectionate touch. You have to show up, put in your time.” He advises new dads to, “Share the tasks equally if not more, because mom might be breastfeeding, and you can’t share that, so pick up more of the other slack, because mom’s doing more than half of the feeding and cuddling.”
Unfortunately, some men feel uncomfortable around little girls: after all, they grew up as little boys! While mothers instinctively know how to dress baby dolls and braid pigtails, men have no experience with young females and can feel awkward around their tiny daughters. But fathers can overcome this hurdle, simply by spending time with their girls and becoming friends. The more time a father spends with his daughter, the more comfortable it will become. “It is so important to nourish a daughter’s need for a father,” says Kelly. “You don’t get quality time unless you spend quantity time!”
Macho men can take heart in that spending time with girls isn’t just about dress-up clothes and sticker books. Although a daughter will adore her father for participating in her tea parties, she’ll have just as much fun engaging in the rough and tumble play that dads are best at. Research by the Melpomene Institute shows that a father who plays with his daughter when she is young is the greatest influence on her decision to take up sports later on. Fathers can kick-start the physical fun during infancy by holding, feeding, and bouncing their baby girls. As she gets older she’ll love to tickle and wrestle with Daddy, jump on beds, and get piggy back rides. Eventually fathers and daughters can enjoy participating in any sport together. The options are infinite.
Oh, the Drama!
If some men are nervous about playing with little girls, others are surprised by the tidal wave of emotions that come with their little pink package. On one hand, men, who are frequently raised to suppress their feelings, are often taken aback by the absolute love of a child, particularly a little girl who fawns over her father. “We raise boys to be emotionally illiterate, so for a man to be thrust into an unconditional love relationship is overwhelming and powerful,” Kelly explains.
On the other, a man who didn’t grow up with sisters might be unprepared for his little drama queen’s theatrics when she’s in a foul mood or gets hurt on the playground and cries for what seems like hours. When a confused father needs a roadmap to his daughter’s emotions, his best ally is his daughter’s mother. She knows what it’s like to be a little girl and can help interpret those whines and pouts. When all else fails, hugs and patience are usually the best remedy.
Even a hands-on Daddy can be unprepared for his little princess to suddenly reject him. Young girls are notorious for wanting to cuddle with their fathers one minute and refusing to let him tie their shoes the next. Take solace that this kind of behavior is normal and natural. It’s her way of exploring her autonomy. Kelly advises, “It’s not personal. They are experimenting with where I start and end and where you begin. Don’t abandon her or take your marbles and go home like a crybaby. Keep the communication going.” And get used to it. She’ll do it again as a teenager too! It’s all a part of growing up.
Tips for Daddies of Daughters
- Be there. Change the diapers, take her for walks, and pick out her clothes. Sit her in the bouncy seat while you work in your home office or outside while you do yard work.
- Appreciate her uniqueness as a girl. Compliment her clothes and hair. Tell her she looks pretty. Play with dolls, have tea parties, and play princess games.
- Appreciate her uniqueness as a person. Tell her how smart and brave she is. Teach her to throw a ball and dig for worms. Encourage her to take risks and speak her mind.
- Get physical with her. Roughhouse, tickle, bounce, patty cake, hug, and kiss. Teach her to swim, ride a bike, play golf, or whatever sport you enjoy.
- Listen! Males are problem solvers by nature, so when their daughters come to them with problems, they’re often too quick to offer up solutions, when all she wants is a shoulder to cry on. Girls are talkers. Dads should be quiet and listen. Then ask her if she wants you to offer a few helpful suggestions.
- “Be her father, not her mother,” Kelly says. Be the upstanding male role model that will teach her what to expect from men for the rest of her life.
Did You Know?
Girls whose fathers are closely involved with their lives enter puberty later. Dr. Bruce Ellis of the University of Canterbury found that “father involvement was most predictive for late puberty in girls if it took place before age five.”
Researchers discovered that girls without fathers or with dysfunctional fathers entered puberty at relatively young ages. Doctors theorize that if a young girl’s need for a strong male influence isn’t met, her body matures in order to attract a male to fill the void. “Father-absent homes” aren’t just ones with no daddy. An absentee father can be one who travels frequently for work, or who spends too much time at the office, or on the golf course.
Dr. Ellis also explains why girls who grow up with single mothers have a high teenage pregnancy rate. In fact, father absence is the most significant risk factor for teen pregnancy, say researchers from the Christchurch School of Medicine and experts from three American universities. If Dad is around to tell his daughters that they’re beautiful, smart and brave, they’ll delay their first sexual experience longer than girls who grow up without that positive reinforcement from a man they respect.