Father-Daughter Relationships After Divorce

father daughter relationship after divorce

Among the many other considerations that need to be made when parents are getting divorced, the father-daughter relationship after divorce will need to be considered when families with daughters are splitting up.  This relationship is one of the many relationships that can be strained during the family’s separation.  There are also risks from both sides of the relationship that can turn the relationship from healthy to toxic, especially if the father feels guilty for the divorce.  However, this relationship can be maintained or revived with some work from both the father and daughter.  This article will focus on this relationship, including both indications that the relationship is going south and how to keep or refresh this relationship after divorce.  While navigating divorce is never easy, this article seeks to make the intentional investment in this relationship one that is less confusing and more attainable.  

The Father-Daughter Relationship: 

Fathers are often one of the most influential figures in a woman’s life.  The relationship that they have can have lasting impacts on both parties, but especially the development of the daughter.  Young women often see their fathers as someone to look up to, someone who cares for them, and someone who protects them.  Healthy father-daughter relationships can help a girl develop into an emotionally stable woman.  In the same vein, unhealthy relationships can have a lasting impact on a daughter’s development.  Missing a crucial relationship early on in life can cause a lifelong battle with mistrust and fear surrounding close relationships.  If a daughter is straight and dates men, an absent or harmful relationship with their father can cause them grief in their relationships.  For these reasons, intentional and honest investment in a young woman’s life can set her up for healthy relationships and communication as she continues to move through life. 

The Fear with Divorce:

Before discussing much more of this relationship, we must consider where much of the fear that a father-daughter relationship will fall apart after divorce comes from.  One of the major contributing factors to this trope is the idea that fathers and daughters cannot relate to each other or that fathers do not have the time to invest in their relationship with their daughters.  This comes from a variety of societal and gender norms that state that fathers need to be the provider.  When this is the family’s culture, it follows that a father would, especially with all the added expenses of a divorce, feel the need to increase the amount that he provides for the family long term.  Additionally, when operating in this mindset, the father is typically working and the mother is at home with the children all or most of the time while the parents are still married. This can often mean that the children, especially if they are smaller, are bonded with their mother as the primary caregiver and it can make it difficult for fathers to bond in the same way after divorce.    

This is not to minimize or brush aside these fears.  However, it is important to understand where many of these fears stem from and acknowledge why this relationship can feel strained at times. Learning to be a family and a parent on your own after divorce is difficult and also happens to be taking place at the same time an important relationship has fallen apart, which often means a period of grief for both the child and the parents.  Fathers do need to acknowledge the other influences in their lives that may have contributed to their relationship with their daughters long before they were divorced and be mindful of addressing and changing these factors moving forward.  If a father takes the time to invest in the relationship and watch the daughter for clues on how to respond, the relationship will often have a great impact on the daughter’s life for years to come.  

Ways the Relationship Can Go Poorly: 

Before we turn to ways to invest in a daughter’s life after divorce, it is important to understand the ways that the relationship can be unhealthy and how to acknowledge this when it happens.  Spotting an issue early on can help fathers shift their priorities to help their daughters succeed.  Several types of harmful relationships include: 

  • Absence: This is the most common way that the father-daughter relationship may be affected after divorce.  Often, parents will have extra responsibilities after divorce as a newly single person, and these responsibilities may often take parents away from their children.  However, this type of relationship is never good for the pair, because they cannot bond if they are not together.  This can be seen by fathers showing up late, not coming to extracurricular activities, or not being present when they are with their daughters.  Take stock of both the quality and quantity of interactions that are had and see how often you were not around.  
  • Emotional Absence: Emotional absence is the lack of emotions shared between a father and daughter.  This is most commonly seen in relationships where fathers do not express their love and support for daughters in a way that they understand or at all. A common sign that this is happening is that conversations will always focus on superficial aspects of the daughter’s life and not on emotions or feelings. Examine how often you tell your daughter you support her and her choice or that you are proud of her.  
  • Competition: Competition is often an issue in divorce.  When a couple breaks up, it is easy to compare how the children behave and act in each household and make determinations of who is doing things better. This type of mindset will often harm children because they will feel as if their daily life is a measuring block for their parents’ competition.  It can add unnecessary stress.  Watch for comments about the other parent or actions that can be attributed to competition and acknowledge that both of you are doing the best you can.  
  • Criticism: Often hand-in-hand with competition, criticism can negatively impact a daughter’s emotional wellbeing.  Criticism is tied to competition because it is most commonly seen when an overly competitive parent is disappointed with the performance of their child.  Some fathers feel that criticism is the best way to acknowledge mistakes that children have made.  However, criticism impacts the way a child sees themselves and their goals.  It holds them to a higher standard and causes unnecessary stress.  Examine how often you criticize your daughter. It should be near never.  
  • Control: Often, fathers will attempt to succeed in parenting by asserting control over every aspect of their daughter’s life.  This can mean when and where they go and who they hang out with.  This is unhealthy because it removes agency from your daughter will often cause resentment.  Watch for how often you are making decisions on behalf of your daughter compared to when she makes decisions for herself.  

Working Together on the Relationship:

While the situations above do mean that there may be some distance between you and your daughter, it is also important to note that most relationships can be partially or fully refreshed if a father makes a conscious effort to strengthen the relationship.  Before moving into the tips on repairing the relationship, it is important to point out that this investment in the relationship needs to be welcomed by the daughter.  Forcing oneself into another’s life will only cause resentment.  Therefore, it is important to listen to or evaluate a daughter’s response to your investment because trying too hard can also cause a rift.  Additionally, in situations of abuse between the daughter and the father, there needs to be careful consideration before any contact or relationship is had. With this in mind, the tips for growing the father-daughter relationship and in turn her self worth after divorce include: 

  • Be a Safe Space: One of the most important things a father can do for his daughter is to create a space where she feels comfortable expressing herself and being herself. Building this space for your daughter is key in keeping the bond.  
  • Be Present: One of the most harmful things for a daughter is an absent father, and it robs her of an important relationship in her life.  Being around her and participating in activities with her will be key for her development and your relationship.  
  • Be a Listener: Women are often taught to hold in their thoughts and feelings, especially around men.  Be a person who listens to your daughter and encourages her to be assertive when she sees injustice or inequality.  
  • Be Body Neutral: Making comments about your daughter’s body is unhealthy and often reinforces the idea that women’s worth is in their bodies. Compliment her strength and her talents and steer clear of compliments based on appearance.  
  • Be Emotional: Show your daughter that you experience emotions and that emotion is healthy.  Teach her healthy ways to respond to big emotions and encourage her to acknowledge and process those emotions.  
  • Be Encouraging: Encouraging your daughter to pursue her interests, including participating in them with her, is important for her to find and develop her passions.  
  • Be Respectful: Your daughter is also in a relationship with your ex regardless of your thoughts about them. Be respectful of your ex in front of your daughter and encourage your daughter to spend equal time with them.  
  • Be Flexible: Occasionally, as children develop, they will need time for their independence and will be busy with school, jobs, and extracurriculars.  Being flexible to the need of your daughter while still investing in her life will help your daughter build autonomy and find her own way. 

This is not an exhaustive list, but by keeping these tips in mind, a father will be able to see his daughter develop and grow into herself and be a confident young woman.  Encouraging each other to be present and honest goes a long way in establishing the bond that will create a father-daughter relationship that encourages and helps your daughter for years to come.  

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