Child-Centered Divorce NetworkBy Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW 

A girl stands a better chance of becoming a self-confident woman if she has a close bond with her father. A daughter’s sense of self, for instance, is often connected to how her father views her. In fact, studies show that a father’s effect on his daughter’s psychological well-being and identity is far-reaching.

Research has shown that fathers play an important role in the lives of their daughters but that this relationship is the one that changes the most after divorce. While most daughters of divorce are well adjusted several years after their parents’ divorce, many have damaged relationships with their fathers. Unfortunately, if the wound is severe, a girl may grow into adulthood with low self-esteem and trust issues.

What girls and women need is a loving, predictable father figure – whether or not her parents are married, single, or divorced. The following statistics may surprise you. Nearly one third of the daughters in our country have divorced parents. Dr. Linda Nielsen found that girls tend to spend more time with their mothers (and less time with their dad) after their parents’ divorce. She discovered that only 10 to 15 percent of fathers get to enjoy the benefits of joint custody after a family splits.

What are some of the barriers that prevent dads and daughters from maintaining a close bond after parental divorce? Many experts such as Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. posit that some mothers may not promote their daughter’s relationship with their father enough. It’s also important for a mom to eliminate negative comments about her ex-husband so her daughter doesn’t feel caught in the middle between her parents.

Whenever possible, mothers need to encourage their daughters to sustain regular contact with their dads– such as phone calls, holiday time, and special occasions. It’s also a good idea to consider the possibility of shared parenting because studies show it promotes a daughter’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.

Truth be told, since divorce often changes the dynamic between a father and daughter, dads often lose touch with their daughters and they don’t always know how to reconnect. In Always Dad, Paul Mandelstein, advises divorced dads to find ways to play a crucial role in their daughter’s life. He suggests that divorced parents call a truce with their ex-spouse – to put an end to active fighting and to collaborate. The father-daughter connection, even several years after a family dissolves, is heavily influenced by consistency in contact and the quality of the relationship.

Why is the father-daughter bond so vulnerable to disruption after divorce?

  • Girls tend to spend less time with their fathers than mothers. Even though custody decisions have been more favorable toward shared parenting in recent years (due to studies showing it promotes better academic and psychological adjustment) most girls are only weekend visitors with their dads.
  • Dads may fear rejection if their daughter has given them a cold shoulder previously. It’s important for dads to start fresh and be persistent in their attempts to connect.
  • During early adolescence, a girl tends to feel distant from her dad and she may resent her stepmom or his girlfriend – especially if he remarries soon after the divorce.
  • Mothers and stepmoms don’t always understand the importance of the father-daughter bond so they may not encourage it.
  • If the father-daughter bond is severely damaged it can cause daughters to have trust and     intimacy issues so they might avoid their dad or give off mixed signals.
  • Dads don’t always know how to connect with their daughters around activities that are mutually satisfying so they start spending less time with them.

Divorce often intensifies issues between family members. Since adolescence is a pivotal time for girls in terms of their identity and self-esteem, it’s essential for dads to find ways to bond with their daughters.

Tips for divorced dads with daughters of all ages:

  1. Openly express loving feelings: Hugs, praise, and suggesting activities are ways to do this.
  2. Stay in touch. Call, text, Skype; or email on a daily basis. Even a quick check-in can help dads and daughters stay connected.
  3. Engage in idle chats: Ask her questions or exchange small talk while you are driving in the car, shopping, helping her with homework, cooking, or a doing a project together (puzzle, decorate her room).
  4. Schedule special dates. If your daughter is young, an outing to the zoo or the park can help you relax together. Throw in a picnic or ice cream cone too! For teenage or young adult daughters, take her to lunch, the gym, or a movie – ask her for ideas!
  5. Ask for her feedback about vacation plans. Include her ideas in planning vacations (with limits).
  6. Help boost her self-esteem by encouraging her to develop interests and       recognizing her strengths. It’s okay for her to abandon these interests when she decides to check new ones out. Be more accepting of her need for independence as she reaches adolescence. She still needs your approval but requires a little space to explore and grow.
  7. Encourage her to spend close to equal time with both parents. Be flexible – especially as she reaches adolescence and may need more time for friends, school, jobs, and extracurricular activities.
  8. Honor her mother. Be sure not to bad-mouth her mom – even if she complains about her. Keep in mind that her mother is still her model and so saying negative things about your ex-spouse will hurt your daughter and may spark a negative reaction.
  9. Make repairing any father-daughter wounds a shared goal. Make amends for any hurt or pain you may have caused your daughter – even if not intentional. If your relationship has been severely damaged and your daughter doesn’t want to see you, it’s usually a good idea to seek professional help from a therapist.
  10. Be patient and persistent in showing your daughter you want to spend time with her. Don’t let your fear of rejection of the past prevent you from enjoying a positive bond with your daughter. Don’t give up hope!

If fathers can remain an integral part of their daughter’s life after divorce, a loving bond will help them get through rough patches in life. Dr. Peggy Drexler, author of Our Fathers, Ourselves writes, “Likewise, even the most troubled, overwrought , baggage-laden relationship is not without hope – if not of reconciliation, then at least of the daughter finding a new way of seeing her father that might help her to make sense of the forces that shaped him and his actions.” In most cases, it’s not too late to connect with your daughter, even if you haven’t done so in some time. 

Thanks for this valuable post fromTerry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and