Kids’ birthday parties are a relatively new experience for me. My daughter, Adley, was born in May 2020, just six weeks into a pandemic that shut down the world for the better part of two years. I wasn’t around a lot of kids before she was born, so my exposure to kids’ parties was minimal. Our family had a party for her when she turned one, but turning two felt like the first time we would indeed be able to celebrate the way we envisioned . . . or at least the way my wife, Katie, envisioned.
At some point, between setting up a bouncy house in the backyard and turning our living room into a giant ball pit, I asked my wife if we were going a little overboard for a two-year-old’s birthday party. Let’s be honest; it’s a day she almost certainly won’t remember. Katie’s response? “There’s no such thing as overboard, my wonderful husband.” I may have added that last part, but she made her point.
Developing the Father-Daughter Relationship
Like the “wonderful husband” Katie may or may not have described me as, I went along for the ride. The reason was simple: I wanted to be there for Adley and build upon our father-daughter relationship. Now officially a toddler, her development feels rapid. Every day, Adley learns new words and phrases and even forms sentences. This includes words and phrases I wish she didn’t learn, like what dad says when a book falls on his foot.
That development has also got me thinking about her future. About the girl and eventually the woman she will become, and what I can do to always put her in the best possible situations. It’s a daunting thought, but one I confront with open eyes.
The Impact of the Father-Daughter Relationship
Ultimately, I want Adley to feel three things from me: loved, supported, and safe. Countless studies have shown the benefits of a solid father-daughter relationship in everything from mental health to risk assessment. A 2018 study by Ohio State University researchers examined nearly 700 families, asking them to keep track of parent-child interactions between first and fifth grade. The children were also asked about feeling lonely at each stage.1
Researchers found loneliness “declined more quickly among girls who had a close relationship with their fathers,” adding that bonds can help girls “transition out of loneliness faster.” As girls get older, a strong father-daughter bond can also impact relationships with future partners.
Why Security Matters
In an article for the think tank Institute for Family Studies, Wake Forest University psychology professor Linda Nielson wrote, “a girl who has a secure, supportive, communicative relationship with her father is less likely to get pregnant as a teenager and less likely to become sexually active in her early teens.”2
While these ideas have been on my mind in one form or another, they came into focus one year ago when I left my job to become a full-time stay-at-home dad. Now, much of Adley’s development is directly in my hands. No one to blame but myself if things take an unfortunate turn. It’s a lot of pressure, but one I’ve been eager to take on.
What Daughters Need From Their Fathers
Over the last year, I’ve seen our relationship evolve and develop in new and unexpected ways. It’s now daddy’s job to fix boo-boos (a little kiss usually does the trick). I’ve also become a master of the bedtime routine. Feeling safe. Check.
I’m embracing Adley’s exploration of new things her way. Sometimes that means taking a step back while she climbs to the top of something new at the park. I’m still close by if she needs me, but I want her to decide the best way to handle it. Feeling supported. Check.
I’m also frequently telling Adley that I love her and want her to be happy. Sometimes that love consists of reading a book while cuddling on the couch. Other times, it’s encouraging her to eat her vegetables and declining repeated requests to turn on the TV.
She may not know it at the moment, but it’s all coming from an intense desire to develop her into the best little human I can. Feeling loved. Check. I believe Dr. Carol Langlois put it best on Psych Central’s website.3
“(Dads) have the power to put a healthy pattern in motion that lasts a lifetime. The old saying ‘girls marry their fathers’ is true. Regardless if the relationship was positive or negative, we are human and gravitate toward what’s comfortable and familiar to us.”
Whether agreeing to turn your home into a playground for a two-year-old’s birthday party or spending an evening cooking your favorite meal together, those father-daughter connections are immeasurably meaningful. I want Adley to feel loved, supported, and safe. But ultimately, my actions will determine if we will reach those goals. Two years down, a lifetime to go.