Dads, Daughters and Self-esteem
After writing this article I felt like it was necessary to come back to the beginning and preface it with a statement about how proud I am of my amazing daughter and how much I love her. With that said, the questions I originally began with still stand. Am I a bad person because I don't like the TV show Full House nor the sequel series with the clever title Fuller House? Do I have to be interested in cupcakes and the various icing related gadgets to be considered a good father? These questions and more have been worrying me recently as I have begun to worry that my lack of interest in the stuff my daughter is into may be affecting her sense of self-worth. I worry that she may be thinking that if she was more interesting to me that she would be a better person? Does Daddy's opinion matter that much?
Hey Dad's with daughters, want to hear something scary?
"...fathers who pay attention to their daughters' achievements, interests and characters tend to produce confident adults..."¹
If that does not keep you awake at night worrying about whether you should have spent more time at ballet practice watching her dance and less time on your phone, how about this one?
"Studies show that dads give girls 90% of their self-esteem before the age of 12."¹My apologies if you are a father of a 13 year old daughter. According to the author of these quotes, (a Dr. I did no additional research on!) you are too late. You should have spent more time dressing up in princess outfits and having tea parties.
Early on in my parenting career, I had the idea that both my son and daughter should not be encouraged by me into gender roles. If my son wants to play with dolls, no problem. If my daughter wants to play with trucks, cool. I think I did OK with this but I am starting to see another problem. For whatever the reason, the activities that my son was involved with were more interesting to me than the things my daughter wanted to do. Now I am sure there are several identifiable non-gender related reasons for this. My son was born first and I am pretty sure that new parents spend more time and energy on the novelty of their entrance to parenthood. The second child is loved just as much but there is a certain "been there done that" feeling and number 2 comes out a little behind. There is also the added financial stress from a second child, especially if the first one is still in school. Tuition doubles, food and clothing costs go up and parents may feel that they need to work harder which results in a tired and stressed Daddy who does not have as much patience at the end of the day.
I have tried encouraging my daughter to get into things that I am interested in but that has had only lukewarm results. I think that it was probably not the best approach anyway. If she is feeling less confident about herself because Daddy does not get excited about her hobbies, she is likely to feel bad that she does not like Daddy's hobbies and has to fake it. I have bad dreams where she blames herself because she is not "interesting" enough.
If you search for the word "confidence" among my article archive (click here to see the results) you will find that it is a recurring theme. Confidence helps our kids to follow their own interests rather than be swayed by the crowd. Confidence is immediately visible in a college or job interview and is valued as a positive quality by both employers and college admissions. Confidence is good. Self-esteem and self-confidence are similar but there is a difference. I found an excellent explanation so I am going to copy it here.
Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself overall; how much esteem, positive regard or self-love you have.
Self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities and can vary from situation to situation.²
While it is clear from the above definitions that there is a difference, I believe that confidence grows from self-esteem. It is hard for our daughters to feel that they are capable of doing something well if they do not feel good about themselves in general.
In an interesting coincidence, I found myself listening to an audio recording the other day from the Harvard Business Review article on gender differences. While it pointed out that women are not necessarily less confident, it did say that women are less likely to raise their hand and ask for a promotion. Later that same week I read the article in the Financial Times about gender pay differences and the uphill battle that women face in the workplace. Self-confidence and self-esteem are the very least we as Dads can provide for our daughters as they head out into the jungle.
I desperately want my daughter to know that I love her and am proud of her. I want that reinforcement to strengthen her own self-esteem and confidence so that she can grow up into the amazing women I know she will be. If that means making more of an effort to appreciate and participate in the things that mean something to her then I am all in.
For those of you with an interest in more studies on the father's impact on a daughter's self-esteem, here are some additional links: