When I meet confident women, I discover that they had a close relationship with their father or father figure.
It began with my mother. She was able to take any criticism in stride. When my father would complain about the meal, she just brushed it off. When we were annoying teenagers, she just told us that she knew we would get past this. As a teenage feminist, I asked her if she was ever going to do something with her life (she raised 6 children by the way); and she smiled and said, “I can’t wait until you are old enough to see me as a person.”
My mother’s relationship with her father was memorialized in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where my grandfather, a part-time lighthouse keeper, wrote how the highlight of his year was when my mother, Annalee, spent 2 weeks in the summer with him at the lighthouse. He simply adored my mother and openly cried at her wedding, insisting that my father take good care of her.
Other confident women that I have met report similar relationships. Their fathers would spend special time with them and told them how wonderful they were.
So, I was wondering, is there data to match my anecdotal observations?
Turns out there is.
While most of the research is on problems in fatherless homes; there is research to suggest that daughters with active fathers are more intelligent, more confident, more willing to take risks, and have better language skills.
Fathers engage with their children differently than mothers. Mothers are focused on safety and are more likely to meet children at their level (e.g., baby talk, going to age appropriate activities).
Fathers are more likely to speak in normal language and take their children with them on the things that they like to do. They allow their daughters to take more risks. A friend told me about how her dad took her fishing whenever he could. Another one of my confident friends told me that her father was gone a lot. But whenever he was home, they would go walking in the woods for hours. He loved nature and loved teaching her about his passion.
A common feminist theme is that the best thing that a father can do is love his wife. And the research shows that is true. Daughters learn how they should be treated, their value, and how to interact with peers (especially boys).
And daughters with supportive fathers have a much healthier body image, have a higher emotional intelligence, and are more confident when dating.
In 2006, President Bush commissioned a study on the impact of fathers on children and discovered that their impact was much greater than previously believed. They found that the father’s presence reduced aggression and facilitated positive play in even very young children. Children with active fathers tended to be more independent, intelligent, confident, and willing to take risks.
Young girls lose self-confidence when they reach puberty (called the confidence gap). A positive father presence reduces that decline.
And there is more good news. Parenting has changed since when I was a mom. During my career, women were just venturing out into different (equal) jobs in the workplace. We were the generation who could “have it all.” That meant working a high stress job and going home to our primary job. While our husbands would “help out,” it was our responsibility to care for the children and manage their child care when we were gone. And full-time mothering was considered a 24/7 job with little help from working fathers.
As a career woman who was also a mom, I relied on full-time moms. Unlike the stories that you may have read about the divide between work-at-home and career moms, I never experienced it. Let’s face it, career moms knew that full time childcare was much harder than any high stress job we may be in, and we respected stay-at-home moms for being able to do it. I used to say that I went to work to relax because I could get a cup of coffee whenever I wanted it.
Today’s parents are more evolved. I made a comment to a full-time mom about how nice it was that her husband helped her out. She looked at me with disdain and said, “they’re his kids too, fatherhood is his job.” Today’s fathers are expected to share equally in parenting duties.
This is only good news for daughters. So, I expect this next generation of women to be brimming with confidence.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.