Drs. Clinton and Trent (2009) both acknowledge “the deterioration of fatherhood in America is considered our most serious social ill” (p. 275). Statistics show that one-third of children today live in homes without the presence of their biological father. Many fathers are absent from their homes due to other issues such as addiction or abuse. Furthermore, research shows fatherless girls are immensely impacted and act out their pain and suffering in different ways. They have a higher risk of adverse outcomes, like poverty, behavioral problems, and lower educational success.
An absent father in the home can have long-term effects on children. Fathers who no longer live in the house tend to disengage with the children, as time goes by they tend to visit and call less. Can have a devastating effect on girls, it is essential that as girls are growing up, they get affirmation from their fathers. Girls need their father just as much as boys do. Dr. Dobson (2010) points out that “her sense of self-worth and personal dignity are directly linked to what she believes her father thinks of her” (p. 84).
Negative Impacts
It has been noted by Dr. Dobson (2010) that 34 percent of all girls born in families where the father is absent, will not receive the support of the father nor any influence from the moment of birth. The hurt of abandonment or rejection resonance for a lifetime. When a father is not present in the life of his daughter, she lacks an emotional connection with him; and an emptiness exists (Dobson, 2010). Many fatherless girls begin seeking love in all the wrong places. They look for a male role model to get the attention they are missing from their absent fathers. Some may drop out of school, suffer depression or emotional disorders (Lewis, 2013). Others will struggle with higher rates of teen pregnancy, early sexual activity, decreased self-esteem, and behavioral problems (Strauss, 2013).
Women interviewed about their childhood experiences with an absent father, report they built emotional barriers that hindered their ability to form connections with others. No matter how angry a girl was with her missing father, the desire to have a relationship remained. The pain and emptiness of an absent father continued even when a surrogate father was present.
David Strauss (2013) reports that absent fathers are associated with elevated risks for early pregnancy and acting out for adolescent girls.
Further studies reveal the absence of the father potentially has a negative impact on girls present and future relationships with males (Strauss, 2013). There are numerous difficulties with fatherless girls forming meaningful relationships with men. They are either reluctant around men or sexually aggressive (LaGuardia, Nelson, & Lertora, 2014). A certain sense of security in males lacks in girls from fatherless homes. They want a close relationship with their father, who is the most significant man in her life. This bond serves as the model for how she learns to interact with and become accepted by males.
Fatherless girls tend to view all men through the lens of the relationship with her father. Dr. Dobson (2010) says “if he rejects and ignores her, or worse, if he abuses and abandons her, the yearning within her becomes more intense, though it is often tainted with resentment and anger” (p.88). The Bible says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, NIV).
LaGuardia, et al., (2014) report that girls from fatherless homes are negatively affected by various stages of education. During elementary school, they score lower on school performance achievement tests and slower cognitive development. In high school, the girls did not like math and science, subjects they viewed as masculine traits. The support and encouragement a father could have provided were lacking. During the college years, girls from fatherless homes were either overachievers or underachievers. The overachievers have driven women who reached for higher levels of education, such as masters and doctoral degrees. The underachievers were happy if they received high school diplomas.
Practical Solutions
Parents should start protecting and teaching their children at an early age. It is never too soon to begin sharing the importance of faith in God and morals to a child. Dr. Dobson asserts that “Your children’s successes or failures in many of life’s endeavors will depend on the quality of the relationships you share during their childhood years” (Dobson, 2010, p.60).
When the father is not a part of the family, for whatever reason the mother should be honest with the children, not only about the loss but also about her struggles. She should not burden the children with taking sides or expect them to be her therapist (Clinton, Clark, & Straub, 2010). Fatherless girls should be taught not to blame themselves or allow the absence father the destroy their self-esteem. It is not the child’s fault if a father chooses to leave.
Learning to forgive the absence father may be a long and challenging process, but it is necessary to let go of hurt feelings. In fact, Dr. Dobson (2010) says it is healthy to acknowledge painful experiences and may even be beneficial to talk to a counselor. Holding on to bitterness will only damage one deep inside and be a continued source of unhappiness.
The mother of fatherless girls should surround them with role models who love them, are trustworthy, willing to mentor and spend quality time with them. These models should be quality male influences, such as family members, youth workers, teachers, coaches, or within local outreach programs. Children working through their hurt can also reach out to help other people who are hurting, this can make a difference in their own life.
Fatherless girls need the love and support of the mother. She cannot fill the void that has been created in the life of her daughter by the absence of her father. But, she can love her unconditionally, provide structure, stability, and encouragement to her life. Christian child psychologist Fran Scott says, “Every child needs at least one person who’s crazy about him” (Clinton ; Trent, 2009, p.278).
The book Bringing up girls, by Dr. James Dobson, offers parents a step by step guide on what to expect when raising a daughter. Girls begin to develop and mature quickly; parents should equip themselves for some of the challenges that come with raising a little girl. Instilling a sincere faith in Jesus Christ is the most valuable contribution parents can give their children (Dobson, 2015).
Fathers play a significant role in the lives of their daughters by sharing love, compassion, and protection. According to Dr. Dobson (2010), there is a special place in a daughters’ soul for Daddy or a daddy figure that will always desire his affirmation. Some girls will do a lot to achieve a close relationship with their father. The father is the daughter’s first relationship with a male; they watch how their father treats and reacts to their mother. Girls will see all men through the lens of her relationship with her dad.
Also, Dr. Dobson (2010) reveals that a daughter’s sense of self-worth and confidence is connected directly to her relationship with her father. What he thinks about her and his expression toward her is how she values herself as a human being. It affects her femininity and teaches her how to communicate with boys and men. Fathers should be aware of the vital role they play in the development of girls. The attention of a father prepares his daughter for her feminine role as a girlfriend, fiancĂ©e, and wife (Dobson, 2010).
Mothers cannot fill that space left by an absent father. “Moms can’t be dads, and dads can’t be moms” (Dobson, p 88). But, a mother can provide the love and adoration that every girl needs from her mother, regardless of whether the father is present or absent. The daughter begins to see her future by her mother’s actions and lessons taught. The mother’s involvement in her daughter’s life will always be crucial even through adulthood (Dobson, 2010).
In conclusion, today more than ever before little girls are living in households without a father. There are many reasons, some by death, abandonment, divorce, and others by physically present fathers that are emotionally absent. No matter the reason a little girl is fatherless, the consequences are significant to the healthy development of daughters. Dr. Dobson shares that the world has changed but how Christians should raise their daughters remains the same. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV). Parents should study God’s word with them; it is the most important thing to be taught to children. An education in the Bible will stay with them forever.
Although a girl has a father that is absent does not mean she cannot be happy. In the New Testament, we are commanded to visit the fatherless and widows to prove that our religion is genuine (James 1:27). As Christians we must be kind, gentle, never judge or criticize, but willing to encourage, teach, and offer helpful support, especially concerning spiritual matters (II Tim. 2:24-26). Gregory Lamb (2017) suggest that “Pastors must proactively engage fatherlessness to prevent future generations from making the same mistakes of the past. Fatherhood must be taught and vividly modeled for fatherless children” (p.107). With the love and support of her mother, family, friends, church, and role models’ fatherless girls can grow, develop, and live healthy and productive lives.