Over 25 years have passed since Harry Chapin wrote, "The Cat's in the Cradle," his famous song about fathers who had no time for their children. While the song tugged deeply at the heartstrings of parents and children alike, close to three decades later, nearly 80% of all women are still waiting for their fathers to show up in their lives in some meaningful way. According to Joe Cucchiara, the author of "What All Little Girls Need & What Most Women Never Had…Healthy, Loving Relationships With Their Fathers," the role of a father cannot be underestimated.
"Without a father's loving guidance, girls have a greater chance to grow up with low self-esteem and self worth, make poor choices when it comes to choosing men, hate their bodies, and often develop eating disorders," warns Cucchiara. "Fathers must prioritize their daughters if they want them to become successful, happy, confident, loving, good people with high self-esteem."
After the birth of his second daughter, Stephanie, Cucchiara, who is the father of two girls, observed that none of the women in his extended family and circle of friends had a positive relationship with their fathers while growing up. While some of the fathers were alcoholics or abusive, others were disinterested, or simply hardworking and uninvolved in their daughters' lives.
As adults, most of these women were on their second or third marriage, and had married a man who was an alcoholic, abusive, uninvolved, or who disrespected women just as their father had. Additionally, most struggled financially and seemed to lack focus and confidence when it came to creating a career.
Vowing to break this chain of failed relationships and dismal outcomes, Cucchiara says, "I wanted to make sure that my daughters would be raised differently and that I would be a participating father in their lives." To build a healthy, loving relationship with his daughters, he made a commitment to prioritize his family above all else and spend time with his daughters everyday.
To foster this commitment, Cucchiara changed professions, which allowed him more flexibility in his schedule. He then jumped into the process of bathing, feeding, and diaper-changing his girls, as well as taking them on walks, playing and singing with them, and getting involved in their preschool.
The result? As they now enter their teens, he speaks of a deep and loving bond with his two girls, who he describes as happy, confident and loving, good people.
For dads who want to learn the keys to building stronger father-daughter bonds to create higher self-esteem in their daughters, Cucchiara offers the following 7 tips:
1. Spend time playing with your young daughter. It's the number one way to bond with your daughter and build your early relationship. Simple activities, such as playing with blocks, throwing a ball, rolling around on a rug, or playing hide-and-seek teaches your daughter that you care about her. At that age, all she wants to know is that her father loves her enough to play with her.
2. Listen to your daughter and honor her requests. As parents, we often think we have the right answers. We can easily overpower a daughter's requests. Your daughter might want to play baseball, golf or a musical instrument, etc. Although you might not want her to, listen and respect your daughter's needs, wants, and choices.
3. Realize that little girls are not perfect. They have bad days, and simultaneously, they do not know how to articulate how they feel. We might think our child is being a disobedient brat or that we are not disciplining our child enough. When a five-year-old is acting fussy, cranky, or having a bad day, remember that she doesn't know how to tell you.
4. Sit down at eye-level with your daughter and have an honest dialogue with her to figure out the source of her frustration. Ask her questions like, "what's bothering you?" Her response may sound simple or ridiculous. You might not even get to the source of her discomfort, however, what matters most is that the message will come across to her that you care about her thoughts and feelings.
5. As she gets older, teach your daughter that it is more important to be a good person than to be a sex object. Most girls get an idea very early on that the way to attract male attention is through their looks, and that if they don't have a certain look or weight, boys won't think they are cute or pay attention to them. Eating disorders among girls are rampant. By age 13, 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies. This percentage rises to 78% by age 17. As a representative of the male population, in a loving way, it's important for you, as her father, to remind your daughter that "it's not how you look; it's who you are that counts."
6. If your daughter is in her teens or older, or if your adult daughter approaches you wanting to heal your relationship, be honest with her if you haven't been there for her. It's never too late to rebuild a relationship. Sit down, be honest about the past and try to create a new beginning. Start by telling her: "I wish I had been more available for you when you were younger. I wish things had been different, and they weren't."
7. Make a new commitment to your daughter. Tell her, "My commitment to you is that, starting today; I want to rebuild my relationship with you so that we can improve going forward." Decide to do the work that it will take to heal this relationship.
In conclusion, Cucchiara advises, "The impact you have on your daughter's life is tremendous. It will stay with her forever, influencing the way she feels about her body, her choices in men, her career or lack of a career, her sense of self-esteem, and her sense of self-worth. Make your daughter your priority. The earlier you put time and energy into your relationship, the better chance you will have for creating a healthy loving relationship going forward."
For those who live in the San Francisco - Silicon Valley Bay Area, Cucchiara is starting a Northern California Chapter of Fathers and Daughters, in association with the National Center for Fathering. You can reach Joe Cucchiara at HealthyLovingFathers.com, (800) 620-4345.
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