Divorce can harm the relationships between parents and their children. Children’s relationships with their fathers are often particularly vulnerable.
Research has shown that while all children’s relationships with their fathers may suffer after a divorce, daughters’ relationships with their fathers tend to suffer the most damage.
Reasons fathers’ relationships with daughters tend to get worse
There are three main reasons that daughters tend to have worse relationships with their fathers after a divorce than sons do:
- Their pre-divorce mother-daughter relationship
- Society’s beliefs about fathers and daughters
- Maternal enmeshment and role reversals
In most families, children tend to have a closer relationship with their mother than with their father. Daughters tend to have a particularly close relationship with their mothers. This sometimes leads to mothers sharing information with their daughters about the divorce that damages the daughter’s relationship with her father.
Sexist beliefs and stereotypes about fathers and daughters can contribute to worsening relationships between fathers and daughters after divorce. The societal belief that sons need their fathers and daughters need their mothers more than either needs the opposite gendered parent may impact custody decisions.
Role reversals and enmeshments
In some extreme cases, mothers struggling with their emotional needs after a divorce may come to rely on their daughters as emotional caretakers. This may lead to enmeshment, which is a situation where the child shares the parent’s beliefs. If the mother has negative beliefs about the father, the enmeshed child may mirror these beliefs.
To avoid this issue, courts must take care not to favor one parent over the other in custody decisions and parents must avoid passing on emotional baggage to their children.