A study being carried out at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and at universities in the US is finding that dads play a pivotal role in how soon their daughters reach puberty.
Girls who live with in a family where their biological father spends a lot of time with them reach puberty later than girls who don’t have contact.
Psychologist Bruce J. Ellis says this is partly due to pheromones, natural chemicals we unknowingly give off in our sweat and through our skin. It seems exposure to her biological father’s pheromones slows down a daughter’s sexual maturation.
Being exposed to the pheromones of unrelated males, such as a stepfather or de facto, has the reverse effect and speeds up the onset of puberty.
2. Recognising A Daughter's Emerging Femininity
Fathers play an essential role in helping a girl formulate what kind of personal relationships she wants with men in the future.
They also help her recognise her femininity, “A girl needs to have a relationship with her father where she is valued and seen as attractive, but where she is not seduced,” says Neven.
“Girls need to develop a sense of their own femininity and identity, and a sense of their sexuality. In a way, with their natural father, they are trying things out in a safe and non-sexual way.”
3. Acting As A Son's Mentor
“Often, when boys act out and become aggressive and unpleasant, we assume they are not interesting in relationships or intimacy, but they are,” says Neven.
“They are expressing a longing for communication, and they need their father to help them achieve that. They need their father as a mentor and a model.”
“Boys have such an urgent need for relationship with their father because of identification — they want to get an idea of what they may turn out like — but one of the difficulties for young boys is they are brought up almost entirely by women — in child care and in kindergarten they are surrounded by women.
If they also have an absent father, they have a depletion in life experience.
“Boys’ dependence on their father is considerable. It’s like suggesting a girl can grow up in a totally male world, and develop femininity and sense of identity. A boy’s mental health is heavily dependent on him having a father or a father figure with whom he can identify and relate.”
4. Providing A Buffer Zone Between Son And Mother
If there is no father or father figure for a boy to relate to, he becomes closely bonded to his mother.
However, as the child grows up that close bond can soon turn into a stifling love-hate relationship on the son’s part. “Because the boy is petrified that his father has gone away, he forms a close knot with his mother, but he also needs some space,” says Neven.
“There is such a thing as Oedipal triangle, and a son does have a sense of rivalry with his father. When a father absents himself from the family in some way, he gives in to his son’s wishes, but then the boy is overwhelmed and needs to create a space between himself and his mother.
“Sometimes, he creates that space by becoming unpleasant and aggressive. His mother doesn’t understand why this is happening because she’s loving and caring, but the son is only behaving this way because he is desperate for his father to fill that space.”
5. Encouraging Children To Take Risks And Try To Solve Problems
While a mother is probably more anxious about her children hanging upside down from the monkey bars by one leg, a father is more likely to let his children push the envelope and explore.
When a toddler fals over and scrapes a knee, a mother is more likely to rush in with bandaids and antiseptic, while a father will encourage them to have another go at climbing the slide.
A father is also more likely to let kids figure out a problem for themselves even if it causes the child a few headaches. So, he helps his children learn how to try new experiences, handles frustration and develop patience and persistence.
“Parent don’t have to be the same, which is the advantage of having two parents,” says Neven.
“In my experience, a very large number of children’s problems emerge when the parents don’t work as a team. The father doesn’t place a value on himself and the mother has given up thinking he should be part of the team, so, althought the child has two parents, they are not able to use them both.”
Text: Sarah Marinos/Bauer/Good Health