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Do children, especially girls, need fathers who emotionally mistreat them? - All Woman - Jamaica Observer
All Woman

Do children, especially girls, need fathers who emotionally mistreat them?

A year ago, the father of Lena's nine-year-old daughter reached out to her on Facebook , asking to connect with his daughter. Prior to then he had only met her twice before — two weeks after she was born, and for her sixth birthday, where he attended her party. Between those times he would go AWOL, with no contact, no forwarding address. That time, like the times previously, Lena welcomed him, and arranged for him to meet his daughter at the movies.

He followed up that meeting with a few FaceTime chats, bought his daughter an iPad, clothes, and was super involved for three weeks. Then he disappeared again. Two months ago he reached out again, and said he had been dealing with some “personal stuff”. He asked to see his daughter again, and against the advice of her mother and some family members, Lena again facilitated the meeting. He saw the child then, and hasn't communicated with Lena since.

“She had been asking for him too, and I felt like it was my duty to not stand in the way of the relationship, whenever he wanted it,” Lena told All Woman. “Girls need their dads and I know what it's like to not have a dad and to yearn for one. In this case, even half a dad is better than none at all.”

Experts will posit that girls who grow up without their fathers often struggle with feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, as well as make poor decisions about the mates they choose. Relationship expert Iyanla Vanzant calls them “daddyless daughters” who will need healing later in life, and those who seek to heal need to do three things: reclaim, redefine and re-create themselves in order to move on.

It's this lack that Lena is trying to prevent in her daughter, by giving her every opportunity not to feel pain or abandonment.

“At least she will be able to say 'my dad this', 'my dad got me this' or 'my dad took me here',” she reasoned. “Many children don't have that.”

But does there come a time when parents need to end the mindset that children, especially girls, need fathers who emotionally mistreat them and acknowledge that sometimes the relationship is more harmful than helpful?

Lena's daughter is representative of a lot of our girls... and in scenarios like these, does the mom push for the relationship just because of the thinking that girls need their fathers?

Counselling psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell acknowledges that girls do need their fathers because that's the first love relationship that a girl forms, but it can be beset with problems.

“When that relationship very early is beset by issues or difficulties, it's really teaching the child that this is how we engage. Even though it may be distressing for the child, that's what is being learned from very early, that this is how a man engages. And if we are not careful this is the kind of relationship she will believe is the standard in adulthood because she may never have an opportunity to know what a stable, healthy relationship with the opposite sex should look like,” Dr Bell said.

She said though that inconsistency in the parenting relationship is not helpful, “and so there are some boundaries that are going to have to be drawn”.

“Usually with children [they will begin] to see that pattern emerging and make their own decisions. One way or the other, they may say I don't want to see my dad because he is just telling lies, he doesn't come through for me when I need him. And some of the other choice things that I hear out there is that he's a sperm donor and I don't want a relationship with him. So that may emerge out of the situation.”

But she said the matter of seeking engagement should be in the hands of the child — “the child should decide if she wants to engage in the relationship with the father [because the mom may not win in the situation]”.

“If the mom says I'm not going to engage you with your father anymore, it could send off a red flag where [blame] shifts from the father, who is very emotionally detached and inconsistent in his parenting engagement. It shifts from the father to the mother being the person who becomes that villain or a wicked person who is denying the child her father. So that kind of is a slippery slope where parents, mothers in particular, should be careful.”

And regarding whether the inconsistency is indeed emotional mistreatment, Dr Bell said there's a need to define mistreatment clearly.

“I'm going to go back and say it depends on the child and what the child wants because sometimes mothers, in particular, stop the relationship and create more problems. The child could be asked what is it that they want. Because this nine year old, for example, can make some decisions. The child may say, I really don't want to engage with that right now because it's just making me too sad — it depends on what that the child is able to cope with.”

On the other hand, she said some children still want some level of contact with their fathers, despite the haphazardness of the engagement.

“And if the child wants it, it should be given the OK,” she said.



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