There is endless evidence to prove the benefits – and necessity – of physical touch in supporting the emotional and physical growth of children. And though the moms outdo the dads just the teensiest bit in this area, almost all parents are really good about cuddling with their little ones. But then, particularly with daddies and daughters, something happens to bring this physical affection to a screeching halt.
Boobs happen. Enter puberty, exit daddy’s hugs. So sad, but so often the case.
Our society has sexualized little girls so much that dads can be understandably uncomfortable cuddling with their own blossoming babies. We have also heard too many heart-wrenching stories of parental abuse in this not-so-graceful world that many dads don’t want to take any chances of the slightest misinterpretation of their interactions with their daughters.
But dads, listen. Your little girls still need your hugs, even if they aren’t so little anymore. Why?
The evidence is clear enough with infants and young children – physical touch stimulates and supports physical, emotional, and neurological development. And in the absence of touch, children develop physical and psychological ailments and fail to thrive. But what happens when dads cuddle with their babies for years but withdraw when their little girls start looking like little women?
In the absence of information, the human brain makes assumptions. It’s why we love crossword puzzles and Wheel of Fortune. (My mom claims I once declared my life’s goal to be earning a spot as a contestant on The Wheel. I don’t buy it.) Humans are wired to fill in the blanks. So when the blank is a question about why daddy has suddenly stopped hugging me or tickling me or playing chicken with me in the pool, young girls can associate their blossoming bodies with the most important man in their life distancing himself. And in a world where casual sex is often touted as acceptable and shoved in our faces through music, television, and highway billboards, it’s just no good for daughters to connect their sexual development with male abandonment. Research also suggests that if girls don't get proper physical affection from their fathers or a father figure, they can start to seek it in unhealthy ways from other males.
Almost twelve years ago when my husband and I were headed to the doctor to learn the gender of our baby, a song came on the radio that has become very special to our family. Just before we turned onto my doctor’s street, the lyrics of John Mayer’s “Daughters” filled the air in our car. We looked at each other and just knew. We knew the news we would get that day was that a baby girl was on the way... and so she was. Mayer sings, “daughters will love like you do; girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so fathers be good to your daughters...” We shared that little moment with Elle, and so it is now a special song to her as well. And it couldn’t be better advice.
Dads are models for young girls of what to expect from men later in life. If dad becomes physically distant, daughter can develop the notion that this is how the man in her life should act. For all you amazing single-moms out there, if dad isn’t around, help your daughter identify with a strong male in your life. I know plenty of strong and wonderful mommas who didn’t have a great role model in their biological father, but who came to deeply understand what a husband and father should and can be by connecting with another man who was a great father.