How the pandemic can strengthen bonds between fathers and daughters

father and daughter

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down. But the strengthening of families, particularly father-daughter relationships, can be one silver lining from it.

Fathers and daughters should take advantage of “emotional un-distancing” to spend more time talking to and getting to know one another, said Wake Forest University education professor Linda Nielsen, who is a leading expert on fathers and daughters.

“I urge fathers and daughters to use the disheartening, frightening COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for creating a more meaningful relationship with each other that will outlast the crisis.” Linda Nielsen

“Having written about father-daughter relationships for three decades, I am reminded by this crisis that the weakest link in most father-daughter relationships is being unable or unwilling to talk openly, honestly or comfortably about personal things — a problem of pandemic proportions from which even the wealthiest and most famous fathers and daughters are not immune,” Nielsen wrote in her Institute for Family Studies blog.

Nielsen referenced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in her post, sharing his comments about a conversation he and his 22-year-old daughter had during the pandemic.

While there can be many reasons for not-so-good father-daughter relationships, Nielsen says, one of the most common is the breakup of the parents. Oftentimes when parents separate or divorce, children continue living with their mothers.

Nielsen said, there also are widely held beliefs of the existence of a “natural” and stronger bond between mothers and daughters because they’re both female — and that men lack maternal instincts.

Strengthening father-daughter relationships is important because distant, superficial or outright estranged relationships with their fathers can have negative consequences for girls and women, including teen pregnancy, troubled relationships with men, higher divorce rates, lower adult incomes, more poverty, more stress-related health problems and higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, dating violence and drug and alcohol problems.

In her upcoming book, “Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and their Dads,” Nielsen offers dozens of questions for them to explore. The book is due out around Father’s Day.

Among questions she suggests daughters consider asking their fathers are:

  • What do you wish you had known about love, work and money when you were a young adult?
  • What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made and what did you learn from them?
  • What are some of your greatest fears for my future?
  • What do you believe happens to us after we die?
  • What do you most want to be remembered for?

Nielsen says that fathers can re-word the questions and use them to explore their daughter’s thoughts, feelings and experiences to better understand who they are — not just as a daughter but also as a person with a life beyond the family.

To interview Nielsen, please contact media@nullwfu.edu.

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Linda Nielsen

Professor of Education

Nielsen’s special interest is father-daughter relationships and shared parenting/joint physical custody for children with separated parents.

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