Your Father

Remarried Fathers: Strengthening Your Father-Daughter Relationship

If you’re a divorced father who has remarried, odds are your relationship with your daughter has become more complicated, more stressful, and more distant. Sadly for the majority of fathers and daughters, when dad remarries:

  • the father-daughter relationship is more damaged than the father-son relationship
  • tensions between mom and dad’s wife create problems in the father-daughter relationship
  • the mom who was not employed during her marriage tends to be the most jealous and most uncooperative when dad remarries
  • college educated, white mothers tend to be less willing than non-white, less educated mothers to “share” their kids after divorce with the dad and his wife
  • the father-daughter relationship is better off when the mother has already remarried

Even though mom may never come right out and say negative things to her daughter about dad’s getting remarried, she can still create a negative impression of him and his new wife in other ways -- the expressions on her face, her tone of voice, the way she acts after she’s talked to dad or his wife on the phone, the “joking” remarks she makes about him or his wife. Daughters are keen observers of their mothers’ moods and feelings. Especially when dad has remarried but mom is still single, the daughter is likely to pick up messages like these from her mother:

  • If it weren’t for “her” (dad’s new wife), we’d all be happier
  • Your dad was nicer to us before “she” came into his life
  • Now that your dad is remarried, he doesn’t love you as much
  • I feel sad and lonely when you spend time with your dad and his wife
  • Your dad ought to spend more money on you and less on her and her kids

As a remarried dad, try strengthening your relationship with your daughter by reducing the jealousy, competition and pressure in these ways:

Don’t use the terms “stepmother” or “stepdaughter”. Instead say “my wife and my daughter” and ask your wife to say “my husband’s daughter”. If your wife and daughter eventually want to refer to each other as stepmother and stepdaughter, let that be their choice.

Never push (or continually talk about) your wife or your daughter to become good friends. Take the pressure off everyone by letting their relationship develop in whatever way they choose.

Never make your wife or your daughter feel that they have to like or love each other in order to make you happy or to prove how much they each love you. Yes, they do need to be cordial to one another. But they should not have to prove their love for you by genuinely liking or loving each other.

Spend time alone with your daughter without your wife always having to be with you.

Show your daughter in whatever ways you can that you are just as interested in her life and love her just as much now as you did before you remarried

Send e mails, gifts, letters, and phone calls to your daughter only from you, not always from “us” (meaning you and your wife)

Tell your daughter and your ex wife that neither you nor your wife expect or want her to be “like a second mother” to your daughter

Keep your conversations with your daughter mainly focused on what’s going on in her life – not what’s going on in your wife’s or other kids’ lives

©2010 Dr. Linda Nielsen

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It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. Pope John XXIII

Dr. Nielsen has been teaching, counseling, conducting research and writing about adolescents and father-daughter relationships since 1970. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of the outstanding graduate's award in teacher education from the University of Tennessee in 1969, she taught and counseled high school students for several years. After earning a Master's Degree in Counseling and a Doctorate in Educational and Adolescent Psychology, she joined the faculty of Wake Forest University in 1974. Her grants and awards include the Outstanding Article Award in 1980 from the U.S. Center for Women Scholars and a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Association of University Women. For the past fifteen years she has focused primarily on father-daughter relationships with a special emphasis on divorced fathers and their daughters. Her work has been cited in the "Wall Street Journal" as well as in popular magzines such as "Cosmopolitan", and shared through television and radio interviews..

In 1991 she created her "Fathers & Daughters" course - the only college course in the country that focuses exclusively on father-daughter relationships. In addition to having written several dozen articles for journals such as the "Harvard Educational Review" and the "Journal of Divorce & Remarriage", Dr. Nielsen has written three books: How to Motivate Adolescents (Prentice Hall) and Adolescence: A Contemporary View (Harcourt Brace) which sold more than 60,000 copies and was adopted by hundreds of universities throughout the country and abroad between 1986-1996. Her third book, Embracing Your Father: Creating the Relationship You Want with Your Dad was published in April, 2004. www.wfu.edu/~nielsen or E-Mail

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