Your Father

Your Daughter's Young Adult Years: Money, Sex & Career and their impact on your father-daughter relationship - Part 1I

How do father-daughter relationships generally change from the time a daughter leaves high school until she becomes a “real” adult? What usually puts the most stress on their relationship? And how can father and daughter strengthen their relationship or overcome these obstacles during her early adult years?

Changes & Tensions -- - Both father and daughter need to change some of their attitudes and behavior in order to create a more adult relationship with one another during her college-age years. Unfortunately what usually happens is that one person is readier to change than the other. Either dad is treating his daughter too much like a little girl while she is striving and wanting to become an adult. Or dad is treating her like an adult while she is still behaving and wanting to be treated like a child. Your mutual struggle as father and daughter to create an adult to adult relationship usually reaches it peak over these three issues: his money, her sexual lifestyle, and her career plans. In September’s column, I talked about money. Now let’s turn our attention to sex.

Assumptions about Uptight Dad --- One reason the daughter’s sexual life creates tension for too many young women and their fathers is that she assumes her father is far more conservative and far more uptight than he actually is. When this happens, the daughter lies, deceives, and hides a lot of what’s going on in her life from her father. And that’s not good for their relationship. Feeling guilty, she goes to great lengths to pretend to be the virginal, non-sexual little girl that she believes her father wants her to be. Fearing that her father will love her less or respect her less if he discovers that she is not an innocent, virginal girl, she may end up refusing to share anything about her personal life with him – depriving herself and her father of the chance for him to be her advisor and ally in matters of the heart. I am not suggesting that daughters share the intimate details of their sexual lives with their fathers. But I am saying that by time daughters leave adolescence, they should not be pretending to be sexually innocent children in order to please “daddy”.

One way of easing the tension is for a father to let his young adult daughter know more about his sexual life when he was her age – and to let her know what his feelings are about people her age having sex. I’m not saying that fathers should share the details of their sexual lives with their daughters. But I am saying that fathers should let their daughters know that they were not – or are not - as sexually conservative as their daughters might be assuming. Although it is true that most fathers want their daughter to wait until their late teens before having sex, it is not true that most fathers want or expect their daughters to be virgins when they get married. This quiz is one way for fathers and daughters to get the conversation started about dad’s beliefs.

Your Father’s Generation: Not Such Uptight Guys! What do you believe are true about most men now between the ages of 45 and 60?


Most were virgins when they got married.


Most have been married only once.


Most waited until their twenties to have sex for the first time.


Most married a virgin.


Most disapprove of people having sex before marriage.


Most never drank or smoked cigarettes as teenagers.


Most never used any illegal drug.


Most oppose sex education in the schools.


Most want abortion made illegal again.


Most believe that interracial marriages should be outlawed again.


Total Score (10 possible trues)

What’s your score? The correct answer is zero. Not one of these statements is true. Most men who are now in their 40s and 50s were not sexually or socially conservative as young men —and neither were the women they dated and married. Only 10% of the men and 20% of the women were virgins when they married. Having sex before marriage, drinking, and smoking were the norm, not the exception. More than half of those married people got divorced and 20% of all parents never got married. Nearly a third of the women were already pregnant when they married. Most men had three or four lovers before marriage, and most women had more than one. Interracial and interfaith marriages increased dramatically during the 1960s and 70s. The legal right to terminate a pregnancy, to marry someone of another race, to keep your job if you’re gay, and to possess small amounts of recreational drugs without being sent to jail exist because dad’s generation created more liberal laws. In short, there’s not as much difference as a daughter might think there is between her father’s generation and her own.

On the other hand, some fathers are more sexually conservative than their daughters – and some daughters are more conservative than their fathers. When that’s the case, do not try to change one another’s sexual values. You’re each entitled to your own beliefs because you are both adults. For the sake of your relationship, accept each other’s right to live your sexual life in the way that you have deemed is best for you. Having to adopt exactly the same sexual values should not be a requirement for a loving, meaningful father-daughter relationship.

©2008 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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