Fatherless Daughters: 5 Ways Growing Up Without a Dad Affects Women

Updated on January 1, 2018
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After struggling with depression and anxiety most of my life, I'm now dedicated to becoming a stronger person who lives life to the fullest.

Having a Father Who Was Emotionally or Physically Absent Stays With a Daughter All Her Life

Daughters who grew up without a dad are more likely to marry young, suffer from depression, and struggle with eating disorders.
Daughters who grew up without a dad are more likely to marry young, suffer from depression, and struggle with eating disorders. | Source

It took six decades, but I can finally utter a huge truth of my life that caused me tremendous shame and sadness: my father didn't love me. I never spoke that deep, dark secret, but it was something always festering inside of me. It manifested itself in many ways throughout my life as I struggled with a food obsession, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression.

Try as I might, I was never been able to get any traction, always making a mess of this or that, and never able to form long-lasting friendships. I rejected happiness because I never felt worthy of it. I did so much to sabotage my life and make myself miserable.

Then last year my older sister revealed to me that she, too, had felt unloved by him. I immediately felt enormous relief and then great euphoria. I realized it had never been about me—that I was bad, ugly, stupid and undeserving. It had always been about him—his unhappy childhood, his cold mother, his negative nature, and his dissatisfaction with being a husband and father. It had never been about me...never. I could finally shout: “You were a piece of crap and now I'm done with you! I'm not your prisoner any more!"

Whether a dad was present but rejecting like mine or walked away from his fatherly duties entirely, his absence left an indelible mark on the psyche of his daughter as she grew into adulthood. What does the research say about woman who grew up with fathers who didn't love them— daughters who were never daddy's little princess? Here are 5 ways a daughter may be affected by not having an involved dad:

1. She Has Low Self-Esteem.

Deborah Moskovitch, a divorce consultant and author, says kids often blame themselves when dad leaves the home and becomes less involved in their lives. Because children are egocentric, they jump to the conclusion that it's their fault and that they're unlovable. When they aren't given explanations about why dad left, they make up their own scenario that puts them front and center and makes them responsible.

As a child, I watched television shows such as “The Brady Bunch” and “Happy Days” in which the fathers showered their daughters with tremendous attention and affection. Because I never got that from my dad, I convinced myself it was because I wasn't cute enough. I thought if I had blond hair and talked with a lisp like Cindy Brady I would then have my dad's devotion. I hated the way I looked because I thought it caused my father's disinterest in me. My self-esteem plummeted and I was sure no man would ever find me attractive.

2. She Struggles to Build and Maintain Relationships.

According to Pamela Thomas, author of "Fatherless Daughters," women who grew up with absent dads find it difficult to form lasting relationships. Because they were scarred by their dad's rejection of them, they don't want to risk getting hurt again. Consciously or unconsciously, they avoid getting close to people. They have superficial relationships in which they reveal little of themselves and put very little effort into getting to know others. She may become promiscuous as a way of getting male attention without becoming too emotionally involved.

Ever since childhood, I've built walls around myself. I didn't open up to people. I didn't ask questions about their families, jobs, and hobbies. I kept my life private, and I remained socially isolated. These were all self-protective measures so I wouldn't experience rejection like I did with my dad. Knowing this intellectually did nothing to help me change my behavior because my fear was more powerful than my desire to make connections.

One in Three Women Identify Themselves as Fatherless, Putting Them at Greater Risk for an Eating Disorder

"Father hunger" creates an emptiness in a woman's life that she may try to fill with food. Others try to get thin in the hope of winning dad's approval.
"Father hunger" creates an emptiness in a woman's life that she may try to fill with food. Others try to get thin in the hope of winning dad's approval. | Source

3. She's More Likely to Have an Eating Disorder.

In their book “The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders,” the authors point out that girls with physically or emotionally absent fathers are at greater risk to develop eating disorders. Because they long to have a close relationship with their dads but get denied, they develop what Margo Maine calls “father hunger,” a deep emptiness and a profound insecurity. They're left wondering: What's so wrong with me that my own father doesn't love me? If I look different—if I'm thin—will I earn daddy's love?

I've struggled with "father hunger" throughout my life—stuffing my face to fill the void, dieting to get model thin, and always obsessing about food. My days have been filled with thoughts of eating—either doing it or struggling mightily not to do it. When I accepted that my dad didn't love me—-that he was an unhappy man with deep-rooted problems—I finally stopped thinking about food, started eating normally, and began maintaining a healthy weight. I was no longer trying to heal that ache with food. I began treating myself in a loving way by exercising, gardening, reading, walking in the woods, and spending time with family. For the first time in my life, I only thought about food when I was truly hunger. This freed me to enjoy my life in so many wonderful ways.

4. She's More Likely to Marry Young.

Countless studies have shown the many benefits that come from a strong father-daughter bond. Most notably, girls who are close to their dads are less likely to get pregnant as teens. They're less promiscuous.They wait longer to get married and to have children. When they do find a husband, their marriages are more emotionally satisfying, stable, and long-lasting.

My older sister met her future husband when she was just 18 and married him when she turned 22, straight out of college. He was the only guy she ever dated. Without a doubt, she was looking for the love and validation she never got from our dad. She was looking for healing from a dad who never said "I love you" or "you're pretty" and never gave the unconditional acceptance one craves from a parent. While still married, her union has been a difficult one, and she discourages her own daughters from marrying young.

5. She's More Likely to Suffer From Depression.

Not surprisingly, girls who grew up with dads who were emotionally or physically absent are more likely to struggle with depression as adults. Because they fear abandonment and rejection, these women often isolate themselves. They avoid romantic entanglements because they fear getting hurt. Others do the opposite—jumping into love relationships that aren't good for them and ultimately lead to heartbreak. In either scenario, the women are in emotional peril and frequently become depressed. If they don't deal with the cause of their sadness—an absent dad—they may never be able to develop healthy relationships with men.

According to the authors of “The Fatherless Daughter Project,” it's helpful to realize that we're not alone. In fact, one in three women see themselves as fatherless and struggle with feelings of abandonment. Knowing this fact helps us see that there's a whole sisterhood out there who share a common pain and a need to connect. When we open up and share our journey, we help ourselves and we comfort others. Whether we feel the loss of a dad through death, divorce, drug addiction, estrangement, or emotional neglect—we must grieve in order to move forward. A gifted therapist can be key to helping us do just that and becoming happier people.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      Thanks, Bill. As a kindergarten teacher, I worked with many boys and girls from fatherless homes. When I look back at those years, I see how hard I tried to teach them their letters, sounds, and numbers and how they resisted—how they didn't care. Their little lives were so tumultuous and learning was a low priority. Dads make such a huge difference but, unfortunately, it now seems politically incorrect to say so.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      As a teacher I've seen the truth in what you say. All of those things happen, and the scars are still visible for decades. Thank you for speaking your truth in this hard-hitting piece, and I hope you have a very Happy New Year!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      That was a beautiful and smart thing your family members told you, Dora. You had a loving relationship with your dad even after his death. The stories we're told by others and the stories we tell ourselves are so powerful in shaping who we are.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for your insight on this important topic. I think that your findings are generally true. My father died before I was old enough to remember him. I've never had a father-daughter relationship, but my grandmothers, aunts and uncles convinced me that he loved me, and I grew up loving him. I think that the assurance of love is a great help, and the absence of that assurance creates a void.