Father-Daughter Enmeshment © Martyn Carruthers 1996
Do you know women who:
These signs suggest confusion for these women and for men
involved with them. Do you want to untangle your relationships?
Father – Daughter Relationships
Children who feel loved and supported by both parents seem to make mature life decisions. Memories of how their parents behaved appear to impact their perceptions of maturity and adult responsibilities for the rest of their lives.
Children of mature, happy parents seem much better prepared for adult life than children of immature, dissociated or depressed parents, who may, as adults, seem unprepared for committed partnership or stable parenthood.
Some daughters may try to become substitute partners for their fathers or even surrogate mothers of their fathers. They may seem to grow up too quickly, while others may appear to delay their maturity and remain childish, especially if the daughters have problems relating to their mothers.
Later in life as women, they may seek partners who are much like their fathers – or as unlike their fathers as possible. Some few may avoid men or prefer female partners.
Mature fathers can help their daughters build healthy personal identities. Immature fathers may try to be their daughter’s best friends … or their daughter’s boyfriends. Some fathers will not recognize their daughter’s maturity and persist in treating their adult daughters as little girls. (Some women enjoy this while most hate it).
Parenting adolescents can be complex. Some fathers distance themselves from their teenage daughters, although this is when daughters need their fathers to be mature, strong men – to safely push against, to resist, and to practice saying “No!”
Emotionally healthy parents provide a strong basis for young adults’ maturity and future partnerships. Adult children of immature parents often suffer confused lives.
Suffering Across Generations
Women who are entangled with their fathers often prefer relationships with immature or mother-bonded men. They may later enmesh their own sons in covert emotional incest.
If parents perceive their children as rivals, or as substitutes for friends, partners or even parents, their enmeshed children may develop chronic emotions, learning disabilities, eating problems or obsessions.
Such habits often seem to continue across generations, and, in many countries, parent-child enmeshment is so normal that it may not be noticed. Consider the stereotypes of family relationships in Southern Europe.
Adult Woman or Young Girl?
Women who are entangled with their fathers are often unable to enjoy stable partnerships – except with substitutes for fathers, brothers or sons. Such women may attempt to rescue immature or addicted men – and avoid or reject mature men.
I have a wonderful father but my mother won’t appreciate what a good man he is …
she is depressed and it would be better if she left … my father hates my husband
and says that no man is good enough for me … I love him so much. Atlanta
The price of covert emotional incest can be high. Some father-bonded women become depressed or addicted. Some become bisexual or lesbian. Some suicide. See Teenage Girl in Trouble.
My father often told me that I should only receive the best and that anything
else was a sign of disrespect … he told me to demand the best from
my boyfriends … always more than they want to give me.
Substitute & Fantasy Fathers
If your father was absent, dissociated or irresponsible, you may have unconsciously adopted other male relatives as a substitute fathers – perhaps a brother, uncle or grandfather. Some children create fantasy perfect fathers who seem to provide the missing love. Although a fantasy perfect father may help a fatherless daughter cling to health and sanity, the daughter may later devote her life to seeking a perfect man.
My wife has an adult daughter from a previous marriage … her daughter is immature …
she married an older man who is like her father … she is obsessed with her son and
threatens to divorce her husband if he interferes with her obsessive parenting. Portland
Covert Emotional Incest
Parents, with good intentions, can love children in ways that cause them to become entangled, depressed or codependent. These consequences seem more likely if:
- A parent is victimized by another family member
- A parent is unable or unwilling to provide mature guidance
- A parent is addicted, obsessed, depressed, dissociated or suicidal
- A parent is absent or dead – and the other parent is immature, lost or lonely
Your “Daddy’s Girl” matches my mother-in-law, who clings to her son – my husband.
She sabotaged our relationship. Neither of them have any other friends …
they don’t want or need anyone else! I am supposed to be their caretaker!
Talk to people about love at first sight and you will hear many examples of entanglements and transferences … and of their consequences. I described some solutions for immature parenting at solutions for learning disabilities.
When a daughter bonds to her father, her mother may react with anger. Irritation is a warning that a behavior is unhealthy, but punishing a daughter makes things worse. A mother may punish her husband and her daughter or lose herself in depression.
My ex-wife worshiped her father, and she hated her mother for “abusing” her father.
After six years of criticism and insults, I left her continual pressure to be
a “man” – which meant to become more like her father. Canada
Daddy’s Girls may only attract (and feel attracted to) immature men, unless these women sabotage their attractiveness … perhaps with eating disorders or avoid intimate relationships. But their immature partners may not enjoy their little princesses for long – such women often lose themselves in obsessions or depression – or fall in love with their sons.
Mother-son emotional incest is equally toxic and more common. Father-daughter and mother-son enmeshments often simultaneously occur in families; together with generations of suffering.