It’s mid-January, and that means Valentine’s Day is just a month away, and with that comes something I dread—social media flooded with pictures of daddy-daughter dates and the ultimate gross-out, the father-daughter dance. These don’t always happen in February, but the fact that this seems to be the most common time for these activities, adds to my revulsion.
Now before you get too offended, I know that the fathers who take their daughters to father-daughter dances and on “dates” have the best intentions. I’ve heard the explanation that these dates teach your daughter what to expect from the men in her future—that she should be treated gently and with respect. Unfortunately, many psychologists disagree with this logic, and I think we intuitively know that. Just think about it for a minute.
Your daughter probably watches Disney movies where the princess wins the prince, often after competing with another female character. Little girls in our culture are predisposed to think they have to compete for male attention. Your daughter may know you love your wife, and she sees you dress up and go out together. She idealizes you, and if your relationship with your wife is good, she may envy it. She may want to win you from her mother. This is a normal stage of development, but should not be encouraged to linger. If she thinks she has a chance, this can cause an unhealthy dynamic between all three of you. When the daughter becomes confused about her place in the relationship, this phenomenon is called the Electra Complex.
According to educational psychologist, Kendra Cherry, “The Electra complex is a psychoanalytic term used to describe a girl’s sense of competition with her mother for the affections of her father. It is comparable to the Oedipus Complex” (Cherry). Wikipedia defines it this way, “In Neo-Freudian psychology, the Electra complex, as proposed by Carl Gustav Jung, is a girl’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father” (Wikipedia). The origin of the phrase (coined by Carl Jung) comes from Greek mythology. Electra conspired to kill her mother after discovering her mother was plotting against her father. As an allusion, the term has come to generally mean a woman whose love for her father is inappropriate, and therefore, unresolved, so she transfers these feelings to other men, thus harming her ability to have healthy relationships with others, often dating older or unavailable men to unconsciously resolve the desire for her father.
It is my contention, and I think this is common sense (I don’t pretend to be a psychologist), that dating your daughter, especially the formal father-daughter dances, confuses the relationship between parent and child, may cause competition between mother and daughter, and may result in resentment towards the mother, possibly leading to the daughter trying to resolve these issues in future relationships. This is the opposite of the message you are trying to send to her.
If you don’t see how this practice is romanticizing the father-daughter relationship, think about the connotations of the terms we use. Most men would never say they were taking their son on a father-son date. They just “hang out” with their sons. Why the confusing romantic terminology when it comes to daughters? Face it; it’s creepy.
Do you really want to create friction between your daughter and her mother? Do you think it’s healthy for your daughter to romantically idealize you and resent the attention you pay her mother? To be in direct competition with her mother for her father’s attention? You don’t have to agree with Jung or Freud on everything to realize that this is not only unhealthy, it’s actually kind of gross.
If the goal of dating your daughter is to teach her to expect gentlemanly behavior and respect from a man, then the best way to teach her this is to simply treat your wife that way in front of her. Date your wife, not your daughter. Treat your wife like a princess, and your daughter will learn the lessons you want her to without all of the confusion and conflicted emotions.
It is not confusing for her to see you treat her mother romantically. She will have more respect for her mother, and she will desire the type of relationship you have with her, but she won’t be fantasizing about you being her prince. You have to admit that the idea creeps you out a bit. At least I hope it does.
Listen to that feeling in the pit of your stomach; listen to your intuition. Date your wife and hang out with your daughter.—Christina Knowles
Cherry, Kendra. “What Is the Electra Complex?” About Health. Updated 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.
“Electra Complex.” Wikipedia.org Updated 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.
Father-daughter photo. Finding justice.org [http://findingjustice.org/father-daughter-dance-violates-the-law/]
Seems less worrisome than 12 year old girls caked in makeup, dressed like prostitutes, with a nose and belly piercing, selling nudes on snapchat.
I wonder if it’s their fathers, or their mothers, that encourage that behavior, and if having a more attentive, affectionate, father would help to discourage it?
OMG! I’ve struggled with this for 7 years ever since my step daughter came into my home crying because “I stole her daddy”…
My husband and her ex had an extreamly disfunctional relationship and he would take the daughter out on “dates” and concerts and other things he should be doing with her mother, essentially the mom was a bitch and got replaced by her own daughter…
I thought being patient would pay off… I naively stood silent when they went on those “daddy-daughter dances”. I kept quiet when he bought flowers for her (not me ever). Etc. I kept quiet for too long… and now it’s too dam late!
Slowly I was introduced into her life (I was banned to see her by her mom and friends that labeled me as “the woman he cheated with” and therefore “unsafe” for the little princess to be around… BTW. it was actually the ex who moved out to explore a FB affair!)
Things that used to be daddy daughter dates like going out for sushi or the movies, or the LA county fair, slowly became a 3-some experience, and I’m very appropriately using that 3-some label because, what would tend to happen will be that they would team up and make fun of me and my accent, or simply ignore me.
One time at the fair, I was holding my husband’s hand because I was struggling with some chronic pain issues and his kid got lost in the crowd because she was pissed that daddy was not holding “her little hand”. Once we finally found her, she was crying and in front of the whole crowd, she slapped my husband while screaming at him (I can’t remember the verbatim exactly but it was somenthing like “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU! YOU LOST ME BECAUSE YOU ARE BEING WITH HER!) of course there was no punishment or consequences for the little princess bad behaviors… there never is! If I had EVER dared to touch my father’s face I would have been grounded for weeks on end!!! 😡
And the Electra drama continues… last week, was her 15th year bday. After putting up with 7 gruesome years of flat out hate and rejection from this kid that BTW looks and sounds like a 3D Xerox of her monster mama, after putting up with all the daddy daughter drama, this kiddo has the nerve to DEMAND that I do not come to her bday brunch… (Not that I had any presents to give her cuz all my choices were deamed laughable by her dad… “R U mad woman!? She’s never gonna like those earrings!” Only I know her and what she likes!)
Now she started to throw a tantrum every time I’m around her and daddy, and it’s getting worse, she is forcefully changing the custody so that she can’t come to our place because she is “to bussy with XYZ…” and the ONLY option left for her dad to see her is to drive to the princess castle and take her out on a dinner date…😩
I’m the child of a Psychoanalist, and I know first hand how dangerous the Oedipus complex is and how much damage it created on my little brother’s life… And I see this tragedy now at my own home, relentlessly deepening, unresolved, but the worse is not tolerating the teen tantrums, the worse is explaining this danger of the Electra Complex to my husband and him refusing to listen!!! What can I do so that he can understand what he is doing wrong?
Please help. Share resources, articles, support groups, prayers, anything!
I’m at the end of my rope and entertaining the idea of divorce so that daddy and daughter can finally be alone and happy together forever!
Nina, I’m so sorry you are going through this. Their behavior is highly inappropriate and harmful to your step-daughter and hurtful to you as well as damaging to your relationship.
I’m assuming you’ve already told him how you feel. You could ask him to read a couple of articles on the subject. I’ve referenced a study here, but a quick Google search could give you some more material.
Personally, I wouldn’t have been able to put up with it and would probably have left the marriage by now; however, I don’t know how much you love him or how great the other areas of your lives are, so I am definitely not suggesting you leave him. Only you know if you’re at that point.
It could get better as she gets older and gets more of a life of her own, including a partner, but I suspect she’s going to have problems in the romance department due to her daddy issues. I am absolutely not a psychologist, so I can’t give advice here, except to say that you should probably seek couples counseling to talk about these issues with someone who is not so emotionally involved. Your husband probably won’t hear you until a professional tells him that this is not good for his daughter or your marriage. I’m sure any therapist worth their salt will recognize the issue here.
I hope you know that you are not the problem in any way. You deserve to be the queen in your relationship. Your husband should be treating you like his special lady in front of your daughter, instead of the other way around. Don’t let this affect your self-esteem. Stand your ground. Good luck to you and let me know how it all works out.
Thank you Christina for writing this article and responding to Nina’s comments. You are spot on!!! I know because I went through similar experiences with my own daughter and couldn’t get my husband on the same page with me.
I constantly asked for date nights and pointed out that I am the queen. We are the married couple and she will have that when she is married. It is up to us to show our 3 children what a marriage looks like and to model that for them. He refused. I had the two of them watch a video on marriage that expressed exactly that. It didn’t matter. They called me crazy. Anytime I instigated fun or affection with my husband in front of her the claws came out and her behavior towards me was on fire. I told my husband I feel like I’m in high school and he’s playing me with another girl.
We are now divorced. My husband filed thinking I would after I confronted him with a separation over the weekend so he could think about the thirty years we were together and if our marriage and family environment meant as much to him as it did to me. He quickly was back at my side making my two boys very happy! A few weeks later my eldest son, 16 at the time, unable to look me in the eyes told me “Dad is leaving you and I’m going with him.” My 18 yr old daughter asked my youngest son if he wanted to go too, like it was a game to be won!! She and my husband colluded together finding an apartment. They abandoned me, our youngest son, and the dog. They blame me saying this is what I wanted and haven’t spoken, texted, or emailed me in two years!! This has caused ptsd for me suddenly being kicked to the curb. They are also spreading fabricated, ugly vitriolic stories about me to our family to justify the abandonment and divorce. Nobody will talk to me. I am worried about my son who is with him. He was truant last year and is repeating 11th grade at a school my husband unilaterally enrolled him in. There’s more like the porn I found him watching that he denied and ran away from me when I wanted to address.
This issue is way too ubiquitous now to ignore and again thank you for writing about it. Something needs to be done and it needs to be addressed in a larger way. I am devastated by my family exploding apart like this.
Christina, Thank you for writing about this Very important subject! I too have been affected by this insidious problem that seems to be ubiquitous now. I noticed from the time my daughter was in kindergarten 20 years ago regarding the daddy/daughter dances and didn’t think at the time what the repercussions would be. I was happy they had a good relationship and never thought I’d be thrown under the bus. I’ve struggled greatly with this dynamic and it lead to an expensive and lengthy divorce, one we never should have had nor could afford after 30 years together and 3 children.
I approached my husband over several years regarding her behavior to no avail. I had the two watch a video regarding the importance of the married couple being the center of the family as an example for what a strong marriage looks like for their children. They laughed and ignored it and called me crazy. They accused me of being bored. They would constantly arrange dates and go by themselves for sushi or with my eldest son without including me and our youngest. When we did go out as a family my husband gave all his attention to my daughter or eldest son, my youngest and I were ignored. I told my husband I felt like I was back in HS and he was playing me and another girl. “That’s our daughter you’re talking about!” was his response. Right! I told him how inappropriate that was for both of us!!
(I feel my husband was also having some existential crisis at the same time, turning 60 and coping with his mother’s death months earlier. I also caught him recording porn and tried to address that with him too. He denied it and literally ran away.)
Things got so bad that I finally approached my husband with a bag packed for a couple of days and asked for a separation over the weekend so he could think about the 30 years we’d been together and if our marriage and family meant as much to him as it did to me. We needed to be on the same page. He appeared to be back into the marriage the next day. My boys were happy, but my daughter, just 18 at the time, turned up her Veruca Salt on steroids! I told her she’s 18 and if she isn’t happy living in our home she has my permission to move out. The next thing I know is history being eliminated on the computer and a couple weeks later my cowardly husband sent our daughter to pick up our boys who were with me doing their P.E. at a nearby gym. My eldest son ran in, not looking me in the eyes hanging his head, “Dad is leaving you and I’m going with him.” and ran out. Yeah, that happened! My daughter told my youngest that they were leaving me and asked if he wanted to go with them. Thank God he said no! They’d been bullying him for quite some time. When I got back home all his things were gone.
I haven’t heard from them, no texts, calls, emails, or letters in two years!! They’re also spreading vitriolic lies about me throughout the family to cover up the truth and make me look like the evil parent to validate their colluding abandonment of me and my youngest son. (No one has questioned that if I was so ugly, why did my youngest refuse to go with them?) This whole thing has been traumatic and given me ptsd. I’m having a hard time with this and moving forward reinventing myself at 54 while dealing with my elderly parents I’ve moved into assisted living without the support of my family and husband.
I’ve talked to neighbors and friends who are the same age with teens going through similar life experiences and figured it was just a season you go through. I’ve read countless articles to help get through these tough times. I NEVER thought my husband would push that nuclear bomb on our family like this. The man had fear in his eyes and to this day acts like I’m the one who betrayed him.
Thanks again for touching on something that needs more awareness. I tried to get my husband into counseling, but he refused. I wish the best for Nina and all the women faced with such a horrible dynamic. Our husbands should have the moral fortitude to work on their marriage and make sure above all that it is strong and secure without an open back door. Those are the vows.