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/]