Opposite-Sex Parent-Child Relationships

Can you help me understand the dynamics of father-daughter and mother-son relationships? Does a child's interaction with the parent of the opposite sex take on a greater significance as he or she enters the teenage years? If so, how?

As is only natural, in many families fathers have more interests in common with sons and mothers with daughters. But the importance of nurturing father-daughter and mother-son relationships cannot be overstated, especially during adolescence.

The tendency in father-son and mother-daughter relationships is for the parent to compare (with some anxiety) the progress of the child with memories of their own adolescent experience. Thoughts such as “He’s not doing as well as I was at this age” or ” I don’t want her to make the same mistakes I did while growing up” can cloud your appreciation of your teenager’s uniqueness and your enjoyment of their company. , Since, however, Dad was never a girl and Mom never a boy, these comparisons and concerns aren’t as likely in opposite-sex relationships. There are many other potential benefits as well.

For a girl, Dad is usually the man in her life for many years. How he treats her will affect her relationship with men throughout her teenage and adult life. She looks to him for affection, respect and affirmation of her femininity. If he provides these things for her, she will usually expect the same type of treatment from the males in her life later on. In other words, she isn’t likely to tolerate men who behave disrespectfully or abusively toward her. If, on the other hand, she has become accustomed to living with neglect, criticism and abuse, she may spend decades enduring the same from men who are self-centered, irresponsible and predatory.

It’s worth mentioning here that, for a variety of reasons, mothers and daughters tend to butt heads more often during the adolescent years than at other times in their lives. When this happens, a father’s insight can help de-escalate conflicts and build Mom’s image in the mind of his frustrated daughter. This is another reason his influence is so important in her life.

Mothers can also have a unique and extremely significant relationship with their growing and nearly-grown sons. While Dad can and should instill standards for behavior with members of the opposite sex, Mom is usually in a better position to serve as an adviser in matters of the heart. When a son is struggling with a relationship that is tying his emotions in knots, a woman’s perspective can offer both insight and comfort.

Obviously, we’re only grazing the surface of a very profound subject. Psychologists have written volumes on the subtle sexually-related aspects and dimensions of parent-child relationships, especially during the years following puberty. If you need help sorting through these issues or would simply like to discuss them at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you’ll feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.


What a Difference a Daddy Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Dad Leaves on His Daughter’s Life

Boy-sterous Living: Celebrating Your Loud and Rowdy Life with Sons

Preparing Him for the Other Woman

That’s My Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Men of Character

Bringing Up Girls

Bringing Up Boys

National Center for Fathering



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