Inappropriate father-daughter relationship
I need another perspective on a situation that has been bothering me. I am married, have a 16-year-old step-daughter who does not live in our state (she's with her mother) but visits fairly regularly. She has always been very close to her dad--they are both affectionate, touchy-feely people. Since reaching adolescence, the physical closeness hasn't tempered as I would have expected--just recently she jumped on his back with her arms around his neck and hung onto him as he bent forward some. Playful, but to me, strange that a father would be comfortable with his teen daughter pressed body to body with him, her breasts pushing into his back. Other examples: she talked about her increased bra size to him during a holiday dinner, she complains to him about her "underdeveloped" derriere, and once she even walked past him in her pj's, bent over, and wiggled that very part of her anatomy at him.
A recent holiday gift request--that he fulfilled--was a Victoria's Secret order for thongs, bras and bikinis. I'm all for a warm, close father-daughter relationship, but this freewheeling, anything goes thing between them is bothering me. To me, she's just too old to be climbing all over her dad, expecting him to buy her sexy underwear, or discussing her physical development with him. I think the only person he should be buying underwear for (of that kind) is his wife--let mom handle her underwear requests. Any thoughts? Am I out of line in my thinking or what? (By the way, I had a very close, wonderful relationship with my dad, absent this kind of interacting).
It was helpful that you described your own relationship with your father as close. That rules out the possibility that this is mainly a jealous reaction to something you did not get in childhood. It really doesn't seem off to me that the daughter jumped on his back and in general physical closeness for a daughter this age and her father is a good thing rather than negative. So often a father will overreact to his daughter when she starts to mature and cuts her off too much and rapidly from physical caring. I am glad that that is not happening here.
However, when you describe talking about her bra size, buying her sexy underwear, complaining about her underdeveloped derriere, and wiggling seductively towards him it becomes a bit worrisome. Usually I would be concerned about the possibility of direct sexual abuse, but from your missive I am assuming that you are not really worried about this kind of activity. However, there is a form of sexual abuse called sexualization that is just as damaging and consists mostly of age inappropriate comments or behavior. This might indeed be happening, but again from the tone of the letter I am assuming that this is not the fathers' intention. It does seem inappropriate no matter what age the daughter is to be talking about these issues. It sounds like there are some inappropriate sexual overtones to the relationship that you are reacting to.
It is not unusual for a young girl to be seductive with her father as a way to get attention and to learn sexual behavior towards other men. It is the fathers' job however to steer this in the right direction around the age of 10-12 and lead it towards more traditional fatherly affection.
A young girl's fixation and need for approval and affection from their father increases with any abandonment that they experience. It sounds like their relationship with each other has always been very close, but with a divorce some abandonment is unavoidable simply because of distance and time. Therefore, it sounds as if this little girl is trying in some inappropriate ways to feel closer and accepted. It would be helpful if her father discusses this with her very candidly and help her out with her feelings. She might not even be consciously aware of them.
It doesn't sound as if anything is going on that is really sinister. In fact there is probably more health in this relationship than dysfunction, but I would agree with you that a problem exists. It would be helpful for you to talk with her father and do it in a way that is supportive and caring. You want to respect their relationship and the difficulty of being unable to see each other often. The last thing you want to do is get jealous or critical. I hope that it goes well for all of you.
Jef Gazley www.asktheinternettherapist.com
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.For more information visit: http://www.asktheinternettherapist.com/