Women's perceptions of their changing relationships with their fathers during childhood

Helene Susanne Nilsen (1999)

This is a phenomenological study designed to investigate adult women's perceptions of their changing relationships with their fathers during childhood. A semi-structured interview was conducted with eighteen adult female subjects. This design allowed the researcher to explore the many subtle aspects of women's perceptions of their childhood relationships with their fathers. The open-ended interview questions allowed the subjects to talk about what felt meaningful to them without being rigidly defined by standardized categories. To prepare for this study, two theoretical perspectives were examined: the classical psychoanalytic perspective and the feminist revisionist perspective. These two perspectives were chosen as they are so frequently referenced in the literature regarding the father-daughter relationship. Both theories focus on the girl's shift from a primary attachment to the mother to an attachment to the father. However, the two theories have interestingly divergent ideas about the nature of this shift. This project was designed to generate new and revised ideas about the father-daughter relationship based on the actual narratives of female subjects. The project was expected to generate ideas for future research pertaining to this subject. It was anticipated that this project would help clinicians to develop a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of their female patients' relationships with their fathers. The results of this project indicated that women have affectively complex experiences of the father-daughter relationship. Seven central themes emerged in the interviews and were analyzed in the last chapter. The findings in the study suggest interestingly that girls may sometimes experience a kind of primary nurturance by the father that, theoretically, is often exclusively associated with the mother-daughter relationship. The findings also suggest that, during adolescence, girls often experience intense disappointment in their fathers following an earlier period of closeness and idealization.