Divorce and separation are never easy, especially when children are involved. Yet the physical and emotional impact on girls often gets overlooked. A recent study sheds light on the profound – and often lifelong – affect a breakdown in family structure can have on young girls.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, examined the physical health, mental health and smoking habits of participants whose parents had separated during childhood or adolescence. For girls, the outcomes were worse in all three areas, especially when their fathers dropped out of their lives.
The study illustrates the key role fathers play in their daughters’ healthy development. The absence of a father was associated with higher rates of smoking, health problems and depression. The outcomes were worse for girls who were between six and ten years old when their parents separated.
For parents considering divorce or separation, the study highlights the importance of maintaining a meaningful father-daughter relationship, especially during this time of major upheaval. Divorce doesn’t have to spell the end of the parent-child relationship. Fathers in particular should not disappear from the picture just because they no longer live with the children.
Flexible custody arrangements often make it possible for fathers to remain active in their children’s lives, even if they don’t have primary custody. Parenting plans can outline specific opportunities for fathers to spend quality time with their daughters.
Given girls’ sensitivity to changes in the family structure, it’s important for fathers to maximize these opportunities and stay plugged into their daughters’ lives.