In his new book Raising Girls, child psychologist Steve Biddulph says that girls with strong and involved fathers will grow up with higher self-esteem and make smarter choices later in life. Modern fatherhood, according to Biddulph, allows many men more time to spend with their young daughters, but not necessarily the tools to make that time count.
He advises fathers to ask for and listen to their daughter’s opinions early on so that “she’ll develop the sense that she’s both intelligent and worthwhile.” Biddulph also encourages dads to show their daughter how to be “happy, exuberant and even silly at times” in order to “increase her capacity to be happy as she grows up.”
As I was reading Biddulph’s advice, I couldn’t help being reminded of the Obama girls — how at once they were mature and graceful standing on the Capitol steps as their dad took the oath of office, and then just a few short hours later at the inaugural parade, they were kids again — snapping “selfies” with their smartphones and making faces at their friends. They are girls who know how to have fun with themselves and their parents. And they are also girls who seem grounded and aware.
The first daughters seem to have been taught by a first-rate dad. More than any other presidential daughters — Caroline Kennedy, for example — Malia and Sasha represent an almost Rockwellian depiction of the archetypal girl: sugar, spice, et cetera. Although this isn’t the mid-20th century, the Obama girls, as their dad pointed out in his speech Monday, could graduate from the White House into an unequal working world in which women are still only earning 78 cents to every dollar a man makes.
“Modern womanhood is tough,” writes Biddulph. “All too soon, your daughter will need to become self-reliant, clear-thinking, emotionally strong, good with people and responsible for her own life. A good dad gives her a head-start that lasts forever.”
Malia and Sasha (and the rest of the country) are lucky. Not only do they have a “good dad” who has clearly already begun planting the seeds they’ll need to grow into modern women, but he also leads the free world, making sure those crops yield results for years to come for the rest of us.