Why Dads Playing Barbies With Their Daughters Will Have Long Term Benefits

What is it about fathers and daughters? Watching the adorable viral video going around of Claire Ryann Crosby and her father singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” you can’t help but think about this special relationship. Claire is cute and her father is a decent guitar player, but the reason that this video has over 6 million views is because of something intangible the two of them clearly share.

It is easier for girls to have a close relationship with their mothers. Forgive the generalization, but girls’ mothers usually look more like them, and they often share the same kind of interests in pretty clothes and shiny accessories, or the like. Moreover, girls generally spend more time with their mothers. Women are not a mystery to them.

None of this is to say that relationships between mothers and daughters aren’t sometimes fraught. But they start with some things in common. And many little girls will happily spend time with other grown women—teachers, aunts, grandmothers, neighbors—without too much fuss.

But if you put a girl with a grown man she doesn’t know well, things can go awry quickly. I remember my oldest, for instance, was terrified of men with mustaches and would run out of the room screaming during one Sesame Street video that involved a mustachioed man carrying pies. My youngest wouldn’t take a swim lesson from a male instructor—though he was kind and gentle and clearly had a way with children.

The bridge between girls and their fathers is one that requires real effort on the part of fathers. It’s not that it’s an unpleasant experience, but as Mattel’s recent campaign showing father’s playing Barbies with their daughters suggests, fathers may have to put on hold their own inclinations about how they’d like to play for their little girls’ benefit.

The potential upsides of a strong-father daughter relationship are boundless. On the new drama This Is Us, we see how the father’s relationship with daughter Kate has the potential to make her feel happy and loved even while she is becoming overweight and losing friends. With her mother, by contrast, Kate is always comparing herself and feeling inadequate.

On last week’s episode, Kate turns ten and her father finds for the first time that he cannot truly cheer up his daughter when she is friendless at her own birthday party. Some fathers might be tempted to give up at this point, but it is this strong relationship between fathers and daughters that will help guide them through adolescence. (Studies show that such relationships are associated with postponed first sexual experience, for example.)

None of this may be on the minds of Claire Ryann Crosby’s father or the guys sitting on the floor playing Barbie, but being treated well by the first man in their lives—their dad—surely raises a girl’s expectations for how other men should treat her later on in life.

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