How Women Who Grow Up without a Father Are Different

Posted On Thursday, 16 June 2016
How Women Who Grow Up without a Father Are Different

With Father’s Day upon us, daughters of all ages are preparing to celebrate their fathers and all they have done to positively impact their lives.

But what about the daughters who do not have fathers present in their lives?

How does life play out when paternal protection, support and resources are missing from her life?

Is she significantly impacted?

We believe she is.

What is Fatherlessness?

According to an open, quantitative online research study conducted by the authors for our book, The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives (Avery, June, 2016), out of approximately 2,000 female respondents between the ages of approximately 15 and 80, of diverse backgrounds, 50% of females identified as fatherless. These women cited a range of reasons that they became fatherless, including parents’ divorce or separation (28%), emotional absence (26%), death (19%), desertion (13%), addiction (13%), abuse (12%), never having met their father (6%) and incarceration (4%).

We describe fatherlessness as the loss of an emotional bond between a daughter and her father for any of the above reasons, which are often compounded. A fatherless daughter can experience several layers of loss, rendering them trauma survivors from a young age. The impact of the trauma affects her at every major developmental phase of her life.

The Effects

Fatherless daughters were shown to miss out on gaining a sense of security in life, as they missed out on having him in the home as their protector. (1)

They also reported missing out on learning positive masculine behaviors, specific social skills and a comfort with male-female relationships because their fathers were not there to teach them.

Because of her personal calling in this topic, Denna started writing about and researching fatherlessness over a decade ago by conducting ongoing informal and formal interviews with fatherless daughters that she met through invitation, social media or word of mouth. Since 2013, in an effort to gain fresh research for the book, Denna and Karin focused on documenting these qualitative one-on-one interviews and group conversations via face to face, email, and telephone interviews with fatherless daughters. In addition to the online, quantitative Father-Daughter Survey cited above, an open and ongoing Fatherless Daughter Survey has been conducted on since 2014, yielding over 1,200 female respondents between the ages of 15 and 70 worldwide.

Analyzing the responses collected from these thousands of women, we found one major experience that sets fatherless women apart from their fathered counterparts: their loss caused emotions that were too difficult to handle and thus, were pushed underground, not being adequately dealt with at the time of the loss.

As the daughter grows into a woman, these repressed emotions tend to bubble to the surface as a result of another significant trauma, loss or abandonment. This lack of understanding of her current emotional reaction -- often seen as over-reaction to others -- can leave her feeling guilty, isolated, misunderstood, and sometimes out of control.

This is where the obvious divide comes for women who have experienced father loss. Life experiences can be post-traumatic triggers that unearth pain hidden since she was a child.

Specifically, fatherless women have been documented to experience lower levels of well-being (2), higher levels of anger-related depression (3), and emotional difficulty in intimate relationships (4). The hallmark psychological fall-out, however, is that fatherless women carry an overriding -- often disabling -- fear of abandonment (5).

This multi-layered fall-out occurs because the foundation that a father usually lays for his daughter does not get formed. Not only are there emotional costs, but experiential ones as well. She does not receive those things that fathered daughters might take for granted: protection when life gets tough, safe male affection, and a Dad’s presence at life’s milestone events.

Gifts and Costs

Although the fatherless daughter consistently re-experiences fear of rejection or abandonment, our study also found that she is also building up some very powerful coping mechanisms over the years in the pure act of survival. She learns the importance of loyalty and compassion; becoming a friend that feels more like family to those close to her. Often faced with assuming responsibility at a young age, she grows up more quickly than her peers and develops qualities of self-reliance, leadership and perseverance.

The flip side of these positive attributes is that the fatherless daughter can take on far too much herself. Because of likely taking care of her mother, siblings, father, and most importantly, herself along her fatherless journey, she has developed the tendency to carry burdens for others. This can translate into her becoming over-stressed, physically ill and psychologically taxed. While she may have tremendous coping mechanisms, she is likely tending to herself last, leading to isolation, loneliness, feelings of unworthiness and negative coping mechanisms.

Other Relationships

Nearly 90% of women who lost their fathers reported finding emotional lifesavers in the forms of their friends, family members, coaches, therapists or stand-in father figures. But when these outside support systems do not show themselves, a daughter can be left with the tendency to gravitate toward unhealthy relationships because of a deep need to be loved and accepted.

In 2012, an analysis was done from the U.S. Census Bureau citing that 80 percent of single-parent families are father-absent households. When it comes to the relationship with her mother, a fatherless daughter might find herself scared to rock the boat, causing the daughter difficulty in differentiating her own beliefs, feelings and opinions. On the other hand, nearly one-third of our respondents described their relationships with their mother as growing closer after the loss, feeling a great deal of pride for the hard work she put in after Dad was gone.

The Fatherless Daughter Project

The Fatherless Daughter Project helps these extraordinary daughters turn things around when they find that their old ways of coping are no longer serving them. We offer them a place to call home among a sisterhood of women with whom they can relate and find support. True healing begins here, as a fatherless daughter reclaims her life by turning the corner from feeling isolated to realizing that she is not alone. With us, she can write a new powerful story and turn her pain into a life of purpose.


(1) Jackson, L. M. (2010). Where’s my daddy? Effects of fatherlessness on women’s relational communication. (Master’s Thesis, San Jose State University). SJSU Scholarworks.

(2) Cook, R. (2004).  Father absence and correlates of well-being among African-American college women.  (Doctoral Dissertation, Loyola College, Maryland, 2004). Dissertation Abstracts International, 64, 6367.

(3) Lucas, C. (2005).  Anger and depression in the father relationship. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Alabama at Birmingham). Dissertation Abstracts International, 65, 3707.

(4) Gaddis, M. (2003). When little girls grow up with dead fathers: A phenomenological study of early object loss and later intimate relationships. (Doctoral Dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2003). Dissertation Abstracts International, 63, 3472.

(5) Krohn, F.B. & Bogan, Z. (2001). The effects absent fathers have on female development and college attendance. College Student Journal, 35, 4.

Denna Babul, RN & Karin Luise, PhD

Denna Babul, RN, and Karin Luise, PhD, are the co-authors of The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives (Avery-Peguin/Random House, June 7, 2016), a book written to set fatherless women on the path to growth and fulfillment by helping them to understand how their loss has impacted their lives.

Denna-BabulDenna D. Babul is a RN, successful life coach, motivational speaker, author, medical expert and founder of the Fatherless Daughter Project. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Denna’s parents separated when she was only three years old and life, as she knew it, changed. After tragically losing her father when she was thirteen, she decided depression was not all that it was cracked up to be and decided to go after life with “all guns ‘a blazing.” After overcoming her biggest hurdle, Denna’s purpose in life is to now be the voice for all fatherless daughters.

A graduate of University of South Carolina, Denna started off her career as a Registered Nurse, climbed the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 medical company, and started and sold her own successful greeting card company, Dear Jon Cards. With the distinct ability to read people on the spot: mentally, physically and spiritually, Denna has been nicknamed “the reader,” and has the gift of figuring out where and why a person is stuck in order to help them reclaim their lives. With this, Denna recently launched her own podcast, Keeping it Real with Denna.

Denna has spent years involved in a variety of charity efforts. As a sponsor of the 2003 Rock and Roll Marathon, she raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia Foundation. She has also volunteered and raised money for Habitat for Humanity, The Atlanta Mission, The Atlanta Ronald McDonald House, Wellspring Living, The ALS foundation, and many more. Denna resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two children.

Karin-LuiseDr. Karin Luise is a sought-after psychotherapist, writer, motivational speaker and co-founder of The Fatherless Daughter Project. True to her hometown, Dr. Karin was born, raised and resides in Atlanta. Not being raised by her biological father, and having been abused by her stepfather, Dr. Karin never had a space of safety in the life of a man as she matured. Growing up in fear, distrust, and unaware of how to relate to men, Dr. Karin has transformed and rebooted her life, and now lives by her ultimate goal: to uncover your authentic truth and stand inside it in strength, peace and purpose.

Dr. Karin received her Early Childhood Education degree from Wesleyan College, her Master’s degree in Counseling from Argosy University, and her PhD in Counselor Education and Practice from Georgia State University. After college, Dr. Karin taught elementary and middle school before setting out on her journey as a therapist and educator. Back in the 90’s, Dr. Karin had a year of writing and producing her own live television segment, “Karin’s Korner,” on the local NBC affiliate in Atlanta.

A humanitarian at heart, Dr. Karin is deeply committed to the mission of the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities for over a decade, as well as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Dr. Karin is happiest when she is entertaining, cooking, practicing photography, stretching in Pilates and playing with her three children and family dog.

Additional Information about The Fatherless Daughter Project:
The Fatherless Daughter Project (TFDP) is an Atlanta-based non-profit (501c3) that is tied to the upcoming book by Denna Babul and Dr. Karin Luise, The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives, and formed to give back, educate, and hold a place for true sisterhood. The non-profit is committed to local, national, and global outreach for fatherless daughters, mothers, fathers, siblings, and those who love them- to encourage growth, healing and transformation in their lives and relationships.


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