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When dad encroaches on mom's world: one mother's story of acceptance

A few years ago, I got an early look at the changing worlds of fathers and daughters. I think about it as Father’s Day approaches.

My husband, a world-class dad by any definition, was taking my then middle-school-aged daughter and two friends to a dance. The un-broken chatter and giggling from the back seat suddenly stopped. He stole a glance in the rearview mirror and saw our daughter whispering behind her cupped hand in the ear of one friend, while the other – somewhat forlornly, he thought – busied herself looking out the window.

When they got to the dance, he took our daughter aside for a quick refresher on how it feels to be left out – and why friends don’t do that.

A small moment. I’m not sure we ever found out what the whispers were about. But as he told me the story, it struck me that there was a time when many fathers would have let it go – or told mom to have a few words with her.

Many still would. But still more are likely to move into parts of a daughter’s life where fathers past might fear to tread.

As daughters make more room for fathers in their lives, does that mean less room for mothers? Love is all embracing. But in the lives of young girls, emotional attention span is often limited. You can only roll your eyes at one parent at a time.

I experienced the collision of worlds when my husband was between jobs. He had the chance to spend time with our young daughter that usually isn’t available to a man who gets so busy he forgets to have lunch. All of a sudden, he was having breakfast with her, taking her to school, going on class trips, even going shopping.

In other words, the sovereign state of motherhood had been invaded by a foreign occupier. My husband soon took another job. And I regained my rightful place.

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But it was a sign of things to come. Their bond has grown through the years. They steal off for early-morning coffee. They sing loudly and badly to Kanye West in the car. Over the years she has been drawn to his work, and has been great at every assignment – with a work ethic that makes her father beam.

Like a lot of mothers who see the worlds of fathers and daughters coming closer together, I have had to fight the feeling of being a displaced parent – with territory deeded to me now shared with a new kind of father, who is relating to a new kind of daughter.

But as I examined my feelings (psychologists tend to do that) on my husband’s growing place in my daughter’s world, I slowly found perspective.

Their closeness is a good thing. Very good. Divisional parenting – I do this, you do that – is a relic on the same pile as all the other gender assumptions. Besides, I know I can talk to my daughter about anything my husband can. And there are some areas that will be a place for mothers and daughters alone.

My advice to all those who are newly sharing custody of a daughter’s time and enthusiasm: Hang in there, moms. Fathers are now in the game. But you are irreplaceable.

Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and author Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family (Rodale, May 2011). Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy at www.peggydrexler.com.