Dad is a prolific writer, one of the best in the world in his genre. He’s been a very wealthy man for two decades now. He’s also a single dad, raising his daughter on his own. They have been best friends for the first nineteen years of her life. She’s definitely a daddy’s girl, having a tolerance and sometimes a fondness for the boyish games he’s engaged her in through the years. From athletics to video games to paintball courses to laser tag games in their own spacious home, she’s been a good sport about all of it because this man-child dad of hers is her loving father and he’s always made her feel special and safe.
Sound familiar? If you’re a Castle fan, I’m sure it does as I am using Rick and Alexis Castle from the famed TV show as a case study. The other day TNT aired an episode I’d seen when it first aired on ABC but upon a second viewing saw so much revealed in this daddy’s girl/mama’s boy pair that I was inspired to write about it.
The episode has a secondary story developing the relationship between Alexis and her boyfriend, Pi. When the episode begins, Rick is frustrated by the fact that Pi has claimed the great room sofa as his bed for a month. He disdains Pi for lots of reasons. Pi has a head full of unkempt curly hair sprouting out of his head full of new age, alternative, and environmentalist ideals. He only eats fruit and his job is with an organization that counts bees. Rick perceives Pi to be a man-child unworthy of his beautiful, intelligent, talented daughter. When he confronts Alexis about it, likely hoping to get rid of Pi from her life as well as his own, Alexis stuns him with the news that she and Pi are about to rent an apartment together. Pi is about to finally exit Rick’s home but he’s taking Alexis with him. This is not good news.
As soon as the young lovers are settled in their new home, they invite Rick and his mother, Martha, over for a meal. During the meal Rick is disparaging of Pi, rude to both Pi and Alexis, and sends Alexis signals as if to communicate, “Your choice of boyfriend upsets me and I really don’t understand why you don’t dump him so I can get back to life as I knew it!”
After the painfully awkward evening, Martha and later his girlfriend, Kate Beckett, convince Rick he was out of bounds. So he drops in on Alexis to see what he can do to make things right. She compares Pi in her life to Kate in his and tells her dad he needs to respect her choice, not because he thinks it is the right choice but because her choice makes her happy. He allows that she’s right and wants the two of them to go out for ice cream right there on the spot to celebrate the resolution of their difficulty. She looks at him incredulously and says, “No, Dad,” explaining she needs time to get over being mad at him and he needs time to become genuine about the change in his attitude. Basically she communicates to him that she needs a break from him and he needs a time out to think about what he’s done wrong! On the surface it looks as though they’ve switched roles. However, they are deeply ensconced in their roles. As a daddy’s girl of a father who is a mama’s boy, Alexis pulls rank because she has always taken care of her father, nearly every bit as much as he has taken care of her.
What struck me most about this second viewing is the betrayal Alexis clearly feels – a betrayal her father can neither witness nor feel. He is neither present to her feelings nor the effect his words and behavior have on her. As a mama’s boy, he’s raised her to take care of his needs and his status quo. Her choice of boyfriend has upset his world and all he can feel and see is how she needs to go back to being his adoring, agreeable daughter so that he can feel better.
In Pi Alexis has indeed chosen a man-child. But she has done so because she was raised by one. And the man-child who protected her, fed her, clothed her, put a roof over her head, and raised her taught her to love, respect, admire, and cherish the child in him. So when her dad is disrespectful of and painfully rude to Pi as an individual and disrespectful of and rude to Alexis because of her choice of Pi, he is cutting her to the marrow, judging the very woman she is – the woman he raised her to be. Pulling rank on Rick is the best, most healthy thing Alexis can do. If she’d acquiesced to his desire she would have closed the book on living her own life. It would have been pitiful and pathetic, making one wonder if Rick would have been gratified to have his life back to normal or if he would have realized he’d turned into a monster asking his daughter to sacrifice her life for his. Better for Alexis to practice tough love on her dad now, at 19, than to give him what he wants and spend the rest of her life second-guessing her choices while seething in resentment of him.
In case you are not a viewer of Castle and this piques your interest, I won’t give away any spoilers about what happens between Alexis and Pi. But you can bet what happens next is on Alexis’s terms, not her father’s.
In Getting Back to Love: When the Pushing and Pulling Threaten to Tear You Apart, we talk about how without a clear intention and plan to do otherwise, mama’s boys can only raise other mama’s boys and daddy’s girls; and daddy’s girls can only raise other daddy’s girls and mama’s boys. The phenomenon is deeply ingrained – perhaps from infancy – and so it’s what they have and all they have to pass on.
Now Castle is fiction, not real life. I don’t know if it’s based on some of the writers’ real lives but, with 19 years of pleasing her dad under her belt, Alexis having the strength of her convictions and her head and heart clear and grounded enough to set boundaries with her dad is phenomenal! Television story phenomenal. In real life a daughter like that would have been conflicted to the point of confusion, even despair, not knowing how to please both Pi and Rick, basically “torn between two lovers.” She wouldn’t have had much of a chance to please either of the men or herself and would have made herself miserable trying to sort it all out. She might have spent the rest of her life trying to please the men in her life, being submissive and affable, living their version of her life instead of her own. If she found a man to commit to, she might settle for someone her dad approved of or choose a man who would make a habit of imposing unreasonable demands on her.
As we say in Getting Back to Love, “The danger for a Daddy’s Girl is not that she will marry a man like her father, but that she will marry a man whom she can take care of the way she believes she took care of her father. It has more to do with how a woman pictures her relationship with her father than what he may or may not have actually required of her. She may have developed the sense that she is crucial to his welfare. Later, that sense of “necessity” is what determines how she interacts with the men in her life. In other words, what feels like home is a relationship with a man where she feels necessary to his life and happiness.
However, there is help for this predicament that mama’s boys and daddy’s girls find themselves in! The in-depth answer to the problem is found in Getting Back to Love, which is actually a quick but transforming read. But for this essay right here, let’s shift gears to solutions right now!
There is a narcissistic quality that mama’s boys and daddy’s girls share. It isn’t pathological, rather it’s a unique way they have of making it all about them. I explain this unique narcissistic quality in just a bit but want to go ahead and begin addressing techniques that can help. So the first thing a mama’s boy or daddy’s girl can do is practice slowing down, stepping back, and refraining from making it all about them. In the illustration from Castle, Alexis refuses to allow her father to make her choices all about him. If Rick was knowledgeable about the mama’s boy/daddy’s girl dynamics, he could choose to do whatever it takes to refrain from making Alexis’s life and choices all about him.
For instance, there is the sit on your hands technique which simply boils down to this: when you find yourself wanting to say or do the thing that you know will incite resistance, resentment, and/or a fight, sit on your hands and keep your mouth shut. If you’re standing, hold your hands behind your back and keep your mouth shut. Women can do this too when they want to bully or boss the men and boys in their lives. Sitting on your hands or holding your hands behind your back is just uncomfortable enough to help you maintain your focus and intention of, well, behaving yourself and refusing to make their words, feelings, choices, and lives all about you. Both of these are also open body postures which helps with your intention to remain open to your loved one rather than closed off – which is what folding your arms across your chest would accomplish. Folding your arms across your chest combined with the tension of managing feelings and words your are trying to refrain from sharing would only shout those feelings and words through your body language.
There is another, highly valuable, technique you can do any time of day or night. You don’t have to wait for a tension filled moment but can do this when things between you are either neutral or very good. This is the honor and respect the opposite sex technique. When mama’s boys and daddy’s girls feel entitled to special treatment by the opposite sex, it means they feel superior to the opposite sex. People become mama’s boys or daddy’s girls because they are invited by one or both parents to take the place of one of the parents. That is too much responsibility for children but it is seductive. Children fall for the invitation and do their best to fulfill the hopes of the one parent to take the place of the other. This makes them feel superior to the parent whose place they tried to take as well as superior to the parent who needed them to do that. This is where the unique narcissistic quality of mama’s boys and daddy’s girls takes root.
Truth is a child cannot take a parent’s place. Deep down inside, the children know this. The end result is a child who grows up into an adult that, out of deep insecurity, feels superior to others – particularly the opposite sex. So the remedy is to practice honoring and respecting the opposite sex, beginning with those closest to you. Those closest to you will challenge you to disrespect them because you have buttons that are easily pushed by those dear people!
There is one final technique that helps mama’s boys and daddy’s girls gain balance in their lives. This one may be the most difficult. Even so, it is the most valuable. And that is the loving and respecting yourself technique. Mama’s boys and Daddy’s girls are not created in a vacuum. Your parents had needs they couldn’t get met but you did your best to offer yourself as a substitute. Their needs grew out of their relationships with their parents, and so on and so forth. Spending time putting your attention on yourself and offering yourself your own love, respect, and devotion frees you up to love and respect others more deeply and genuinely than you ever thought possible. And that increases the love in your life and theirs. It’s a win-win.
It may be obvious but let me state that these techniques work for adult mama’s boys and adult daddy’s girls in any relationship – parent to child / spouse to spouse / among friends and coworkers. If you are a mama’s boy or daddy’s girl raising children, as the adult it is your responsibility to practice these techniques yourself – not to try and teach them to your children. Trying to give these techniques to your children before you master them yourself would be one more way of asking them to be the adult in their relationship with you! Rather, master these techniques for yourself in every relationship where the mama’s boy/daddy’s girl dynamics interfere. As your way of interacting with yourself and the world becomes more balanced, your children will benefit and learn by example. If they’re old enough, they might inquire as to the changes they see. Being available to their inquiry is a great place from which to have a conversation because it’s about their curiosity not about you getting your needs met from them.
If you want to read more – if you think you or someone you love is a mama’s boy or daddy’s girl, I highly recommend Getting Back to Love. It’s only 137 pages long but it effectively tackles this subject and gives you tools to transform your life and your love life out of the dysfunction caused by the mama’s boy/daddy’s girl dynamics so that you can have more love and satisfaction. We sell it at our site here. If you have a Kindle or Kindle app, you can find it at Amazon here.