David is an energetic, young father. He is the senior quarterback at the local college and comes to the office today with his wife, Maria, and their seven-week-old daughter.
David holds his daughter like a football then places her enthusiastically on the exam table for her check-up. Maria laughs as David starts to poke at his daughter. First he pokes at her feet, then her knees, then her stomach, then her nose. His daughter starts to breathe a bit faster, and her feet start to look jerky. Her eyes spring wide open, her eyebrows rise, and her shoulders go up toward his ears. “I’m ready for you, Dad!” her body seems to say.
Dad steps back from the exam table as Mom reaches over to undress her daughter for her exam. As Mom moves toward the baby, the baby’s eyes start to look drowsy and her body relaxes. Her movement slows down, and her breathing quiets and becomes more regular.
After a baby’s birth, her Dad’s oxytocin, the “love hormone”, temporarily goes up while his testosterone, the “macho” hormone associated with aggressive behavior, goes down. (The National Academy of Sciences.) Is it simply biology or is it culture that makes dads different from moms? While the jury is still out on this one, it is clear that, fathers respond differently to their babies. And, babies only 8 weeks old– seem to watch for, and expect, this difference.
There is no “average” mom or dad. And, in some families, the father may have more mothering characteristic than the mother. But, it seems essential that babies get to experience a balance of different parenting styles. While decades of research confirms the critical role of the mother, newer research points to the crucial value of father’s role.
- Fathers play differently – more roughhousing, more physical interaction help babies learn where their bodies are in space.
- Fathers build confidence – encouraging child to push to that next level of development.
- Father communicate differently. Mothers talk more. Fathers tend to be more direct and use fewer words.
- Fathers prepare children for the “real world. Fathers tend to have more comfort letting a child’s normal frustration build, thereby teaching the important life skill of “stick-with-it-ness”
When a child experiences the loving world of both mom and dad, they learn two ways of interacting with the world around them and acquire a broader set of skills for life.
“Ah-HA” Moment – What Mom and Dad learn together.
Maria learns to trust her husband “sporty” approach to playing, changing and cuddling their daughter. David seems more understanding of his wife’s concerns when their daughter is having a challenging few hours. David and Maria are discovering strengths in themselves as young parents as well as recognizing the growing skills of their partner. And, glancing down at their thriving baby, reminds them that babes are lucky when they are on the receiving end of a caring mom and dad.
© HUG Your Baby 2018