I’m thrilled that my second Father’s Day is here; I feel a mysteriously strong bond with my son Alex. “Must be the hormones,” you say. Actually, maybe it is. There’s growing body of research that shows fathers experience many of the same physiological responses to parenthood that we traditionally associate with new mothers such as an increase in oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Newer research published in Biological Psychiatry shows similar surges in new dads.
“…Oxytocin was higher in mothers who provided more affectionate parenting, such as more gazing at the infant, expression of positive affect, and affectionate touch. In fathers, oxytocin was increased with more stimulatory contact, encouragement of exploration, and direction of infant attention to objects.”
An NBC News Father’s Day article from 2013 stated that “fathers get many of the same rushes that mothers do from parenthood, but the payoff depends on proximity and interaction. For example, researchers see the effect if the child sleeps with the parents, if the father recognizes and responds to the baby’s cries, and if Dad plays with the kids. When that proximity isn’t present, the fatherhood effect isn’t as strong. There seems to be some kind of fundamental social-neurobiological framework that comes into play when fathers interact with their kids.”
Fathers also play a crucial role in challenging their children’s comfort zone, as an excellent Scientific American article shows: “A father’s predilection for training his kids to be physically tougher and more daring suggests to some researchers that fathers open kids up to new experiences to help prepare them for future life challenges.
A neat bit of research from 1995 encapsulated this idea. While studying the behavior of parents who had enrolled their 1-year-olds in an infant swimming class, investigators found that fathers tended to hold their babies so they faced out into the water, whereas the mothers stood in front of their children, establishing face-to-face contact.”
Kids who have stable and involved dads are better off on nearly every cognitive, social and emotional measure researchers can devise. For instance, high levels of father involvement are associated with children who are more sociable, confident and self-controlled and less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence.
All of this research makes me even more excited to be deeply involved with raising my little Alex, and I am both humbled and honored to have such a task. Time to go play!
Photo: Kenny Louie (Flickr)