Mothers and Fathers as Parents

There tends to be a general assumption that mothers are better at parenting; it makes sense, as they have carried the child, given birth to it, and generally breastfeed, so it seems reasonable that their bond, their commitment to the child, should be stronger than the father. But new research sheds some doubt on this. This is from yesterday’s i paper, from research by Abigail Millings, Angela Rowe, Judi Walsh:

Some scholars argue that the relationship between parents and children can begin before birth. They claim that such “antenatal bonding” is an important predictor of the infant-mother relationship. However, the evidence linking feelings about the baby during pregnancy with postnatal behaviour is inconsistent.

Another problem is that most research in this area has been conducted with mothers. We are now also starting to understand that fathers develop antenatal relationships too. It is also clear that not having the experiences of pregnancy doesn’t mean the later relationships are compromised – as those who have adopted a child or started a family through surrogacy know.

Oxytocin, heralded as the bonding hormone, is released in large amounts during birth and breastfeeding to help regulate maternal bonding in mammals. But fathers experience rises in oxytocin equal to mothers when interacting with their infants.

There are differences between mothers and fathers in the eyes of interaction that produce rises in oxytocin. For mothers, it is behaviours such as baby talk, staring into the baby’s eyes and affectionate touches. For fathers, playful touches and behaviour – such as presenting objects – seems a more important factor.

a problem with understanding the differences between fathers and mothers is that most research on bonding doesn’t compare the two. as mothers stay home with the child more often than fathers, it is difficult to find enough households where fathers are a primary caregiver. So we don’t know whether fathers interacting with bailies differently from mothers is about biological differences or bread-winning and child-rearing roles.

ut are fathers good at understanding their child’s needs? One study examined the ability of mothers and fathers to identify the cries of their own infant for the of others, and found that this was directly linked to the amount of time the parent spent with the baby – rather than their sex. The evidence suggest that the argument that biological mothers have a greater bond than non-biological mother, or fathers, is difficult to substantiate.

The full article is eat

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