Duncan Fisher, former CEO of the Fatherhood Institute and founder of MumsandDadsNet, explains why the equal importance of mums and dads isn’t just a matter of opinion — it’s backed by brain science.
The latest research showing that adult brains change in response to caring for children is a game changer – it happens to fathers as well as mothers. The changes in the brains of men who are highly involved in caring for babies are similar to what happens in mothers’ brains.
This latest research, coming hard upon new knowledge about how hormones in men work in response to babies – with a similar pattern of a bigger change with more frequent exposure – fits perfectly with the theory of human childrearing proposed by anthropologists like Sarah Hrdy.
This theory says that babies and children are dependent on group care by adults and that the contribution of men throughout human history has been so substantial and so critical to human survival, albeit very variable in different environments, that human men have evolved substantial capacities to care for infants.
Part of human history
These capacities can remain dormant – in a way that is much less likely for a woman who actually goes through the experience of birth – but they are triggered by exposure to pregnant women and babies. And once triggered, they result in changed lives for both the child and the man who is caring.
This new research also corroborates the evidence that men who are involved a lot in caring for their infants early on are more likely to be highly involved for the remainder of their children’s lives.
I believe this new evidence presents the strongest argument yet of the importance of fathers’ bonding with their babies from the earliest moments – and the evidence shows that it is not just bonding between fathers and their own biological children that can yield these life-long changes. It can be any man. That too is consistent with the human history of group care of infants.
Advocates and champions
Babies who are bonded with men in this way are safer and will do better in their future lives because of it. These children will have more protectors and more advocates and champions. That’s one of the advantages that group care confers and has been a vital factor in the growth of the human race. Had this not been so for many hundreds of thousands of years, there would have been no evolutionary pressure for human men to develop these strong capacities to bond and to care.
In the modern world, these bonds will give fathers the strength to fight against the forces that do not want fathers to be close to their children – the cultural beliefs that caring is “feminine” and that men are biologically impaired on this front, the feminisation of the whole world of caring for children, the institutional barriers that men face when trying to take time off work and get support in their role as carers, the idea that lack of father involvement is all down to the weakness and uncaring of men.
I rejoice that all over the world we are seeing men who want to be closer to their children than their fathers were to them. I rejoice at the celebration of father-child relationships that is flourishing among teenagers and young adults on social media – Tom Fletcher’s song has got 9.5 million views so far. This is a massive force for good in the world, not just for children but for the whole human race.
What a great privilege I feel it is to work for the protection and promotion of strong relationships between fathers and their babies!
To read more great articles by Duncan and hear about the latest research and thinking on co-parenting, check out www.mumsanddads.com. This article was first published there on June 1 2014.
Photo courtesy: cheriejoyful