As appeared in the Frankly Fatherhood column of the March 2017 issue of The Mom & Caregiver Magazine
Holding my sons, skin-to-skin, only seconds after each of them were born will always be the most powerful and extraordinary moments of my life. To say that becoming a father has changed me is a broad understatement. And the bonding that began that moment is still today the most rewarding, challenging and intense feeling.
Nobody will ever deny mom’s unique relationship with their child but let’s take a moment to look into dad’s role in baby bonding. Until recently, the connection between infants and their fathers hasn’t been given much light. Dads have been given the “passenger seat” when it comes to the emotional and physical needs of newborns. But, we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift. More and more men are stepping up to the plate and being actively involved in all stages of child development. You can’t deny the increasing number of men pushing strollers at the mall or the growing voices of dads demanding change tables in men’s restrooms. According to Statistics Canada, fathers taking parental leave in Canada have increased significantly from three per cent in 2000 to 26 per cent in 2010 (Statistics Canada). I’m certain the numbers are higher today.
Studies are also starting to investigate the chemical side to father-baby bonding. A study by psychologist Ruth Feldman in Israel documented the increased levels of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) in new fathers, especially when engaged in play, laughter, exploration, and the ol’ dad classic, tossing baby in the air. In contrast, mom’s oxytocin levels were increased when sharing comforting behaviours such as hugs, baby talk, caresses and gazing into the baby’s face. (Read more about this study)
When parents are actively involved in their child’s development, kids do better in school, are less stressed, and are better equipped to deal with life as an adult. Our role as fathers is vital and our bond to our kids is deepened the more time we spend with them. So, after reading this, take a moment and plan some time with your kid. If you’re a new dad, get your hands dirty, change diapers, give baths, play peek-a-boo, tickle, and give skin-to-skin a try. Be active in Dad’s Club, come to an event, or host your own event/play date. Later in “dadhood,” talk to your kids often, take a drive for no reason, eat together, watch sports/movies together, …and never, ever stop playing with them!
Frank Emanuele, DCL member
Also check out The Importance of Father-Child Bonding, by The National