Fathers and mothers bring different gifts to their children -- and we should welcome that.
“Don’t — yikes! — just don’t do that in front of me, okay?” said my mom, trying not to cringe.
My husband was throwing our one-year-old pretty high up in the air, and catching him. The last thing my mom wanted to do was spoil the fun, because the baby was laughing his head off, but still. She knew the baby was safe, but it was making her kind of twitchy.
I feel like that, too, sometimes, but I was lucky enough to find some information early on that reminds me to bite my tongue. Those times that my husband is acting like a miniature amusement park ride for kids who are loving the heady sense of danger (but know perfectly well that they’re totally safe)? That’s how dads bond.
It turns out that while mothers bond with their babies by lots of snuggling, lullabies, and quiet, cozy moments, that’s not how dads are hardwired to bond at all. Dads get that same oxytocin boost by rough-and-tumble play. A piece in Live Science, drawing from a study on paternal bonding, explains:
“Oxytocin levels in men were triggered by stimulatory parenting: tossing the baby in the air, pulling the little one up to sit, or encouraging exploration and laughter.
A mother’s oxytocin levels, by contrast, were related to affectionate parenting such as soft hugs, caresses, light pokes, baby talk, or simply gazing into the baby’s face.”
That’s not to say that dads don’t, or can’t, enjoy those quiet moments too, or that moms can only love baby-talk and cuddling. But it does give me a good reason to step back and let the kids play with their dad, even when what he’s doing seems a little crazy to me.
Recently, our infant woke up in the middle of the night, and my husband got up and changed her. Then he brought her in to the bed, tickled her, made some goofy noises at her, tossed her up and down a few times (and got her laughing) … and then handed her over to me to nurse. I looked at him like, “Thanks a lot, man. You think she’s going to want to nurse now?”
Then I realized he’s just as smitten about the baby as I am in the middle of the night. She’s just the cutest when she’s sleeping. So he wanted to do some quality bonding with her, which is what I would have wanted to do, too, except my version wouldn’t have gotten her quite so stimulated.
I’ve seen a lot of new mothers worry that their husband isn’t too interested in lullabies and cuddling when it comes to his new baby. At first, maybe, he doesn’t know how to interact with his infant. Then later, when she’s old enough to respond, he’s making the baby jump and laugh, with funny faces and startling noises. We might wonder whether they should be bonding more. Is something wrong?
Nothing’s wrong, quite the opposite. They absolutely are bonding. It’s just what looks like bonding to us isn’t the only way there is to bond. For dads, the more “stimulatory activity” the better — even sometimes in the middle of the night.