How a New Father’s Brain Changes : Dad’s mental shifts are different from mom’s


By Esther Landhuis | Aug 13, 2015

The birth of a child leaves its mark on the brain. Most investigations of these changes have focused on mothers, but scientists have recently begun looking more closely at fathers. Neural circuits that support parental behaviors appear more robust in moms a few weeks after the baby is born, whereas in dads the growth can take several months.

A study in Social Neuroscience analyzed 16 dads several weeks after their baby’s birth and again a few months later. At each check, the researchers administered a multiple-choice test to check for signs of depression and used MRI to image the brain. Compared with the earlier scans, MRI at three to four months postpartum showed growth in the hypothalamus, amygdala and other regions that regulate emotion, motivation and decision making. Furthermore, dads with more growth in these brain areas were less likely to show depressive symptoms, says first author Pilyoung Kim, who directs the Family and Child Neuroscience Lab at the University of Denver.

Although some physiological brain changes are similar in new moms and dads, other changes seem different and could relate to the roles of each parent, says senior author James Swain, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan (brain diagrams below).

A 2014 behavioral study of expectant fathers showed that midpregnancy ultrasound imaging was a “magic moment” in the dads’ emerging connection with their baby. Yet the emotional bond was different than it is in expectant moms. Instead of thinking about cuddling or feeding the baby, dads-to-be focused on the future: they imagined saving money for a college fund or walking down the aisle at their daughter’s wedding.

“It was interesting how little dads’ images centered on an infant,” says psychologist Tova Walsh of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who led the study. “I didn’t hear dads talk about putting the baby down for a nap or changing diapers.”

Click to enlarge. Credit: © ISTOCK.COM

The Importance of the Father/Child Bond

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

One of the most magical moments of my life was being at the birth of
my child. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I remember
watching him squirm and cry as he met the world. I remember how he
paused to listen to my voice as I whispered my love for him and
commitment to him. To this day, spending time with my kids continues
to be one of my favorite activities. To not spend time with my
children is unfathomable.

For many fathers, this isn’t the case. They sit in hospital waiting
rooms, clapping each other on the back and congratulating one another
on a job well done, while their child enters the world without their
father next to them. The day after the delivery and every day after
are filled with missed opportunities to bond with their child and
influence the directions they will take in life. They rationalize
that they are sacrificing for their family by working long hours and
justify their emotional distance as modeling how to survive in
the “cold, cruel world.” Food on the table and a roof over head is
nice but nothing makes up for loving, nurturing relationships with
one’s father.

How do fathers build this bond? What barriers stand in the way? And,
what are some practical tools to help fathers strengthen their
children intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically? To
help me answer these questions, I asked for advice from dad’s who
have a close bond with their children. How do I know they have a
close bond? I asked their wives! What’s more, these wives are
webmasters of active parenting and family oriented websites.

How do you bond with your child?

In response to this question, all of the fathers answered alike. They
stated that the best way to bond was simply to spend time with a
child. What you do is not as important as doing something.

They divided activities up into four main areas: Physical,
Intellectual, Social, and Spiritual. A balance of these four areas
would result in a child having a happier, healthier life. Physical
activities are the most familiar to fathers and include working
around the house together, sharing a hobby, coaching an athletic
team, exercising together, and going places together.
Intellectual activities focus on being involved in a child’s
academics, participating in school related activities, encouraging
hard work, and modeling yourself as a their primary teacher of life.
Social activities centered on talking with children, sharing feelings
and thoughts, demonstrating appropriate affection and manners, and
getting to know your child’s friends. Spiritual activities are used
the least by dad’s but have the most power to influence a child.
These activities incorporate reading spiritual stories together,
going to church or the synagogue, praying with children, establishing
rules and order, being consistent and available, and exploring the
mysteries of nature.

What is difference between the father/child bond and the mother/child

It was quickly apparent from the surveys that dad’s have a different
approach or style to bonding than mom’s. Dad’s have a more rough and
tumble approach to physical interaction or may spend time in more
physical activities such as play or working on a project together.
Competition was also seen more in father/child bonding and was
considered healthy if used in small doses and with sensitivity to a
child’s temperament and abilities. Sportsmanship, but not necessary
sports activities, was regarded as an essential ingredient in the
development of a child’s characters. While the approach may differ,
the need for bonding with mom and dad is equally significant. One dad
joked that other than a couple of biological differences (e.g.,
giving birth or breastfeeding) he couldn’t see one as more important
than the other.

What barriers prevent fathers from achieving a bond with their child?

All of the fathers agreed that work and the mismanagement of time
were the biggest robbers of relationships with children. No one
discounted a father’s responsibility to provide for his family, but
all of them maintained that a healthy balance is needed between work
and family. They felt that society makes it easy to use one’s career
as an escape. Social influences tend to value the bond a child has
with mom to be more important than with dad. But none of the dad’s
questioned felt this barrier to be insurmountable.

Eliminating barriers in society begins in the home. Dads must
demonstrate that being involved in the home is important to them
before society will start treating dads as important to the home.
Dads need to take the initiative to change a diaper, clean up after
dinner, give the kids their bath, and do the laundry. The collective
effect of these “small” acts will ripple out into society to
create “bigger” change.

Can a father bond with a child if they did not have a father growing

The entire group affirmed that not having a father would make it more
difficult but not impossible to bond with a child. According to one
dad, bonding is more of an innate need or spiritual drive, than
simply a learned behavior. Therefore, fatherless fathers are not
doomed to repeat their own childhood experiences. Another dad
suggested “getting excited” by the little things that make a child
excited or happy. Getting down on the child’s level, regressing to
those early moments in life when you were a child, and sharing simple
pleasures with your child will foster the bonding missed the first
time around.

In summary, it is clear that the bond between a father and a child is
an important one. Barriers, such as social values and absent fathers
make bonding with children difficult but not impossible. Children
need the unique style of bonding that fathers can provide and fathers
can build that bond by spending time engaging in physical,
intellectual, social, and spiritual activities.

Beyond “Mom:” How Parenting Defines Us

By Demetria Gallegos

Everett Collection
Parents fall into roles within the household. How hard is it to change them?

When my daughters ask what’s for dinner, I have the extreme pleasure of saying, “I don’t know.”  Because I rarely do. Their dad makes almost every meal, usually from scratch, and in his hands, it’s tasty, economical and healthful.

John’s reign as Meal Parent began almost 16 years ago, shortly after our oldest was born.  When Jamie was ready for solids, she got home-made baby food, which made other mothers in our playgroup feel a little insecure.  I don’t remember ever asking him to be in charge of meals, but he was good at it, and – as the parent at home – he felt it was his responsibility.

At the time, with just one little baby, I never would have imagined who I have become.  Turns out, I’m in charge of Homework, Housekeeping, Photos and Tech Support.

I never understood how unrelenting the chores of parenthood would be, and how we would naturally fall into these roles.  It’s beautiful when it works (did I mention he’s also Laundry, Shopping and Dishes Parent? – I know, I hit the jackpot).

But sometimes you have to take on jobs that no one wants.  Midnight Parent, to help the child with the bad stomach. Sewage Clean-Up Custodian, after a basement shower drain kept exploding. Bug Killer. Shoveling the Driveway for Three Days After a Blizzard to Extricate the Cars Parent.  You step up when duty calls.  Every time these roles are invoked, I reflect anew with deep humility on how single parents do it.

I wrote this week about how John has been Pet Parent all these years, and how I considered challenging his primacy when one of the girls set her heart on adopting a cat.   In the end, I chose not to, in part because of my respect for the thoughtful process he has gone through with the girls to evaluate different potential pets and our ability to care for them well.  It’s always been his turf.

But things are changing and roles are shifting as our daughters get older, and we all become more mindful of how entrenched these patterns have become.

Propelling the four of them through homework can still be onerous, but increasingly, they track their own responsibilities and progress.

The girls and I have finally begun to feel guilty about leaving dishes in the sink, and realize how much John has been spoiling us.

One of our girls is very interested in cooking, and has begun trying recipes on us – to our delight.  We need more of that to happen.  And, in truth, I should probably make more than the occasional grilled cheese.

Jugglers, which parent are you? What do you think of the division of labor?  Would you set up things differently if you were starting over again?

Ron Asks: “How do you divide the parenting roles in your household?”

Working Mothers Multitask More Than Fathers, And Don’t Like It

“American mothers are multitasking for 48.3 hours each week, compared to 38.9 hours working fathers put in, researchers from Michigan State University reported in American Sociological Review. They add that women find multitasking a negative experience, compared to fathers who say that for them the experience is a positive one.”

Ron Huxley’s Reaction: A recent journal article reported that mom’s multitask more than dad’s and they find the entire experience more negative than do fathers. This could be because they do most of the work around the home, as the article implies, than do dad’s. I wouldn’t like it either if I was the one doing all the work either! The article gives some very simple advice: Dad’s need to help out more. Unfortunately, like most simple advice there is more complexity behind it, like social rewards or more flexible work hours. In our home it was do whatever you could whenever you could and this way, no one got resentful that the other parent wasn’t doing their part.

How do you divide the parenting/household responsibilities? Are dad’s really just slackers when it comes to parenting duties? Share your thoughts by clicking the reply button.

Common Reactions to Being a Stay and Home Dad and How to Deal with Them

In one study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2005, researchers from Yale University looked at the attitudes of our culture at large towards traditional and non-traditional families. The researchers defined traditional as a family with a working father and stay-at-home mother, and non-traditional families as families with a working mother and a stay-at-home father. The results of these studies were quite interesting, and they just go to show what some of the common reactions to stay-at-home dads are.

The researchers in this study found that people liked traditional families more, and that they expressed negative attitudes – usually very openly! – towards non-traditional families. Stay-at-home dads were somehow viewed as less-than by other people, and working mothers were not well-respected or well-liked unless they were working because of financial necessity rather than for personal fulfillment.

If you’re already a stay-at-home dad or have talked with people about the possibility of becoming one, this all probably seems like a no-brainer to you! It’s not at all uncommon for people to have a distinctly negative, know-it-all attitude towards stay-at-home dads. But then, of course, there’s the opposite extreme of those who paint you to be a hero just because you stay home with your kids. What’s a guy to do? Here are a few of the most common reactions to being a stay-at-home dad and what you can do about them:

The Hateful Reaction
When it comes to parenting, you simply can’t please everyone, nor should you try to. While every parenting decision from whether or not to breastfeed a child to whether or not to spank a child can come with hateful reactions from certain quarters, nothing seems to draw so many of these reactions as being a stay-at-home dad. (At least, that’s how you probably feel when you tell people that this is what you do!) Some people just don’t get it and never will agree with your decision.

The best way to react to this one is to ignore it! You don’t owe anyone else (not even your own mother-in-law!) a justification about why you’ve decided to stay home with your kids. If you’re getting a hateful reaction from someone you don’t even know, just walk away. In touchier situations – like when you’re dealing with family members – perhaps you can come up with a one-liner such as, “It just works better for us this way,” that you can throw in before you pointedly change the direction of the conversation.

The Effusive Reaction
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have those very liberal people who think that being a stay-at-home dad makes you a hero. While it can be nice to be praised rather than vilified for your current career choice, it can also be quite annoying because you know you’re just doing what’s best for your family and yourself at this particular moment in your history.

Dealing with those who think you’re a total hero for taking care of your kids can be tricky. Of course, you don’t want to offend them purposefully, but you might also want to just change the subject yet again. Again, having just a little something to say about your role as a stay-at-home dad and then changing the subject can be helpful.

The Advice-Giving Reaction
Part of the problem with our world’s perception of the roles of men and women is that people assume dads don’t understand how to take care of children by virtue of the fact that they are male. This is, of course, no true. Some men are just as much “naturals” at caring for kids as some women are, and every parent has at least a little bit of learning curve, no matter what their gender!

Just because men can’t give birth or breastfeed certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t competent enough to care for a child.
With that said, as a stay-at-home dad, be prepared for more than your fair share of parenting advice. It will come from moms at the playground, your family members, people you know a little, and complete strangers in the grocery store. There are a myriad of ways to handle the advice-giving reaction to your role as a dad, and the option you choose depends on your personality, how well you know the advice giver, and your mood on that particular day.

You could, for instance, just let the advice roll off your back with a polite, “Thanks for the advice” and, of course, a quick change of subject if you’re stuck in an actual conversation with the advice-giver. You could also become a little sarcastic, which is especially fun when you’re dealing with those who have much less parenting experience than you (or, in many cases, who aren’t parents at all and just happen to be of the female gender). Of course, if the person you’re speaking with has a similar parenting style to your own and is genuinely trying to help, it can be helpful to listen and learn! It might eat at your pride a little to take unasked-for advice, but sometimes you really will learn something helpful!

Reactions to being a stay-at-home dad can be difficult to get used to and to deal with at first, and if your career had previously been a big part of your identity, things can be even more difficult. However, learning to deal with these common reactions in a way that is helpful for you and for the people involved otherwise is a good way to make your time as a stay-at-home dad more successful.

By Daniela Baker

Daniela blogs at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison site. She blogs about family finance and as a mother of two, she firmly believes in the idea of having a bit of an emergency fund saved up just in case.

Ron Huxley’s Reaction: I love this post by DIY as it addresses some very common reactions to stay at home dads. I have known several families where the wife makes more money and has a more stable dad and this was the logical conclusion for their family. It seemed to work for them. I think it would drive me crazy.

Fun Ideas for Picky Eaters

Toddler’s can be the most finicky little people when it comes to just about anything; especially when it comes to eating! Parent’s are always trying to find fun, innovative ways of introducing new foods to the family menu. In this article I will be providing a few fun tips for letting your kids be the kitchen “Sous Chef” so to speak.

I’ve found that introducing new vegetables, colors and just about anything that doesn’t resemble a piece of chicken or slice of pizza is the most difficult task when trying to get my toddler to eat new things. A new game we’ve started together is—

The Calendar/Alphabet Game
Make a large calendar for the month and for each day have your children write a different letter of the alphabet on the calendar. For example, Monday “B”, Tuesday “M” etc … On Monday you and your children choose a new fruit, vegetable, dairy or grain that starts with the letter “B” to incorporate in the meals and snacks for that day. There is no limit to the many ways that the new foods can be added either. If you choose Broccoli for the new vegetable, liven it up a bit … have it as a snack, cold with their favorite dip or chopped up in a homemade cheese omelette for breakfast. Our favorite so far is “Y”, we made the best mixed fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt parfait with granola for dessert which followed our Yellow Squash Lasagna. It is very important to have your children involved in the prep work for each of the meals/snacks. It gives them a chance to connect with the food and learn to be creative. They’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when they finally sit down to enjoy the food that they never thought that would!

I’m a stay at home mom so my kids are almost always at home with me. to break the ongoing cabin fever that plagues young kids I try to implement atmosphere changes as frequently as possible, which leads me to my next tip—

The Color Wheel Picnic
This can be done as often as your schedule allows and it really is a lot of fun! On the same calendar that you use for the calendar game, put a star on a few days a month that you’d like to have a picnic, whether it is at the neighborhood park, your backyard, or in your family room on a rainy day.

Now have your child pick their three to five favorite colors for that day. Write down the colors and together go into your refrigerator and/or pantry. Find fruits, snacks, fresh vegetables, cheese/dairy and whole grains that match those colors and pack them into your picnic basket, have fun with your kids sampling all of the fun and colorful foods. Remember to bring a camera to document all of the colors that you’ve created with the food and take pictures to pin to your calendar so that you can remember just how yummy it all was!Along with creating fun and healthy meals with your kids, getting in enough physical activity is essential to their growth and what better way to connect eating healthy with staying fit. My next tip shows you how to help your toddler burn off some energy while getting your daily exercise in as well. I recommend spending at least thirty to forty-five minutes per day of physical activity—The Final Countdown
Who doesn’t know the saying “no pain no gain”? Well, who says you can’t have fun too? Countdown consists of combining a little math with a little exercise. Before starting remember, stretching is always important so do a few minutes of leg and body stretches with your children. Now, choose a number from one to five, for instance your child chooses the number “four”.. start off with doing four sets of four sit ups together. Remember to have them count along with you that would have been a total of 16 sit ups. When finished have them choose another number, “five” now do five sets of five jumping jacks, twenty-five in all. Once you’ve finished all numbers one to five reward yourselves with a nice cold smoothie or your favorite treat!These are just a few, fun, nutritious, and healthy tips to share with your children. Keep an eye out for more fun topics to come very soon!


Dads get depressed too

There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by at “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.

The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”

Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.