As we adapt our lifestyles to environmental challenges and our evolving communities, there is one notable area which is changing and heartwarming for everyone involved: fatherhood.
Generations ago, fathers played the roles of protectors and breadwinners for the family. They were guardians who fought off enemies and the scourge of natural disasters. Mothers played the roles of nurturers and educators and were often children’s sole source of emotional support and physical affection.
As women entered the work force—jumping from 33% to 60% between 1948 and 20011—men’s roles in parenting adjusted accordingly to share in the duties of the primary caretaker. The effects of these changing roles are being studied and have already shown some positive effects not only on fathers but also on their children. Historically, research on child development has focused more on the sensitivity of mothers to fulfilling their children’s needs. However, in the last 20 to 30 years, research has increasingly focused on fathers. This is due to the growing role modern day fathers play in caregiving.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that fathers tended to be more involved in caregiving when they worked fewer hours than other fathers, had high self- esteem, lower levels of depression and hostility, and coped well with the major tasks of adulthood. In general terms, those fathers lived with co-parenting mothers who worked more hours outside the home than other mothers.2
Other research on the role of fathers suggests that the influence of father love on children’s development is as great as the influence of a mother’s love. Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional and cognitive development and functioning. Moreover, children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral or substance abuse problems.3
Fatherhood has become more complex as fathers take on more caregiving. Three areas of fatherhood that anthropologists and behaviorists have reported notable changes in are:
1. Commendation: Fathers of the past took on the role of disciplinarian and were sparse in their compliments. Modern fathers use positive re-enforcement to sustain outstanding performance in their children.4
2. Accessibility: Children have the freedom to talk to their fathers more than it was possible in the past. Now fathers communicate freely with their children. Very few topics are off-limits with the modern father. 5
3. Emotional Availability: In the past, fathers were mainly involved in protecting their children from physical harm. Now fathers want to be part of every little detail of their children’s well-being, from mental to physical health. 6
In the 1970s, attachment theory was the focus of child development studies, focusing on the first years of children’s lives and their bond with their mothers. Michael Lamb, a forerunner of fatherhood research and still continuing with studies at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., explains, “That went along with the assumption that the bond with the mother was the only [primary] relationship kids could form.”7 However, Lamb and a small number of other researchers were all coming to the same conclusion: Babies can form as strong an attachment to their dads as to their moms. From that seed has grown an intriguing but limited body of evidence stating that not only are men built to care for children, but that being an involved dad impacts kids’ physiologies, psychologies and outcomes for the rest of their lives.8
It wasn’t until the turn of this century that researchers discovered the fascinating detail that men’s bodies transform when they become fathers. Oxytocin—the “love hormone”— has been known to play a role in a mother’s initial bonding with her child after birth. Recently, researchers have observed that the same spike in oxytocin occurs when fathers hold and play with their newborns. The new fathers also register an increase in prolactin—a hormone best known for helping women produce breastmilk. Its purpose, it turns out, is greater than that.9
University of Notre Dame anthropologist Lee Gettler explains that the presence of prolactin goes back hundreds of millions of years to our animal ancestors—before mammals existed (even before breastfeeding existed). Over the past decade, Gettler’s research has come to some conclusions about the hormone’s function in modern-day dads. “Fathers with higher prolactin play with their babies in ways that are beneficial for their babies’ learning and exploration, and the fathers also seem to be more responsive and sensitive to infant cries,” he says. In other words, this ancient hormone plays some role in increasing dads’ desire to be close.10
In the book Do Fathers Matter?, science journalist Paul Raeburn summarizes findings from a 2007 Swedish study: “Children whose fathers played with them, read to them, took them on outings and helped care for them had fewer behavioral problems in the early school years, and less likelihood of delinquency or criminal behavior as adolescents.” When you talk to involved dads, you quickly discover that the positive effects of becoming one aren’t just for the children. Fathers’ own ideas of manhood expand during the transition, as do their abilities to form rewarding human connections. Having an involved dad has been associated with fewer cognitive delays, better school readiness, a decrease in tantrums and aggressive behavior, and lower rates of depression.11
Happy Father’s Day from Nikken! On June 19 this year, Nikken is celebrating fathers and men’s health with a self-care pack that empowers men with Active Wellness. Our Father’s Day Pack, available June 1 through June 30, targets the immune system and gut health with one bottle of Kenzen® Immunity and one bottle of Kenzen Lactoferrin® 2.0. You also receive a bonus bottle of Kenzen® Mega Daily 4 for men at no cost, an added retail value of $53 US / $65 CA.