Your Brain Has Got This
Becoming a dad is something you’ll never be 100% ready for. You can read 100 books, tune into numerous parenting podcasts and scan copious mum and dad blogs and still only learn 1% of what you need to know. But don’t panic, you’re not alone, as every other parent on the planet is the same. There’s just no way to learn and know it all.
The question we’re asking is: is your brain ready to handle it all? Is your brain ready to be a dad? Is your brain ready to connect with and adore this tiny little thing delivered by terrified stalks? You’re about to find out.
Your Brain Changes On The Job
Studies have shown that a father’s brain can be malleable when caring for a child. So if you don’t feel quite ready yet, once the baby is born, your brain should kick into action. The 2014 study by Eyal Abraham et al., set out to change the fact that “little is known about the brain basis of human fatherhood, its comparability with the maternal brain and its sensitivity to caregiving experiences.”
The neuroscientists measured the “parental brain response to infant stimuli using functional MRI, oxytocin, and parenting behavior.” They found that there was a parental caregiving neural network, consisting of the emotional processing network “including subcortical and paralimbic structures associated with vigilance, salience, reward and motivation” plus social understanding and cognitive empathy.
In other words, interacting with your kids can trigger positive effects on parts of the brain.
They found that “fathers displayed greater activation in cortical circuits, associated with oxytocin and parenting. They also exhibited high amygdala activation and high activation of superior temporal sulcus.”
What are these things?
- Superior temporal sulcus – Described as the chameleon of the human brain for its multisensory processing abilities.
- Amygdala – Plays a big part in the processing of emotions.
- Oxytocin – A neurotransmitter hormone which plays a vital role in reproduction, facilitating maternal behaviors needed for caring for a child.
Findings highlight the “brain–hormone–behavior pathways that support parenthood and specify mechanisms of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers.”
This proves that even if you’re not ready to be a dad, your brain has ways of adapting and becoming ready when you interact with your newborn. Phew. It also trains your brain to work in new ways, to learn new ways of thinking, to process emotions differently and to adapt. As a dad you benefit in more ways than you may have first thought.
Get Ready To Play
Playing with your kids can encourage your brain to feel more ready to be a father. A longitudinal study by Karin Grossmann et al., compared 44 fathers’ and 44 mothers’ specific contribution to their children’s attachment to each parent. Their results confirmed that “fathers’ play sensitivity is a better predictor of the child’s long‐term attachment than the early infant–father security of attachment.”
Playing and being interactive was shown to be more beneficial for parent-child bonding and for their psychological security than “proximity” i.e. holding or cuddling the child.
Ruth Feldman’s 2015 study found that the parental caregiving part of the brain is shaped by infant physiology and behavior. They go onto explain how the “human parental brain (is) characterized by plasticity, uniquely expressed in mothers and fathers.” This highlights the brain-boosting benefits for both your brain and your child’s brain whilst you’re bonding, playing and interacting.
Therefore, if you want to focus on one thing as a new father, make it positive adult-child interactions.
Embrace The Cuteness
Apparently cuteness is the key that unlocks your brain’s parenting ability. In fact, it’s as simple as looking at your child and seeing what a cutie they are. Morten L.Kringelbach et al., explains that the “parent–infant relation is fundamental to infant survival and development” and emphasises how cuteness has emerged as a vital factor for attracting a baby’s father’s attention and affection.
They found that a father may find its baby’s visual features cute, but their brain’s can also react to the cuteness of its positive sounds and smells, without even being aware. Think top-of-baby-head smell – mmm yummy.
They used neuroimaging and found that “beyond caregiving, cuteness has a key role in facilitating social relations, pleasure, and well-being, as well as increasing empathy and compassion…. cuteness supports key parental capacities by igniting fast privileged neural activity followed by slower processing in large brain networks also involved in play, empathy, and perhaps even higher-order moral emotions.”
Previous research has found a link between cuteness in facial features to “innate releasing mechanisms” for instinctive caregiving behaviours. So get your baby that adorable matching outfit, as it will only boost your cuteness receptors in a good way.
Single And/Or Adopted Dad Role
Flexibility of a father’s brain by Sarina R. Saturn looked at the role of how a ‘traditional’ father can in fact change to take on the role of the ‘traditional’ mother too if taking on the role solo, due to the brain’s malleability.
They found that different parenting structures can allow mothers and fathers to adapt in their innate childrearing abilities. “Genetically related and unrelated primary caregiver fathers yield similar caregiving and hormonal ties to fatherhood.” So if you aren’t biologically related to your child, the same hormonal and psychological bonds can form as those who are biologically related. Or if you’re a single dad, thanks to the brain’s malleability, your brain can learn certain traits/techniques/chemical reactions needed to have a mother’s maternal connection with your child. Proving that single parents can do a pretty good job as a lone wolf.
The next time someone asks you if you’re ready to be a dad, you can share your new-found knowledge. Tell them you’ll pretty much let your brain do the hard work when the baby arrives. So instead of sweating it you’ll spend your time soaking in the nappy-filled, sick-covered, baby-giggling joy. You’ll be great.
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