As a dad, do you ever compare yourself to other dads? And you may have also heard it from random people trying to convince you not to compare yourself to others. But hey, comparing yourself to others is not always a bad thing. It is part of human nature. Humans are by default considered the “comparing creatures” in which they can become competitive to a certain degree, (originally) in a good way.
So why are some dads more involved with kids than others? Why are some dads more loving, caring, and spending so much time in their children’s lives, while other fathers, sadly, can afford to neglect, ignore, or even abuse their own children? The answers to these questions can vary and should be the result of looking at them from all angles. It’s not even about looking for perfection, as you know there’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to being a dad.
There are many factors why dads or moms behave the way they do, and almost all of them will tell you that raising a child is much more difficult than they expect it to be. But of all the factors, let’s focus on the biological forces that affect how a father behaves in relation to his children. In a series of groundbreaking studies by James Rilling, an Emory University anthropologist, who has devoted his precious time to documenting how differences in hormone levels, sexual anatomy, and brain activity can affect one’s involvement with children, which may help explain why some parents are more loving than others.
You can take a look at women, for example, and the biological changes they can undergo when they become moms. You will notice, at the most visible level, that their hips begin to spread while their breasts also swell. But not all changes are visible to the naked eye, and this can take place in the brain when new neurons and connections develop in the gray matter of a woman’s brain, and her body is flooded with hormones like oxytocin that facilitate bonding with a baby.
Like women, men’s bodies will also undergo some changes as they become dads. But since men cannot bear children or breastfeed them, many people will assume that men’s bodies are not really affected by this transition to fatherhood. Researchers have even reached a point where they knew next to nothing which biological factors could lead fathers to spend time caring for their children and which ones could interfere.
In the early 2000s, a team of scientists led by Anne E. Storey and Katherine Wynne-Edwards also began documenting hormonal changes in the male body, such as the loss of testosterone and the gain of prolactin. Prolactin, by the way, is a hormone involved in the production of breast milk. These scientists have discovered, based on their studies, that these hormonal changes can only occur if the father is in constant contact with the mother and the baby. The findings also point to how environmental factors could shape men’s bodies as they transition to fatherhood.
But do you know which biological force, among all these mentioned biological factors, is responsible for exerting the greatest influence on men’s caregiving behavior? Not surprisingly, it is testosterone. And while testosterone continues to appear in studies of men’s caregiving behavior, oxytocin also plays a huge role. This was demonstrated in a 2014 study by Rillings and his colleagues, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation, where they recruited 88 fathers of young children and 50 single men who were not fathers to participate in the study. All 88 fathers were found to have shown significantly higher levels of the hormone oxytocin in their blood compared to the 50 single men who were not fathers.