Parenting is a choice

Parenting under the snow

I recently start watching the new Netflix series “Babies”.

The series hosts thirty-six scientists who devoted their life study children’s development.

One of the scientists interviewed in the first episode in Prof. Ruth Feldman. I was very interested in what she explained, so I decided to read some of her last papers and write an article on them.

The work of prof. Feldman is related to oxytocin. In previous articles I wrote about this hormone because it is called the “cuddle hormone“, it is related to labour and delivery (1 and 2).

Initial studies on oxytocin and parenting involved mothers only. Then, researchers start studying the levels of this hormone in fathers.

They discovered that levels of oxytocin in care-giving mothers and fathers are similar.

Oxytocin increases in mothers, who provide a lot of affectionate contact and in fathers, who have a lot of stimulatory contact. Studies show that fathers highly involved in playing with their children have a higher level of oxytocin, compared with fathers, who show less stimulating activities. Moreover, brains of fathers involved in caregiving activities show an increase in grey matter volume.

The role of caregiving resilient fathers has been proven to be of a great importance in reducing the risk of post-partum depression in newly mothers and in enhancing the child’s well-being.

Feldman demonstrate that the level of parental oxytocin is fundamental not only for the establishment of the parent-child relationship, but also for the child’s oxytocin system and the development of his/her social competencies.

Finally, researchers studied the levels of oxytocin in gay fathers. In both parents high levels of hormone were produced, confirming that parenting and bonding are a choice.

The take-home-message here is: parenting in humans is not hormone-related. For this aspect we differ from the other mammalians. Parenting, parent-child relationship and the level of oxytocin depend on our behavior.

So, it doesn’t matter if you are a mother, a father, a biological or adoptive parent. The relationship with your child doesn’t depends on biology or genetics, but on your behavior, interaction and engagement only.

References:

Abraham and Feldman, “The neurobiology of human allomaternal care; implications for fathering, coparenting, and children’s social development”, (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.12.034

Feldman and Bakermams-Kranenburg, “Oxytocin: a parenting hormone”, (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.02.011

Feldman et al., “The neural mechanisms and consequences of paternal caregiving”, (2019), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41583-019-0124-6

Fujiwara et al., “Genetic and peripheral markers of the oxytocin system and parental care jointly support the cross-generational transmission of bonding across three generations”, (2019), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.12.004

Levy and Feldman, “Synchronous Interactions Foster Empathy”, (2019), https://doi.org/10.1177/1179069519865799

Vakrat et al., “Sensitive Fathering Buffers the Effects of Chronic Maternal Depression on Child Psychopathology”, (2018), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-018-0795-7

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Candidate in Food Chemistry, Science Teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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