Fathers often don’t have the same love-at-first-sight experience with their babies as mothers do, in part because they don’t have the same experience of pregnancy. While moms are already attached before they even meet the kid, men feel distinct, overwhelming emotions when an infant shows up. “One of the things men get hit with, especially first time fathers, is the enormous sense of responsibility and protection,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and professor of Education at Caldwell University. “That might interfere in the short term with that sense of bonding with the child.”
Part of this is biological. Women’s oxytocin levels surge during birth and pregnancy to facilitate bonding. And, although there’s growing evidence that men bond with babies during pregnancy too, studies suggest their oxytocin levels only truly surge once they spend time caring for their children.
And herein lies the rub. A mixture of maternal gatekeeping and societal biases tend to push men away from hands-on parenthood. One study out of Oxford University found that new fathers, “whatever their intentions about sharing roles with their partners, found they were ending up in quite traditional structures where mother raised the child and father worked to support them,” Anna Machin, the evolutionary anthropologist who conducted the research, told The Telegraph. “Many commented that the attitude of wider society relegated them to the role of supporter rather than parent.”
Barring mass societal changes, dads who are feeling guilty about their lack of bond with their baby may benefit from spending more time with other dads, experts say. Rather than asking themselves why they do not feel the way their wives do, sharing the experience with other men might take the edge off.
Whether it’s through a structured support group or shooting the shit at the park, overcoming the awkwardness of making friends as a grown man is vital. If you’re feeling down about your relationship with your kids, dads friends might just be the antidote.
“That’s one of the problems with men being more isolated in our culture and having fewer opportunities to be around other men,” Horowitz says. “It will help fathers to know what they’re thinking and feeling are not unique. That is comforting.”
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