Is There Such a Thing as Paternal Instinct?

man baby young muscular feeding little

We always hear about maternal instinct, the deep bond that a mother develops with her child or children. We talk less about paternal instinct, despite the fact that there are obviously many loving and caring fathers who play a vital role in our modern society. So, the question is: does paternal instinct exist?

Paternal instinct exists as much as maternal instinct does

If for some the existence of paternal instinct might seem certain, it’s important to realize that the subject is still being discussed. While men and women’s roles have dramatically changed over the years, our society still gives more credit to mothers and their maternal instincts. It’s true that, unlike women, men can’t feel their baby growing inside them or enjoy the bonding experience of breastfeeding. However, it doesn’t prevent them from feeling the powerful need to protect and nurture their kids. Furthermore, many of them find fatherhood extremely fulfilling.

Men’s attachment to their baby can develop at different moments throughout their child’s life. It could occur while they’re viewing the first echography or when they hold their baby in their arms for the first time. Sometimes the connection can emerge after a year or so. A large number of men feel this undeniable bond.

An illustration to accompany a blog post about paternal instinct. The scene features a father tenderly holding and interacting with his baby

The modern dad’s role has changed

Parenting styles and family types are not what they used to be. Modern day fathers are much more present in their kids’ lives than our grandfathers were. Whether they are single, living with the mother of their child, in a same-sex couple, a step-father, a co-parent, a stay-at-home husband or a CEO, the dads of today want to fully participate in their kids’ education.

The traditional role of the “paterfamilias”, the authoritarian man at the head of the family whose role is to provide money for the household, seems to belong to the past. Additionally, the former role of the housebound wife and mother is also no longer the norm. Besides, even if lots of women still choose to stay at home to raise their child, many these days prefer to balance work and motherhood, maintaining a career and sharing parenting responsibilities with the father.

What about maternal instinct?

The maternal instinct is the belief that, for women, the attachment to their child is instinctive or automatic. However, while the term is commonly used in our society, maternal instinct hasn’t been conclusively proven. Furthermore, the term has become controversial over the past few decades. Its critics contest that there is no ”biological” destiny and that women are not necessary made to nurture children.

Another argument is that the notion of maternal instinct is problematic as it may cause undue shame for women who don’t feel the need or the desire to have a child. In short, those against the idea of maternal instinct champion a woman’s right to choose to become a mother or not without being judged.

Levels of testosterone decrease when men become fathers

According to a study, becoming a father provokes a physiological change. In fact, scientists of the University of Northwestern in Illinois discovered that men’s levels of testosterone decrease after their child’s birth. Moreover, after collecting samples from 465 Filipino men, they realized that, for a father, playing an active role in their child’s life may stimulate a drop of the hormone. In fact, the more that dads spent time nurturing and taking care of their kids – feeding, bathing, cuddling or playing with them – the lower their level of testosterone.

The results suggest that social context can influence a man’s biology and that the reduced production of testosterone may occur in order to prepare a man for his new role as a father. In other words, the decline of the male hormone may encourage him to develop an emotional bond with his child. However, while this study appears to indicate that fatherhood has a demonstrable effect on men, its findings remain theoretical.

Whatever the truth, nothing changes the fact that many fathers of today have a deep and powerful attachment to their children. New dads love soothing, nurturing and spending time with their kids!

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