Change a diaper – change your brain!

Family patterns have changed dramatically in the past 30 or 40 years, as both partners generally work outside the home. The theoretical goal has been for spouses to share housework, parenting, and wage-earning. But the reality has been that women (or the designated caretaker in same-sex relationships) still do the bulk of both housework and child care. That’s not particularly fair or ultimately the most practical arrangement, but there are other good reasons to pursue a more equitable setup.

Recent neuroscience research finds that full participation in the physical care of a baby leads to significant changes in the structure and functioning of the grownup’s brain. Men who regularly take care of babies show changes in the amount of vasopressin their bodies manufacture. That is a hormone that contributes to protective and caring behavior. It will be interesting to see if longitudinal research can demonstrate that dads who take care of babies are less likely to be angry or violent with children.

So the bottom line is that fathers (or the non-caretaking parent) can and should be enlisted in babies’ regular physical care. Everyone will gain – mothers can discover that sharing the pleasure and work of childcare feels good; babies will have the benefit of stronger, safer relationships with both parents; and dads will forge a strong bond with their family and feel even greater commitment to protecting their children.

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