Dr. Helen

Do mothers really have stronger bonds with their children than fathers do?

Terry Brennan emails this interesting article from Medical Xpress:

From the marketplace to the workplace, it is mothers who are still perceived as having that “special bond” with their children. This is compounded by advertising and the widely held expectation that it will be mothers who take parental leave.

But in a rapidly changing society, is there really any reason to assume that mothers are any more suited to take care of their children than fathers? Some will argue that a superior “maternal instinct” is part of a woman’s biology. But do pregnancy, hormones or parenting experiences really create a stronger bond? Let’s take a look at the scientific evidence.

Some scholars argue that the relationship between parents and children can begin before birth. They claim that such “antenatal bonding” – feeling connected to the unborn baby – is an important predictor of the infant-mother relationship. However, the actual evidence linking feelings about the baby during pregnancy with postnatal behaviour is inconsistent, so it’s not clear how – or even if – such feelings influence later relationships.

But even if it is shown to be the case, another problem is that most of the research in this area has been conducted with mothers. We are now also starting to understand that fathers develop antenatal relationships too. It is also clear that not having the experience of pregnancy at all doesn’t mean that later relationships are compromised – as those who have adopted a child or started a family through surrogacy arrangements know.