Understanding Gender Differences in Parents Helps Mothers and Fathers Understand Each Other

What Are Some Gender Differences

in Mothers and Fathers?

Pregnant mothers think a lot about gender differences. They often feel their moods shifting up and down as their hormones are changing within their bodies. They feel excited yet also worried as they feel these shifting changes and the awareness the growing life within. They feel discouraged because they believe their husbands can’t possibly understand what they are going through and seek other females to share confidences with.

How Knowledge of Hormone Changes

of Expectant Fathers Help Mothers

Science journalist Paul Raeburn gathered data about gender differences by studying the changing hormones many fathers go through pre and post-natally. Raeburn reported that many first time fathers underwent hormonal changes before and after their babies were born.
• He discovered that expectant fathers had lower testosterone and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels and detectably higher levels of estradiol, a hormone known to influence maternal behavior in women.
• Equally remarkable was his finding that as the expectant father’s testosterone level lowered, the bonding hormone, oxytocin, increased preparing the man for involvement with his newborn.
I report these findings about gender differences , so mothers know their husbands, too, are experiencing hormonal changes that affect them during and after pregnancy. Although these hormonal changes are different from what the mother-to-be is going through, knowing this does help her trust him to be more understanding of her experience

Similarly, knowing these hormonal changes are occurring in her husband, can help her understand her husband better, as well.
These findings also help the expectant mother feel encouraged about her experience with her husband once their baby is born. She can now know that he will be prepared to help her understand their newborn’s mind. If the mother knows that the father’s hormonal changes prepared him for involvement with the newborn, she can trust him more in understanding their baby’s needs, something they can learn about together.

How Do Newborns React Differently to Mothers and Fathers?

These hormonal changes affect fathers’ desires to be involved with their newborns. But how do the infants react?
• Psychiatrist Dr. Pruett reported in 2000 that at six weeks, infants distinguish their father’s voice from their mothers. They prefer the mother’s voice when alert and quiet, yet prefer the father’s calming voice when upset.
• If the father’s voice is more calming while the infant is upset, he could take over and give the mother a chance to step back when her baby is fussing, so she has time to understand what is upsetting the baby. Mother and father can parent together.
• By eight weeks, pediatrician and researcher Dr. Yogman found that when infants were approached by their mothers, their heart and respiratory rates slowed, their shoulders relaxed, and their eyelids lowered. But when fathers approached the infants, their heart and respiratory rates quickened and their eyes widened.
• By the end of the first year, the infants protested separations from either parent less if they had an involved father. Developmentally, an involved father delays the onset of separation anxiety in an infant.
This information is again helpful for mothers who want to encourage the baby’s father’s involvement.
Based on these observations, we can assume that the father draws on an infant’s desire for novelty, of experiencing something different than the continuous maternal care if she is the primary caregiver. Some fathers enjoy animating their babies and toddlers in active play that is less predictable and more disruptive than some mothers, who tend to create more repetitious, reliable patterns in picking up, holding, and feeding their infants.
See if these findings fit you and your partner. How are you both similar or different?

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.’s upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, will be released in October, 2015.