I spoke with Jean-François about his research on fathers as well as his own experiences as a dad.
What have you learned from your studies about dads?
We tend to give too much importance to the differences between moms and dads. In my research, it comes out clearly that moms and dads are very similar and in both cases, their emotional sensitivity is the main predictor of the attachment relationship they will have with their child.
A dad who does rough and tumble play should be able to read the child’s signals to know when it is not fun anymore and be able to repair. In the same way, a mom should be able to know when a child has had enough cuddling and needs to play and explore. So ultimately, for any parent (dad, mom, single, adoptive, gay…), the key ingredients are sensitivity and ability to correctly read the child signals.
Why do men start spending more time outside the house after the baby is born? Though I'm sure it doesn't describe you :)
Oh, that describes me as well. I resumed my volleyball night shortly after my first daughter was born. Although I also shared the parental leave (I spent 4 months alone with her, my partner had the first 8 months), so I was the main caregiver for a little while.
When we observe a secure child-father attachment, it is related to father's report on satisfaction with job, friends, couple, etc. For mothers it is not related. A lot of other researchers found that as well, including women researchers (e.g. Natasha Cabrera). I don't like it at all, and I'm not pleased to see that gender equity is not reached yet, but this is one of the first generations of men who really want to share child caretaking, and for some of them, the shock is brutal. Therefore, some fathers may need this breathing time to be better fathers to their child. Of course mothers need it as well, for their own sanity and mental health, but research shows that they are better at protecting their relationship with the child from their possible lack of satisfaction with these other spheres.
So my advice? You may not like it, but I would say that if you give a father some breathing time outside of the family, he should be able to build a more balanced and optimal relationship with his children. Rather than feeling forced to stay home, it will become a choice.
And to be fair, I had a night at volley-ball but my wife had a night off too. She sometimes chose yoga, sometimes she had a drink with friends. And she took her night off more often than me…
the original post was updated on 6/28/2016