Growing into the Role: New Dads and Brain Research

Several years back, researchers at Yale University looked at the brains of men right after their first children were born, and then again a few months later, and found some interesting results. It’s a limited study, but the scans actually showed significant biological differences in the dads’ brains as they grew into the role of fathering their infants. (See more on the study here.)

For example …

They became better at multi-tasking.

We know many moms make this adjustment, and to some extent, dads apparently do too. Apparently the gray matter in the brain grows, and this impacts a father’s ability to handle numerous issues at once. And it’s no secret we need that to keep up with a young child’s almost constant and ever-changing needs. (And no, checking your phone or streaming a show doesn’t count as one of the tasks.) Maybe the biggest challenge here is giving our baby a lot of our undivided attention.

Also, the dads became more emotionally responsive.

Typically, having a baby hits us in ways nothing else does. Macho guys quickly become mushy and teary-eyed when we hold that little bundle and start considering all the amazing possibilities the future holds. That emotion will also often translate into a heightened sense of responsibility as we think about the awesome responsibility of protecting, providing for, educating, and nurturing this baby—for the next few years and far beyond.

Related to that …

The dads grew in sensitivity to their baby’s needs.

We become tuned into our role, and it becomes a priority to be there for whatever the child needs. We can also build up this sensitivity by intentionally becoming more aware of our baby—both in terms of developmental milestones that apply to all infants, and the things that make him or her unique. So read books or Google child development for your child’s age or stage, and talk to your baby’s mother and others who are around him/her to get their ideas about what makes your child tick.

Also worth mentioning are a few intriguing finding from the study: the dads’ memories decreased, and as they tuned into their babies on an emotional level, there was less activity in the area of the brain that handles complicated decisions.

Take what you believe is relevant to you from all these findings.

Most of us start out pretty lost as fathers. Raising kids is an awesome privilege and responsibility, and it can be overwhelming to think about. But looking at the big picture, when we dive in and do our best, we will very likely learn and grow into the role. Parts of our brains kick into gear when they are needed, and we’re able to adapt to our children.

We can be the fathers our children need, and at just the right time. That should give us confidence and a sense of purpose as dads.

And be ready to continue adapting through the later stages of fatherhood. Whether or not the brain continues to change, our confidence as dads grows as the relationship with our children deepens. So all the different challenges—the terrible twos, the elementary years, adolescence and beyond—won’t be quite as daunting.

If you’re a new dad, be encouraged. Maybe you’re still getting used to the idea of being a dad. But don’t be surprised if you’re pretty well prepared for every fathering challenge that comes along.

What was it like for you when you first became a dad? Did you notice changes? Make drastic life adjustments? Leave a comment and see what other dads are saying on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • Talk through with someone (or maybe write out) your memories from the day you became a father. What stands out? How did you feel?
  • Are you naturally good at multi-tasking? Do you often have 2 or 3 things going at once? How about when you’re with your kids?
  • What really “gets to you” emotionally about fatherhood? Is there a father-focused movie, commercial or image that makes you teary-eyed?
  • What do you do when you’re really interested in something or you’re researching some item you want to buy for yourself? Do the same with your child’s stage of life.
  • Where would you rate your level of confidence as a dad right now? What would help you be more confident?
  • Plan a one-on-one activity with your child—even if it’s just you and your infant going for a walk or a trip to the store.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.

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