World Congress of Families IX: Parental presence is vital for children’s development

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Steven Potter
Destinee Galbraith and her daughter, Samantha, pause outside a session at the World Congress of Families. Galbraith said brought her daughter to the conference because family is vital to her and she wants to learn more. (Steven Potter)

Hearing that the biological roles of both mother and father are crucial to children’s development in the home affirmed what a largely female, overflow crowd at the World Congress of Families already believes.

Jenet Erickson, an associate professor at Brigham Young University primed the discussion of parental import when she said, “Dads don’t mother, and moms don’t father.”

Even before giving birth a mother’s oxytocin levels increase, and natural behaviors of attachment are expressed. Miriam Grossman a medical doctor from the Center for Medical Integrity in Intimacy Education added said that as a baby is carried in the womb encased in amniotic fluid, the baby smells and tastes the woman. This unique smell and taste helps the baby recognize and trust its mother in the first few moments after birth.

Through gazing, touching and “cooing” to their baby, mothers express their own attachment. The gentle care a mother takes to protect and help her child will increase development of moral and emotional understanding and individual identity according to Erickson.

An advocate for keeping a mother and baby together as they develop the critical bond of trust and love that begins immediately after birth, Grossman said surrogacy and even adoption undermines this crucial developmental stage of the child.

“It is a law in several states and countries that puppies are required to stay with their mothers for at least 8 weeks following birth,” Grossman said. “If society can understand the importance of keeping newborn puppies with their mothers, then society should also understand and apply similar laws for humans in their early development.”

Science supports the traditional family, according to Grossman.

“The attachment between mother and child is unique and powerful. Hormones change a woman’s brain and a baby is born loving and knowing its mother. The world thinks that any family structure is equally good, they are wrong,” Grossman said.

Mothers and babies aren’t the only ones affected at birth. Fathers play a critical role in their child’s development. They also experience increased oxytocin levels at birth that cause a different reaction in developing attachment with their child.

“Fathers will tickle and toss and have a baby up over their shoulder or in a football hold. Such actions are stimulatory, inducing behaviors that help a child develop social skills, experience different views of the world and learn how to handle emotions,” Erickson said.

The absence of fathers in the home is the most significant problem facing America, according to a 1999 study done by the National Center for Fathering. Ruel Haymond, a teacher at the American Heritage School, added staggering statistics concerning fatherless homes.

He said 24.7 million children in America live without their fathers; 90 percent of homeless and runaways are fatherless; 80 percent of rapists are fatherless, and 63 percent of successful suicides trace back to fatherless homes.

The absence of fathers tends to send children searching for the same type of emotional love only fathers can offer, and in that search children often find themselves in potentially risky situations, Erickson said.

“Father absence is the greatest risk factor (in predicting) teen pregnancy among girls,” Erickson said.

Warwick Marsh, a co-founder for the Fatherhood Foundation in Australia, encouraged fathers to be present in the home.

“Fathers, you’ve got to be there playing with your children, getting down on their level, throwing them up in the air, making sure to catch them. Show them unconditional love through all situations and all circumstances and make your children feel special. If you don’t, who will and for what reasons?” Marsh said.

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