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November 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Much like Anne-Marie Slaughter before them, James Taranto and his sole source, psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, are so eager to push their thesis on readers that they ignore science that contradicts it (Wall Street Journal, 10/27/17). For Komisar, and therefore Taranto, science tells us that, for at least the first three years of a baby’s life, mothers – but not fathers – are necessary.

 “[M]others are biologically necessary for babies,” and not only for the obvious reasons of pregnancy and birth. “Babies are much more neurologically fragile than we’ve ever understood,” Ms. Komisar says. She cites the view of one neuroscientist, Nim Tottenham of Columbia University, “that babies are born without a central nervous system” and “mothers are the central nervous system to babies,” especially for the first nine months after birth.

What does that mean? “Every time a mother comforts a baby in distress, she’s actually regulating that baby’s emotions from the outside in. After three years, the baby internalizes that ability to regulate their emotions, but not until then.” For that reason, mothers “need to be there as much as possible, both physically and emotionally, for children in the first 1,000 days.”

OK, I’ll chalk up “babies are born without a central nervous system” to simple hyperbole used to emphasize a point. We all know that a baby without a central nervous system is a baby that will soon die, regardless of its parenting.

Beyond that though, the conspicuous omission is the word “father.” If a father “comforts a baby in distress,” does he not regulate the baby’s emotions? Of course he does. Millions of fathers do that every day and night as surely we all know. Is Komisar really claiming that, when Dad gets up at 2AM to cuddle and soothe his crying child that he’s doing nothing, that only if Mom does so does the baby receive a benefit? That’s utterly untrue of course, but, by leaving Dad out of the picture, that seems to be Komisar’s message.

Is she entirely unaware of the studies demonstrating children’s attachments to their fathers? What about the fact that children can identify Dad as distinct from Mom within the first weeks of life? What about the science demonstrating no hierarchy of attachment, i.e. that babies don’t prefer one parent to the other? Komisar’s omission of fathers strongly suggests exactly what the article pretends to bemoan – the politicization of motherhood. Indeed, it’s almost as if Komisar is a latter day Jennifer McIntosh, a mental health professional with a political agenda that’s profoundly anti-dad and, in the meantime, anti-child as well. The article is entirely consistent in that regard.

When the mother can’t be there, Ms. Komisar says, the best alternative is a “single surrogate caregiver,” optimally a relative.

Again, there’s no father in sight. If Mom can’t be there for the child, someone else will have to pick up the slack of course, but that someone isn’t, in her book, Dad. Grandma, perhaps or possibly Aunt Jane, but not Dad.

Oh, about that science.

Oxytocin, Ms. Komisar explains, “is a buffer against stress.” Mothers produce it when they give birth, breastfeed or otherwise nurture their children. “The more oxytocin the mother produces, the more she produces it in the baby” by communicating via eye contact, touch and gentle talk. The baby’s brain in turn develops oxytocin receptors, which allow for self-regulation at a later age.

Women produce more oxytocin than men do, which answers the obvious question of why fathers aren’t as well-suited as mothers for this sort of “sensitive, empathetic nurturing.” People “want to feel that men and women are fungible,” observes Ms. Komisar—but they aren’t, at least not when it comes to parental roles. Fathers produce a “different nurturing hormone” known as vasopressin, “what we call the protective, aggressive hormone.”

“Women produce more oxytocin than men do.” Really? Actually, no they don’t. See here (Medical Express, 4/20/16) and here (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014).

Here’s what the Medical Express authors say about oxytocin, fathers and parenting:

Oxytocin, commonly heralded as the bonding hormone, is known to be released in large amounts during birth and breastfeeding to help regulate maternal bonding in mammals. However, less well known is that fathers experience rises in oxytocin equal to mothers as a result of interacting with their infants.

Here’s the takeaway from the most important study conducted to date, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on the brain chemistry of fathers, mothers and parenting:

Overall, our results describe a global parental caregiving brain network that was mainly consistent across parents and involved brain structures implicated in vigilance, salience, reward, motivation, social understanding, and cognitive empathy. These brain structures were linked with oxytocin, the hormone implicated in human and mammalian bond formation (1920), and with the human-specific repertoire of parental behavior, indicating that assuming the role of a committed parent and engaging in active care of the young may trigger this global parental caregiving network in both women and men…

In other words, depending on the parenting role undertaken, either a father or a mother can, via oxytocin production, “trigger this global parental caregiving network.” Stated yet another way, Komisar and Taranto are flat wrong when they claim that babies’ neurological needs can only be met by mothers.

And yet, we have Komisar, presenting herself as fully knowledgeable about this subject and Taranto unquestioningly channeling her claims, but entirely ignorant of science that’s currently three years old. She’s either ignorant or purposely omitting the science that contradicts her pro-mother/anti-father thesis.

Whatever the case, Taranto is peddling snake oil with his pretense of opposing the “politicization of motherhood.” He’s doing exactly that with fatherhood. For decades now, the political fight for fathers’ equality in family courts has been waged. Taranto and Komisar have placed themselves in the thick of the fray, and not on the side of justice, fairness or children’s best interests.

 

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#fathers, #attachment, #oxytocin

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