Maternal Versus Paternal Instinct

So I’ve always secretly believed that maternal instinct is built into all of us women, its just something that comes naturally and is inside each of us, while paternal instinct is more a learned instinct that grows over time after the arrival of a child into a family. Its been an interesting two months watching W with Ava.  The conclusion? Maternal instinct is a far more natural instinct than paternal.  What comes as second nature to me when handling my daughter does not come as easily to W.

As an example, she’s not feeding every night anymore and so as a result, W and I alternate turns in getting up for her so that we each get an equal number of full nights rests. However, W seems to believe that he is drawing the short straw each time. You see, on the nights when I get up to give Ava her bottle at around 2am, I go quietly into her room, change her nappy, prepare her bed and giver her her bottle without any talking and very limited eye contact. Usually within 30 to 40 minutes she’s finished her bottle and has past out in my arms. I simply walk into her room, plop her into her prepared bed, turn on the baby monitor, walk out and close the door and go back to bed.

W is not so lucky and he gets upset when I ask if he’s not doing something that disturbs her. For him a 2am feed takes about 2 hours. Involves lots of frustration, putting her in her swing while he makes a new bottle for her after she’s finished the first one. Lots of walking, lots of rocking and about 10 attempts at putting her down before finally getting her to go to sleep. I’m starting to wonder if she’s not just playing up because its him? Or if he’s doing something that disturbs her or keeps waking her. Its hard for me to understand why we have such completely different experiences and its frustrating for him to have to go through this each time its his turn to see to her.

I’ve really begun to wonder if it doesn’t come down to maternal versus paternal instinct. Perhaps I’m just better at reading her and knowing what she wants when she wants it. I’m really not sure what to make of it, except that my poor husband is at his wits end!

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  • Reply Yvonne

    Shame I really can identify with this post – my dh also battled his way through the first few months before finding his feet. I think it boils down to a lot of different things – the instinct is definitely a big part of it – we know how to hold them, the things they like and don’t like etc. We also tend to be softer, with lumps and bumps in the right places that make it easy and comfy for babies to snuggle into us..

    I think it’s important to let them power through though – he and Ava will find a way that works for them soon enough.


    February 9, 2010 at 8:38 am
  • Reply Hela

    Auw, it can be difficult for dads at times. I think part is instinct, the other part is that we spend all day with them, learning together. Dad only has the evenings and weekends to learn.

    Sometimes Dad’s way works, and most times Moms way works. But it’s important for Dad to find himself. If he asks for advice, give it to him. If he’s getting frustrated, try giving him ‘tips’ that might help without rambling off your whole routine.

    I often tell E about the signs and that way he’s also been able to read what it is X wants. Though he is far better than me at reading the “I need to burp” sign.

    They’ll find themselves a routine soon enough.

    February 9, 2010 at 9:59 am
  • Reply Paula

    That sounds very familiar Sharon! In fact, mine was so bad at it that I would have to get up anyway to sort the mess out, and eventually just did it myself! Although he is an incredibly good and hands-on dad to our 3.5 year old, and although he enjoys playing with the twins he just does not have that mommy-talent when it comes to small babies. The way you do it is the same I did it, but dads seem to enjoy making eye contact, playing a bit and generally waking the baby up so much it is near to impossible to get them down again. Seriously, men!

    February 9, 2010 at 10:29 am
  • Reply Roz

    Shaz, I can so relate! Because we have twins, J hasn’t really had a choice but to be a hands-on dad all the time! But he finds it incredibly difficult at times for exactly the same reasons as W does. I definitely think it comes down to the instinct thing and J has said the same…he says he just doesn’t have the patience that I do and often when he is at his wits end and I take over with one of them, they calm down immediately. Tell W not to be hard on himself because he is not the only dad who has experienced this and that it will get easier!
    x x x x

    February 9, 2010 at 11:54 am
  • Reply Julia

    I think that you are very lucky to have such a hands-on hubby. I think that in some cases it comes more naturally to Dads (and moms) and sometimes it doesn’t come as naturally to Dads (or Moms). Everyone is different. I think that you also have more time to practice during the day when he is at work and that he will find himself eventually. Be patient with him and continue to encourage him. This will also help him feel more confident. My hubby really struggled with small babies but he was/is fabulous with both our kids now that they are older.
    And it could also be that she misses him during the day and therefore thinks that sleep time is actually play time with Daddy!

    February 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm
  • Reply charne

    I know on our side when Em is with dad she things its play time.. lots of bitting on the bottle teat, spittin it out, laughing, its a big game… its like with me she knows its time to drink but with dad she pushes the bounderies… but i kinda then think she is to young for that so i not to sure…. also i often think its just she does not see him often enough and wants to make the most of her time with him

    when you find the answer to this, let me know 🙂

    February 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm
  • Reply Kristin

    Is he talking to her or making any noises at feeding time? If so, that could be the difference. It’s wonderful that he is sharing so equally and I hope it gets easier on him.

    February 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm
  • Reply Adi

    I think you must sit with him through a few nights and just see what is going wrong. Eg. I can imagine putting her in a swing while making another bottle must surely wake her up a bit…perhaps just casting a gentle eye on what is going on may help. Because 2 hours up each night is no joke 🙁 he must be quite at his wits end.

    February 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    I also noticed what worked for me didn’t work for DH. So instead of him using my method of getting her to sleep, I told him to find his own. I told MIL the same, so now she can easily go to sleep with anyone. I also think Dads are more for play, sometimes to their detriment if it is the middle of the night!

    February 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm
  • Reply Angela

    New parents learn from each other, everything is so new so you find the way that works the best and then both follow that. I learnt a few things from my hubby that worked for him and he learnt a few things from me – it’s all a huge learning curve.

    February 10, 2010 at 8:00 am
  • Reply SCY

    Sounds to me like Princess has Daddy wrapped right round his fingers and is playing up cos it’s him. I would suggest to W that he follows EXACTLY the same routine that you do and see if it makes a difference?

    But hey, I’ve got no experience here so I will say I hope W can find the happy medium and get the same reaction you do soon – for his sake 😉


    February 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm
  • Reply SCY

    Urgh HER fingers HER fingers – sorry clearly can’t type today!!!!

    February 10, 2010 at 12:08 pm
  • Reply Quiet Dreams

    I imagine that if he were staying home with her all day, he would figure out some things pretty quickly. New parenthood is a very steep learning curve.

    February 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm
  • Reply Hollie

    Bless W’s heart! This sounds like our same experience. Although, along the process, I did most of the night feedings because I was on maternity leave, and my Angel was working. We have been so blessed that we have a 4.5 month old that slept through the night starting about 3 mos of age. But when it was Angel’s turn, it would take him 3 times as long to finish the process. He said he didn’t do anything different than I did, except I could hear him talking to lil man over the monitor, and I’m sure that talking came with a hefty dose of eye contact too! I just let it go and figured he’d figure it out for himself. I live with a hard headed man!

    February 11, 2010 at 7:00 pm
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