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Building a Healthy Human - The Old-fashioned Way

Dale Kiefer


Bonding. It sounds a little scary. For most men, it's something accomplished with carpenter's wood glue. Super glue, maybe. But when you become a dad, you start to hear terms like attachment and bonding, and they have nothing to do with hardware. We're talking babies, dad.

In the good old days, men weren't expected to do much more with their children than provide them with food, clothing and a warm place to live. Maybe toss a ball around with a son when he was old enough. Times have changed. These days, more and more men are waking up to the added responsibilities - and the increased rewards - of taking a more active role in the lives of their children. And at a much earlier age. But guess what? That's a good thing.

What it means is that you're more than a breadwinner. You're viewed as an active, integral component of your baby's healthy upbringing. You are to be trusted with your infant's intimate, minute-to-minute -- and even day-to-day -- care. Simply defined, bonding means that your infant recognizes you as someone who can be trusted to respond to his or her needs. Without fail. And, boy, do infants have a lot of needs. Trust is the operative word here.

A more technical definition, supplied by child and developmental psychologists and pediatricians, would go something like this: Bonding represents the basic link of trust between an infant and his or her primary caregiver. By responding reliably to his or her needs, you provide your infant with a basic trust that the world is a benign place, and that s/he can expect that his/her needs will be met consistently. The primary caregiver was always assumed to be the mother in the past, but there's no reason why enlightened (and fortunate) fathers can't get a piece of the action. All it takes is commitment. If she cries, you give comfort. If she's hungry, you feed her. If he's dirtied his diaper, you change it. It's really just that simple, and it's what results in bonding. No Elmer's glue required.

Bonding has far-reaching psychological and sociological implications. Children who are not provided this bedrock of trust almost certainly will falter, sooner or later. Research has suggested that interruptions to bonding may have numerous negative repercussions. According to a report by the National Foundation for Family Research and Education (NFFRE), secure bonding is "a direct cause of emotional and behavioral health, productivity and happiness in adolescence." In short, humans pretty much depend on early bonding in order to achieve healthy interaction with society throughout life.

This may sound like an awful lot of responsibility, and it is. But it really requires little more of you as a parent than that which comes normally. You must make yourself available. She cries, you respond. He's hungry, you satisfy his hunger. He needs your love; you can't help but give it. It's not rocket science, but it certainly is important work.

From the period of about two to six months of age, infants demonstrate bonding behaviors that include smiling, gazing into your eyes, making happy noises, touching your face and otherwise positively interacting with you, the caregiver parent. For your infant, these are the cornerstones of human interaction and trust. For you these are the rewards of parenthood that far exceed any price.

Dale Kiefer is a free-lance writer living in northern New Jersey with his wife and two young sons. Born in New Jersey some 40 years ago, Dale was raised in Kentucky, where he spent most of his life, graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree
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