One of the great joys of having a baby — and there are many — is watching them develop in the area of language. And over the last few weeks, Elsa’s speech has been advancing in leaps and bounds.

I am proud to announce that “Dada” was her first word, much to the chagrin of Angie! In truth, I was undeserving of this honour, given how much more time each day Squish spends with her mum.

However, in just the last few days, she has also begun saying “Mama” — and even calling for her Mama when she isn’t around. Of course, Angie is very chuffed.

Car, bath and clap are some other words that have entered Elsa’s vocabulary of late, along with a series of animal noises we have been teaching her.

But Mama and Dada are the words most often on her lips, and for a simple reason — she is entirely dependent on us.

I have previously written about how children are wired to need both a mother and father. This is a fact that has come into much sharper focus for me as our little Squish has begun regularly calling out our names.

Elsa calls for us at different times and for different reasons. I have noticed that she generally cries “Mama” when she wants nurture and comfort, and “Dada” when she’s looking for stimulation or a change of pace.


The unique roles of both a mother and a father are irreplaceable. In a Public Discourse article entitled “Why Moms and Dads Both Matter in Marriage“, professor and researcher Jenet Erickson explains:

Mothers do not father, and fathers do not mother. Each emerges as a unique source of distinct and critical nurturing in the development of children. Indeed, evidence of these distinct contributions confirms a long assumed proposition: namely, that the direct, continual involvement of both a mother and a father in the home is ideal for the child’s development.

Of course, this is no slight on single parents who, through no fault of their own, are doing their best to raise their child or children alone. However, it certainly reinforces the value of getting married and working hard for a healthy and lifelong marriage for the sake of one’s children.

For single mums, it is also an encouragement to identify safe father figures with whom your child can regularly interact. Likewise, for single dads, it is a reminder to reach out and rely on motherly figures to fill this innate need in your child.

What is it specifically about mums and dads, respectively, that is irreplaceable? Addressing mothers first, Erickson explains:

A mother’s capacities are uniquely oriented toward identity formation and emotional security. Her ability to detect, interpret and respond in positive, non-intrusive ways to her infant’s needs has been identified as the strongest and most consistent predictor of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development…

From infancy on, children are more likely to seek out their mothers for comfort in times of stress. And mothers are much more likely to identify, ask about, listen to, and discuss emotions with children. A mother’s unique orientation toward identifying, expressing, regulating, understanding, and processing emotions is not only important for self-awareness and emotional well-being; it also lays a foundation for moral awareness, including a sense of moral conscience with the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.

She then outlines the unique role of fathers:

It is fathers’ involvement with their children that consistently predicts how they relate to others. Father closeness during a child’s adolescence has been identified as the key predictor of empathy in adulthood, as well as marital relationship quality and extra-marital relationship quality in adulthood. In contrast, lack of father involvement has repeatedly been associated with delinquent and criminal behaviours, even into adulthood…

When fathers are “involved, nurturing, and playful,” children exhibit higher IQs, language development, and cognitive skills…

First, compared to mothers, fathers’ interactions are characterized by arousal, excitement, and unpredictability in a way that stimulates openness to the world, with an eagerness to explore and discover. Second, fathers have a unique ability to encourage risk-taking while ensuring safety and security, thus inviting children to pursue opportunities that translate into educational and occupational success. Third, involved fathers consistently focus on helping children learn to do things independently and to find solutions to their own problems, building both capacity and confidence. Finally, fathers tend to be more “cognitively demanding” of their children, pushing them to deepen and demonstrate their understanding.

This is more than the opinion of one woman. Decades of social research underline the importance of a married mother and father in the life of a child.

We don’t live in a perfect world. Quite the opposite, in fact. But wherever possible, when children are raised by a married mother and father, they are set up to succeed in every area of their lives.


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

About the Author: Kurt Mahlburg

Kurt Mahlburg is Canberra Declaration's Research and Features Editor. He hosts his own blog at Cross + Culture and is also a contributor at the Spectator Australia, MercatorNet, Caldron Pool and The Good Sauce. Kurt is also a published author. His book Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West? provides a rigorous analysis of the modern malaise in Western society and how Jesus provides the answer to the challenges before us. Kurt has a particular interest in speaking the truths of Jesus into the public square in a way that makes sense to a secular culture and that gives Christians courage to do the same. Kurt has also studied architecture, has lived for two years in remote South-East Asia, and among his other interests are philosophy, history, surf, the outdoors, and travel. He is married to Angie.

Leave A Comment