Do Moms Have Different Instincts Than Dads in Protecting Babies?

I am sitting here typing with one foot elevated on a bag of frozen blueberries. My butt is resting on frozen corn kernels. Over my elbow is a wine sleeve, typically used to quickly cool down a bottle of vino. My elbow is now replacing wine. How sad. I am in pain. I fell.

But the bigger story is this: I fell while holding Emmett.

It happened yesterday afternoon. I was carrying him down our stairs. I always wear my indoor crocs around the house because my feet get cold; I hate to think of walking on dirt (cue the cleaning obsession) and most importantly, for traction. But yesterday I came in with both kids and just slipped my sneakers off, leaving my socks on.

I was on the fourth step up from our brick landing when my feet simply gave out from under me. Our floors were recently polished, so they must be extra slick. Emmett was in my right arm, against the banister. Fia was at the bottom. As I felt myself falling, I pulled him tight into the crux of my side, falling hard on my elbow (the one that was holding him) and on my tailbone. My left hand went out to the wall to try and slow the fall. Somehow my left foot got jumbled up in the mess too. In the three seconds or less this all happened, so much went through my mind. All about Emmett of course. The theme of thoughts: “Oh god, please don’t let him get hurt.”

When my mom was alive, I told her about an incident in Costa Rica when Fia was 18 months old. Phil and I were walking to the beach from our hotel. It was down a steep concrete road. It had rained the night before so it was slick. He was carrying Fia much like I was carrying Emmett yesterday. He slipped on the concrete, both of his hands went down and Fia rolled out of his arm, head  first on the pavement. I was about 5 feet behind and screamed. So did Phil. “Oh my god, oh my god,” we both said. She instantly started crying, which was a relief. No one wants a quiet, still baby after that. Phil felt truly awful, horrible, terrible. We rushed her to the ER (have you ever been to a third world hospital with your kid?? Yikes. Though I must say, even with limited equipment and supplies, they were so kind) where they x-rayed her, observed her, and after 5 hours let us go. She was fine.

When my mother heard this story she said, “You wouldn’t have let go.” I was kind of defensive. What? Huh? Phil is the most loving, responsible Dad I know. She said simply, “I know he is, but trust me. Moms just don’t let go.”

Now who really knows? Phil did slide down on a slant and his arm was probably only 12 inches off the ground when she rolled hard onto the concrete. It’s not like he instantly dropped her from chest height down. And the same thing could have easily happened to me, or worse. But there is a theory out there among moms that our instincts kick in differently in this sort of scenario.

If an intruder came into our house, I know I’d run and hide (with the kids) whereas Phil would meet him head-on. It’s the protection-of-family instinct that men have versus the protection-of-baby instinct moms carry.  Do you guys agree or am I talking out of my bruised bottom here?

Anyway, I am so relieved to say that besides being shook up, Emmett was totally fine. Before I got up to see if I could walk, I sat on the floor in a stunned state, holding him and calming Fia down too (she had been at the bottom of the stairs and clearly frightened). When Phil came home he insisted I go to the doctor. She only confirmed what I already knew: no broken bones and even if there were, nothing they can do about a toe and a tailbone. (Though you should see my butt bruise. It is the deepest purple I’ve ever seen. Pretty, except…well, not really.)

Thus, here I sit amid frozen fruits, vegetables and my beloved wine sleeve. I feel especially achy today; I think simply from the trauma of it all. Your body and your psyche take a hit. However, my spirits are still up. Probably because when a “what if it had been worse” scenario happens, you are so grateful for your lucky outcome. But it is a good reminder of how much things can change in just one second or just one step. And true or not with moms versus dads, I’m grateful for my instinct that held him close, protecting him from what could have been.


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  1. [...] Moms have different instincts than dads in protecting babies ( [...]

  2. by Kim

    On February 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I think its a female thing. I worked daycare before I had kids and did the same thing. Often. Kids were always fine, but more often than not I was bleeding.

  3. by Mary

    On February 2, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    The same thing happened to me several months ago. I was carrying my daughter on my left hip, as I always do, and coming down the brick steps in our carport. I guess I missed a step, and came straight down. I instantly pulled her in front of me, and held her with both arms, leaving my butt and my left ankle to absorb the full impact of the fall. I couldn’t wear heels for more than a week, but at least she was okay.

  4. by Jill Cordes

    On February 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing your tale. Crazy how those things happen, huh? The every day walk can turn treacherous!

  5. by bev

    On February 4, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Hmmm. I can’t be as sure as your mom, Jill. I think and HOPE I would do everything possible to protect the babe, even if it meant pain for me. But sometimes things happen so fast that even instinct has trouble catching up. My feeling is that we can’t punish ourselves for a misstep. We moms do go the extra distance to keep our little ones safe, whether they’re in our arms or on the playground, but I know some dads who seem to do the same. Just so glad everyone is okay.

  6. by Linda

    On February 13, 2013 at 11:02 am

    I agree – different instincts. Once we were traveling when our daughter was about 4 or 5. We had stopped at a rest area. My husband and daughter got out to stretch their legs, but I had a few more stitches on the row I was knitting. In a minute my husband appeared at the car window. I said, “Where’s Claire?!” in a panic. He pointed across the parking lot to a trash can she was standing beside. “She’s right there.” He had totally turned his back on her to walk over to the car. I said, “You left her by herself?!” and he said, “I told her to stay right there.” Ugh – totally different levels of protectiveness!

  7. by John

    On February 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t remember you being clumsy. I don’t think this is a male or female thing. I do think its the person who you are. I once slipped down the stairs hold an eclair. When I reached the bottom I had my arm raised up high with the eclair still in it. True story. On a serious note. I was in the ocean with Michael (5). I was standing up to my knees facing the beach with Michael in front of me. Out of nowhere a wave smacks me from behind and throws me right on top of him. I automatically pull my arms out so I wouldn’t land on him. With the same momentum I reached out grabbed him and lifted him up so his head was above the water. Don’t ask me how I did it but that is what the lady told me that saw what happened. Very scary. We all love our kids and would walk through walls for them. Some of us might walk around those same wall. This Daddy walks though.

  8. by Jill Cordes

    On February 19, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Hey Chef—good to hear from you. And amazing story! The eclair part is hilarious, btw. Hope you’re well!