Why Parents Want to Eat Their Babies

A few weekends ago, we ran into some friends who had just had a baby. I got to hold their chubby little one in my arms, and as I cradled her, I couldn’t help saying…

“I could sink my teeth into that thigh.”

It was a semi-weird thing to say, on the face of it, but do you ever feel the same way? I regularly tell my own boys, “I want to eat your cheeks off,” and “You’re so munchy,” and Alex often announces, “I’m going to squeeze you ’til you pop.” My friend told her daughter that she was going to eat her for breakfast with a spoon, and Caroline nicknamed her dog “Squeezle,” inspired by the daily urge to “squeeze her tiny, fluffy face.”

“Baby-talk can sound downright serial-killer-ish if you take it out of context,” wrote Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times. But social psychologist Oriana Aragón actually did a study about these feelings and coined it “cute aggression.” People sometimes clench their fists or grit their teeth when they see something adorable. Aragón and her team at Yale asked people to hold sheets of bubble wrap while watching a series of photos. And the people popped more bubbles while looking at cuter things (say, a kitten vs. a cat), proving that they really did feel an urge to squeeeeeze.

Researchers aren’t sure yet why it happens, but one guess is that it’s because, throughout the centuries, parents have had to hold their babies pretty continually for those first couple years, and this urge may help us keep them close.

Thoughts? What cute-aggressive things do you say?

Why Parents Want to Eat Their Babies

10/10 would eat those cheeks again.

P.S. One thing that has surprised me about parenting, and why kids cover their eyes while hiding.

(Top photo by Serena Mitnik-Miller. Bottom photo of Toby.)