Leaning into fatherhood is an investment the US does not make. That much is clear in study after study, no matter how we cut the data, as in this article by Emanuella Grinberg, CNN.
The question is why? The answer is because we haven’t made the value/return on that investment (ROI) clear. It’s high time we do, and empathy is a clarifying lens.
There is a lot of talk about biology when it comes to infants. The mother and child have only just become separate physically, and their bodies are still geared towards intimacy (e.g., nursing). The benefits of mother-child bonding have long been studied, and the underlying brain chemistry (e.g., levels of cortisol, oxytocin) is fascinating. People with deep and broad experience in early childhood development help us understand that this physical separation at birth is the first of many steps very young children take away from their parents toward independence and mastery. It’s also been said that a child’s bank of empathy is opened in the earliest years, by his parents. So, what’s dad got to do with all this?
More than ever.
Parenting, and mothering in particular, is natural, but inhumanly difficult as a sole practitioner. Infants are cute and cuddly, but they cry a lot, nursing hurts (at first), and providing for the every need of another human being is daunting, both physically and emotionally. Parenting is not for the fainthearted, and there is a temptation to lean out of it/outsource it/let your partner handle it all. In our geographically mobile world, this transition often takes place away from family. With professional women, the transition can also mean leaving a corner office where everything was in order, to rock in the corner of your bedroom where everything seems unpredictable. Being able to bond, to deposit into the bank of empathy for your child requires…..that you are not depleted, that you have funds.
People manage with all sorts of situations, but picture this (from Grinberg’s article):
When Joe Schroeder became a father in February, he did something a lot of working men in the United States only dream of: He took off from work for three months to stay home with his wife and newborn daughter, Alma Lucette.
It was a “blissful” period, he said. He cooked breakfast and dinner nearly every day, something he never does when he’s working. He perfected his diaper-changing technique. He took long walks with his wife and daughter around their home of Greensboro, North Carolina, occasionally stopping for lunch.
Best of all, he got to spend hours holding his daughter and getting to know her without pressure to be anywhere else in the world.
A mom who is supported. A dad who has time to bond. An infant who is in the presence of parents, who, through the encouragement of active partnership, have access to more of the joy and less of the stress of their new situation and blessings. A family which has set a healthy dynamic from the get-go, in which all of the members are involved and invested in one another.
Investment? 3 months salary over a ~30 year career
Returns? a mom who feels whole, an infant whose bank of empathy is open and solvent, and a dad whose heart has grown. Children who have a capacity for empathy/an anchor of mental health, adults who have empathy to become better professionals and servant leaders in their work outside of the home, and families which are resilient and supportive enough to weather the dynamics of a rapidly changing world.
ROI: [3 changemakers]/[0.8% salary). I’ll take it.