Parents- Wired for Connection

iStock-646805630.jpg
Becoming a parent looks—at least in the brain—a lot like falling in love.

 

In 2012, the UN proclaimed 1 June as  Global Day of Parents , recognising that the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children.  And what a privilege it is to assume that responsibility.

I still vividly recall waking from a sleep deprived fog and panicking as I searched under the covers and beside the bed for my first newborn - only to be calmed by my husband who reminded me that he was safely in his cot and I'd fed him an hour earlier.  It was one of the many signs that in my world, EVERYTHING had changed.  

What I didn't realise though, was that the maternal feelings - of intense love, worry, fear protection and adoration - were all tied to changes in my brain. According to researchers,  "the way a woman acts is definitively linked to what's happening in her prefrontal cortex, midbrain, parietal lobes, and elsewhere. Gray matter becomes more concentrated. Activity increases in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction."

But beware, well-intentioned maternal gate-keeping!

Some of the best advice I received upon becoming a parent came of course from my own mother, who shared her own insights as to how my own father became so invested in our care. These enabled me to recognise that I needed to self-manage and step back from owning the space, or, as we call it, "maternal gate keeping" and create space to enable my husband to fall in love too. For according to researchers,

"Although only mothers experience pregnancy, birth, and lactation, and these provide powerful primers for the expression of maternal care via amygdala sensitisation... evolution created other pathways for adaptation to the parental role in human fathers, and these alternative pathways come with practice, attunement, and day-by-day caregiving.

And without a doubt, his experience taking paternity leave not only deepened his love for his children, but makes him happier for, as he puts it, he now knows their secrets too. Which is good news for our whole family, because fathers who take leave are more likely to be involved with their child on a regular basis than fathers who did not take leave. For we are all, as researched Brene Brown says, wired for connection. 

We need better policies to support Parents

Australian women have demanded flexible work and paid parental leave schemes that make a difference to their capacity to both care and become economically independent. And whilst we're not there yet in terms of what they could be, of significant concern is balancing access to paid care: just 1 in 50 men in Australia access parental leave as primary carer.

So what's the catch? Well, there's data to suggest that societal expectations perpetuate a narrative that says Real Men Don't Do Care:

  1. It speaks volumes that in Australia the father/breadwinner stereotype is so strong that men's requests for flexibility are more likely to be declined than women's; and
  2. 1 in 4 men continue to experience some form of parental discrimination at the time they welcome a baby, including for seeking to take as little as a week's paternity leave.

But when it comes to extended leave, there's also a financial consideration that underpins a new couple's decision-making: the average age of a first time mother is almost 4 years younger than the average age of a first time father. Four years in the workplace between the ages of 29 and 33 can translate to a significant pay difference (especially if you throw in a gender pay gap).

Without a paid parental leave scheme funded by your employer, it may simply be unaffordable for a family to accommodate care any other way.

When implementing our digital platform to support new parents, a client recently asked me "What if, as a result of this, all the men start demanding paid parental leave the same as the women?" I smiled of course and replied "That would be music to my ears, and precisely what women did."

But they shouldn't need to. There's a really clear business case for offering paid leave to dads too.

How do businesses benefit from providing men with access to paid primary carer's leave? We're going to let Andrew Hagger, Chief Customer Officer, NAB give you his 40second response to why NAB introduced a paid parental leave scheme that entitles all employees to access 12 weeks' paid parental leave within the first 12 months of a child's life.