how we lost our way on caring for small children

Two articles recently with wider looks at child care and the role of parents, daycare, family and so on.  I scour these kind of things for justifications for Daddyland.  And while there is no revelation here on masculinity and fatherhood, they do reinforce my core beliefs:  that parents should be able to stay at home with their babies; that the US needs to double down on the safety net, not rip it up; that we should probably live in large family groups, not one-family households; and that parenting is fluid and complicated and there is no reason it cannot be redefined for the digital age to include fathers more at the center.

The first articles is called The Two Year Window and shows the centrality of a child’s experience before they are two, with Romanian orphanages as a horror-filled test case.

One of the most convincing advocates for this argument is James Heckman, a Nobel Prizewinning economist from the University of Chicago. Earlier in his career, Heckman undertook a project to study the effects of high school equivalency (GED) programs. To his chagrin, he discovered that the graduates didn’t seem to be much better off, despite the considerable public investment in the programs. So Heckman began a quest to discover what kinds of government spending would work. His research led him to the conclusion that earlier is better, until eventually he came to focus on the first years of a child’s life.

Heckman argues that a dollar spent on the earliest years of life generates more payoff than a dollar spent on later childhood—let alone a dollar spent on adulthood.

And the other is It Does Take a Village from the New York Review of Books.  This examines the research done into the functions and roles of mothers going way way back to our primate days and how they relate to our life today.

Here as elsewhere she urges caution and compassion toward women whose maternal role must be constantly rethought and readjusted to meet the demands of a changing world. Women have done this successfully for millions of years, and their success will not stop now. But neither Hrdy nor I nor anyone else can know whether the strong human tendency to help mothers care for children can produce the species-wide level of cooperation that we now need to survive.


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