Most of us understand that a baby’s earliest months and years are the most critical for brain development. But did you know that a baby’s relationships with parents and caregivers actually stimulate that process? The following article is written by a woman who has dedicated her career to researching ways to improve access to quality health care and programs.
Written by Risa Rizzoro-Mourey
That’s right: An infant’s connections to nurturing, trusted adults help build the foundation for emotions, language, behavior, memory, physical movement – you name it. Right from the start, as parents, we need to bond with these brand-new little people, teach them how the world works, and give them the confidence to explore it. But those earliest years are the most important. Sadly, those years are also a time when Americans find the parental juggling act most challenging.
That’s why Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports research and programs targeting some of America’s most pressing health issues—from substance abuse to improving access to quality health care. RWJF has joined with ZERO-TO-THREE to launch a new campaign called Think Babies, dedicated to promoting policies that give our children the best chance to grow up healthy and happy. Like that network of neurons – adding ever more connections as a baby grows – family circumstances are complicated. And parents’ ability to care for a child depends on a web of interconnected obligations, opportunities, and yes, policies.
I’m particularly excited that RWJF is getting behind Think Babies because it addresses a question I hear from overextended parents everywhere I go: How do you do the best for your children while balancing work and other responsibilities? How do you “put your kids first” when providing for them sometimes means making choices that take us away from them?
My answer: Just do the best you can – right from the start.
To be fair, our country has a long way to go in helping parents do that. Research shows that babies need time after birth or adoption to bond with their parents, forming the trusting relationships that will help them thrive throughout life. Then they need high-quality child care that doesn’t break the bank for their families. In America today, most working parents don’t have access to paid maternity and paternity leave. And in 33 states and the District of Columbia, the cost of infant care exceeds that of in-state public college tuition.
But as we and others continue to promote the benefits of paid family leave and affordable child care, you can make the choices within your reach: Take advantage of time off to bond with your newborn if you can. As your children grow, make time for them – and don’t feel guilty for choosing work environments that will allow you do that. And as the years go by – believe me, they will fly – don’t underestimate the value of blending a little work time with special kid time; let them see you making your mark.
It’s been a few decades, but I can still clearly picture my son making photocopy after photocopy of his hand when I brought him to work with me, or my daughter drawing cartoons to complement my presentations. And my own childhood experience seeing my parents at work in the hospital – well, you might say it changed the course of my life.