From a recent Smithsonian.com article:
It’s often believed that nobody can recognize a baby’s cry as accurately as his or her mother, but a study published today in Nature Communications by a team of French scientists led by Erik Gustafsson of the University de Saint-Etienne found that fathers can do it equally well—if they spend as much time with their offspring as mothers do.
When the researchers split the data along gender lines, they found something interesting. The factor that best predicted which parents were best at identifying their child’s cries was the amount of time the parent spent with their babies, regardless of if they were the mother or father
The part I’ve bolded is what stuck out to me. Regardless of gender, parents who spent more time with their newborns were able to correctly identify their cries. Science!
I’ve written before about MD and his quest for some semblance of paternity leave from work when EZ was born. He cobbled together a month off between 1 week of allotted paternity leave, 1 week of paid vacation, and 2 weeks taken under FMLA. If he could have had more time to spend with our new family, I know he would have taken it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an option. And, in the reality of the United States, both paternity and maternity leave don’t come easily. Parents are stuck using paid vacation or sick time, or making the difficult choice between going back to work or staying home without a paycheck and benefits.
Pile on top of this the cultural status quo of women being the primary caregivers (leaving men to hurry back to work post birth) and then we wonder why men who haven’t spent much time with their children can’t identify their cries… The Smithsonian piece sums up what this all means rather nicely at the end:
Fathers might have the same innate parenting skills as mothers, but only if they make the enormous time investment necessary. This study indicates that it’s usually not the case, and though its sample size was extremely limited, broader data sets show the same. According to the most recent Pew Research data on parenting, the average American mother spends 14 hours per week in child care duties, compared to just 7 hours for the average father—so while men can develop the ability to know their babies just as well as women, most fathers out there probably haven’t so far.
The question now becomes… how do we get to the place where parents can make that time investment?