Ep 2: Work, Life, Family: Defining the Parenting Village

The Work-Life Equation podcast

Dr. Dana Suskind, a trailblazing surgeon and researcher, has built a career on the profound impact that parent-child interactions have on children’s' brains. Drawing from cutting-edge science and her own inspirational life story, Dr. Suskind shares practical strategies that any parent or caregiver can use to massively boost a child's cognitive development and lifelong potential. You'll learn why societies that support parents end up with smarter, healthier, more successful children - and what employers and policymakers can do to prioritize early childhood. Whether you're a new parent or you work with families, this is an eye-opening look at how talking, reading, and engaging with young kids can quite literally shape their minds for the future. Don't miss this opportunity to become a "brain architect!”



Read the full transcript

00:00:23 - Priya Krishnan
Hi, everyone, and welcome to work life equations. I'm VA, and I'm the chief digital and transformational officer at Bright Horizons. I should remember who I am.

00:00:33 - Paul Sullivan
And I'm Paul Sullivan, founder of The Company of Dads. Today we're super excited for our guest, Dr. Dana Suskind. She is a pioneer researcher and clinician in early childhood brain development. She's not only the founder and co-director of the TMW center for Early Childhood Learning that stands for 30 million words. We'll get to that later. And a professor of public health at the University of Chicago, she also directs the pediatric cochlear implant program for those following at home. Cochlear implants means that Dr. Suskind helps children to hear. She serves as a professor of surgery, pediatrics and public policy. In her groundbreaking work, Dr. Suskind has dedicated herself to optimizing early brain development and preventing cognitive disparities. She empowers parents to be, quote, brain architects. We'll definitely go into that through her books, Parent nation and 30 million words. Dana, welcome to the show.

00:01:32 - Dana Suskind
Thank you so much for having me.

00:01:34 - Priya Krishnan
Welcome, Dana. And I was fumbling all over myself because I'm so excited for this conversation. I actually been just fascinated reading 30 million words and the work that you're doing at TMW. I would love to hear about what was the inspiration to follow through on this. Zero to five is such a formative year in early childhood. It's not a very well-known fact, but you've dedicated your life's work to this. So we'd love to hear about how that came about.

00:02:04 - Dana Suskind
Absolutely. I always like to say if a surgeon realizes how critically important the early years are, it's got to be true. As Paul mentioned in my day job, I'm a pediatric surgeon and I specialize in giving children born deaf cochlear implants, helping them access sound, listening and spoken language. But you may say, well, how does this relate to all of the work that you're doing now in early childhood development? But really, I always like to say my work came from the operating room because early in my practice, I started noticing dramatically different outcomes amongst my patients after surgery. So some of my patients children develop excelled developmentally, others not at all. Some learned to talk, others did not. And it turned out the ability to hear didn't always unlock their full capacity to learn and thrive intellectually. So I started exploring why this was, and more importantly, what I could do about it. I view this very much as an extension of my work as a physician. And that is what led me to focus on the importance of the early years. Because in my journey, I discovered pioneering research that found the stark difference in the amount of language exposure that children were exposed to early in life. And although the research was Danae in hearing children, and trust me, it was far from perfect, it helped me to understand what I was observing in my patients, that in order to fully benefit from their new cochlear implants, the ability to hear, they needed to hear a lively stream of words every day to practice listening. And, in fact, this is true of all children in the early years. The magical window of time, this opportunity of time, is really built by this talk and interaction that children are exposed to. And that is really what started me on this crazy journey.

00:04:02 - Paul Sullivan
Dana, when you talk about it, you have 30 million words. It gets it out there, a number. People can kind of wrap their heads around it, but 30 million is a lot of words. What are we talking about here? Are we talking reciting some Shakespearean sonnets to small children, or what type of words really has an impact, and how does that really work on those young brains?

00:04:22 - Dana Suskind
Yeah. No, I'm so glad that you brought this up, because, as I mentioned, this was a journey for me. And one of the first studies that I learned about was this, quote, unquote, 30 million word differential. I really want to sort of double down that this is just a first sentence in a robust literature that shows the power of talk and interaction. It was what pulled me out of the operating room, but learning more, it is really not about the number of words. It is really about that serve and return, that rich conversation that we often see that comes so naturally between parents interacting with their children or childcare providers. And this nurturing interaction is powerful enough to help children basically develop two critical skills that help them in both school and in life. It delivers cognitive skills, those found on intelligence and aptitude tests, reading and writing and numeracy, pattern recognition. And it builds non cognitive skills, those soft skills like grit and resilience. And the truth is that nurturing interaction builds the entire brain. It was never about words and vocabulary. It was really about nurturing interaction, building the entire brain. I like to say that, like milk feeds the body early on, nurturing interaction builds the brain. And I can go into the different cutting edge research that has come afterwards. Neuroscientific research, language and cognitive development research, if you'd like. But suffice it to say, it is so much more than words. It is nurturing interaction.

00:06:04 - Priya Krishnan
And I just find you started as a practitioner and went into early childhood. I started in an early childhood and said, what is it? My sister's a pediatric surgeon, so her work was so fascinating from a developmental milestone standpoint. It's always, it's three separate streams. neurotypical children, early childhood, and then pediatrics. And how do you find the confluence between the. You know, we are a podcast about working parents, Dana, and I'm telling you as a working mom, that one of the things that I always felt guilty about was, am I spending enough time? So talk about quality versus quantity. So, can you achieve the 30 million word interaction when you're a working parent and you have limited time with your child, and you do talk about multiple adults being involved in a child's life, so it would be great for you to talk through that.

00:06:59 - Dana Suskind
Absolutely. And we can talk about this later. But the fact that I want parents to also give themselves grace, and that's really about the parent nation and how society has to do better at supporting working parents in the early years. And also to move away from that 30 million words to actually, in our center, we've culled down what it is that parents and caregivers need to do to build children's brains. We call it the three T's. Tune in, talk more, take turns, basically getting your child engaged in conversation. With that being said, I think that it's important for parents to know that this is not science that says, oh, go talk to your children nonstop, day and night, is just the opposite. It is really the intentionality of, while you're with your child, being intentional about using that responsive talk and interaction and the fact that it's not all on your shoulders. Right? I mean, it takes a community, whether it be aunts, uncles, high quality childcare, like Bright Horizons, it all complements the work that your work as the brain builder, that it's not all on your shoulders. And this is not about guilt, but just understanding how it is that you build children's brains. But I wanted to respond, too. Priya. So your sister is a pediatric surgeon. My late husband was a pediatric surgeon as well, so maybe they even knew each know.

00:08:43 - Paul Sullivan
Listening to that, know the interactions makes me feel a little better, because my dad plays a huge role in my daughter's lives. We call him Grampy, and his stories are so farfetched and nonsensical. That I'm like, I'm glad that's not doing any damage. Okay. Because I was like, maybe just read the sonnet to them. I didn’t know. We're going to get to in the second segment. I love that book. But there's a line in that I want to read because you are this esteemed surgeon, a scholar. You wear your achievements quite lightly, but you're a big deal. But you have this line in the book. None of us is a superhero with magical abilities to manage work and life. We are all just human. And then you go on to talk about the help you've had in your life. I'd love to take you back. You mentioned your late husband, Dana. The podcast is called the work life equation. What people won't know is that you are the mother of eight children. I'll let you unpack that for those old enough. There was a show called eight is enough. So we got eight. That was the south. But your first husband, Dana, amazing surgeon. He died. Try to save some saving children, but that turned your whole work life situation completely upside down. Could you talk to the listeners, how did you, in that moment, figure out how to move forward? And how have you built on that with your high level of empathy with the patients and parents that you work with on a daily basis?

00:10:16 - Dana Suskind
Yeah. So where to start? I am now a mother of eight children. I have three biological children that I had with my late husband, Dana, who is always with me, and I like to call. I have five bonus children with my John, who I remarried, who I'm sure that Dana sent down to me. And they have a wonderful mother as well. I'm the bonus. But going back to 2012, when I lost my love and my partner, Dana was incredibly, obviously traumatic, both as an individual and as a parent. I always say that when you have children and that something like that happens, you can't curl up in a ball and not move forward. Or as parents, and I can say this is a universal trait. As a physician who's taken care of children and families for longer than I'd like to admit, that is the one universal. Parents will go to the ends. All parents love their children. They will go to the ends of their earth for their children. But at that moment, I thought, oh, my gosh, how do I go forward? I had these three young children, and even though I was a physician, you sort of forget it. You feel like, how am I going to do this? And I saw this. My main goal was like, how do I get my children to adulthood in one piece so that they can have the life they were supposed to have. And I felt scared and alone and afraid. And at that same moment, I was immediately embraced and surrounded by my community, my incredible community here in Hyde park, and people across the country, too. But really, Hyde park really wrapped me in their embrace and helped myself and my family through these difficult times. And you always know this. I mean, I want to be clear that even though I'd been doing this research long before and I espoused the power of parent talk, it was never that. It was like, oh, all on parents. It was always that we needed society to better support them. But it was in that moment that I saw this incredible opportunity, the fact that all families deserve that same support. Right? All parents just want to get their kids to the other side, give them the chance of a life that we want for our children and that society can and should play such a role. But so often, parents, working parents, all parents, we feel like it's all on our shoulders and that we've got to suffer through it alone. And that if it's not going well, we feel guilt and ashamed and that we have such an opportunity in our communities, in our society, that we all benefit from healthier children. They are the next generation. They're going to take care of us. And so that was an important sort of moment that I didn’t want to say it changed dramatically what I did, because I've always been about society playing a bigger role, but having more intentionality of trumpeting that we don’t go it alone, that society can and should play a bigger role in supporting families, being the prime architects of our next generation. So that was a long story.

00:13:52 - Priya Krishnan You're just a fascinating person. Your work is so amazing. And then how you've taken what is an incredibly tragic moment in your life and converted it into doing good for others is very admirable. So thank you for what you do, Dana. But the fact that I come from a country where the support system is part of how we grew up, like I grew up around grandparents, and there's a notional village that surrounds you, it certainly can be very isolating in communities, especially when you're moving across geographies, et cetera. And when your community is either the people you grew up with or the schools you went to or the people you work with. Right. It's very rarely do you have the time to find a third community. Talk about what in parent nation, how you talk about society is actually rallying around both parents as well as children and how people can play a role, because I think that is so crucial. It certainly is something I was fortunate enough to experience, and my children had that. And I can see they're better kids for the fact that their grandparents were so immensely patient with them while I wasn't. I'd love to hear about how you talk about that in parent nation. And there's so many elements in parent nation that I'd love to dig deeper with.

00:15:23 - Dana Suskind
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I like to say what is quite obvious, the potential of children depends on the support for their parents. And it is a different structure in our country than in India, but you see the huge impact of social cohesion and community lifting up children and families. So you have to sort of think about it through the lens of our country. And I thought especially this is about working parents. I think that businesses, companies can play a huge role in supporting that cohesion. Right. Both in giving flexibility and support and seeing parents, their workers, as whole individuals. And I can tell you a hilarious story about my late husband and secret parenting, but sort of shining a light that none of us are work parent. We're whole individuals, and that we can bring our entire selves to work when we're seen as a whole individual and be that much more productive. Let me be clear. But I've often thought that businesses could bring parents support parents in this finding community. I run a center. I'm not a business, but I run a center of 35. And we have a lot of young, wonderful women and really trying to get that support, get them talking and, you know, there's, you know, there's a lot of, you know, maternity leave and, you know, how we work together as, as a group so that people can have the space for that, but things continue on. So, yeah, I think businesses actually can play a huge role in allowing that to happen. And that not only helps their families and especially mothers coming back to work and the mental health and fathers feeling like it's okay and you should take leave, but also it makes the culture of the company better when they're seen as entire individuals and are more productive. Right. So there's so many win wins to businesses doing exactly what you're doing, elevating working.

00:17:53 - Paul Sullivan
Know, Dana, obviously, you're a professor at Chicago, which for a long time was sort of synonymous with Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist, and Milton Friedman revered, reviled. There's not a lot of middle ground around it, but one of the things he would talk about was the idea of the model worker and the model worker goes to work and he works, and what matters to the company is the worker's know. COVID obviously scrambled all of that when suddenly people were at home, they were working differently. They were still know. I always tell the joke that I live in a town in Connecticut with a lot of hedge fund traders who never thought they could work anywhere but the office. Turns out they moved their computers home and still made billions of dollars, so they figured out a way to make it work. But I know the story you're referencing about Dana. I read it in preparation. I'd love for you to share that story because it's so illustrative. But then I'd also love for you to talk a little bit about how you've seen this moment since the book came out, since you did the research for the book. And what has happened as COVID really forced companies to break down that barrier between work and home and to sort of really challenge that Milton Friedman notion of the.

00:19:04 - Dana Suskind
I mean, it's funny because actually I'm in the econ building right now. I think that in BFI, which is the Becker Friedman Institute, which is sort of interesting. And Milton Friedman said, the business of business is business. And this ideal worker. But I actually like to think that today he might say, oh, the business of business is early childhood. Because when you think about short term runs, short term gains, sure, you can say, look, ideal worker, let's think in the short term. But we all know the long term return on investment, on investing in early childhood, both through the worker. Right. The women being part of the labor force, as well as the long term gain of a healthier workforce. If we invest in early childhood, you're going to have a workforce that is much more ready to take on what the economy needs. So I like to think he'd say, the business of business is now early childhood. I could be dreaming, but I'd try my best to convince him of that. With that being said, I think one of the sort of results of this ideal worker mentality, that you're either at work or you're at home, and neither the two will meet. I told the story of Dana, and it was an incredible story because I only learned about it at his memorial. We had this know, Dana drowned, as you mentioned, saving two children for Lake Michigan. And like, I don't know, six or nine months later, they had a big memorial at Rockefeller Chapel. And people were talking and telling, sorry, somebody just came in stories. And one of the most memorable stories was Danae by Chris speaker, who was his nurse, his right hand. And he told this hilarious story. Know, one day, Dana had this huge, like, five surgeries to do in that day. And he know to Chris, look, I've got to finish by five because, you know, a meeting with the chairman that I've got to go to. So Dana did everything that had to happen. Like, he took the patients to the recovery room, and Dana was an incredible, incredible surgeon. And so they finished on five, and Chris said, okay, great. We did it. And he tells the story of Chris. He used to walk home to. He'd walk to the train to get back home, and on his way to walking on the train, he saw in the distance a baseball field. And all of a sudden, he looked at this baseball field, and he saw this kid hitting this home run, this little kid. And he heard this voice saying, go. And he looked over, and he realized it was Dana. Dana's big, important meeting wasn't actually to meet the chairman of surgery, Jeff Matthews. He had to get to his son's baseball game. Dana never missed a baseball game. And what I realized, and everybody laughed, and nobody would have ever considered Dana anything but the most ideal of workers, right? I mean, he was like a rock star surgeon. I mean, incredible. But in retrospect, as I was writing this book, I realized, oh, my gosh, this is emblematic of what Emily Oster calls secret parenting, where we have to pretend at work that we are all in, that nothing else exists except our work. No sick kids, no childcare issues, no baseball games, nothing else. And I thought, gosh, if somebody like Dana, who is like a complete rock star, had to do it, you imagine everyone else who's not in a position of power, how they might feel. And I think that that was early on in our lives together. Probably if he had been able to live, he would have changed that, because not so much for him. Because, look, he was the surgeon in chief of the children's hospital. He could dictate what he wanted to do. For whatever reason, he felt like he didn't want to share that. But the fact that as leaders, we also have to model to others that it's okay, it's okay. And that's the biggest thing. And I know he would have, because he was the biggest champion of everyone and of parents. So it's funny that I wish I could ask him, what were you thinking? But it made for a really good story for the book.

00:24:19 - Priya Krishnan
All of us need permission, I think, before we model. So it's almost like giving yourself permission before because you've not had the precedent yourself. Sometimes of saying somebody did this and you had a model. How do you break that pattern and model it out yourself? But your notion of, and I've always thought of the pandemic as like a positive inflection point, why we talk about it in negative terms in so many ways. The fact that we looked into each other's homes and we could see what was going on and life and work merged in ways that was not imaginable before that. Now we can look into your screen and see your beautiful family's pictures there. That wasn't the reality when we were all in the office and I feel know the acceptance of the conversation became much larger. And businesses certainly to the point you were making earlier, Dina, that as stakeholders in working parents, what are they doing? What are employers doing to make this happen? The question I have for you is how are you taking your research to employers and how are you talking about this? You're modeling this out at University of Chicago, but how are you talking about this with, I know you're helping families directly, but are you also thinking about saying given businesses and the government has a role to play in this, everyone benefits here. Employers get people to come to work, governments get taxes. So how do we actually create a rallying force? And I'd love to hear about how you're moving. That.

00:25:58 - Dana Suskind
Mean, you know, similar, know I have lots of discussions with both businesses and believe it or we're partnering with the state of Connecticut, the office of early Childhood. So we're trying to both get the message we've on the parent nation front. Just to be clear, at the center, we do a lot of work still in working with childcare providers, working with parents, with the programs that we've built. So the parent nation is more what are the contextual features of a country and a society that need to happen so that everything else can happen? But yeah, no, I continue the conversation. If you go to parentnation.org, we actually have free downloadable, almost like a curriculum program for how parents can come together and share with either their businesses or their communities how they can come together to affect positive change. Every community is different and each groups need different things, but it's more of a framework of how they can build that sort of community to result in positive change. So if your listeners go to parentnation.org, they can download a bunch of resources that they could put into action.

00:27:25 - Paul Sullivan
You're listening to Dr. Dana Suskind on the Work Life Equation podcast. We're going to take a short break and we'll be back with her to talk a bit more about what she's building a parent nation.

00:27:43 - Speaker A
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00:28:20 - Paul Sullivan
It's your world. Motivate, change, succeed. Voiceamericaempowerment.com.

00:28:34 - Speaker A
Back to the work life Equation with VA and Paul Sullivan. We hope you're enjoying this episode and are finding the stories empowering and inspirational. Now back to the show.

00:28:48 - Paul Sullivan
Welcome back to Bright Horizon's work life Equation podcast with Priya and Paul. Our guest is Dr. Dana Suskind. This is part two of our wonderful conversation. Dana, in addition to being a surgeon, in addition to running a center, you're also the author, most recently, of a book, a Parent nation. And one of the parts in that book you talk about are parent villages. And it's something that individual parents can do within their communities. Can you sort of explain to the listeners how the idea of parent villages came about and how they actually work in practice?

00:29:22 - Dana Suskind
Absolutely. What was so clear as I was writing the book, talking to families across the country, while on the surface they look so different, there was such a universality of the struggles and the desires and the desires for social community. Right. There was almost this sense of isolation. And as I was talking to people, I was also sort of realizing through this isolation, there was the impact at the individual level, but also the societal level. Because if people Don’t come together to sort of affect change and share and be part of the change, it becomes much more difficult. And so myself and my team, including this amazing woman, Yoli Flores, came up with this idea of parent villages. You always hear the know it takes a village to raise a child. I actually like to sort of tweak that it takes a parent to raise a child, but a village to support that parent. And so the idea of villages was, could we build a curriculum or a framework that was agnostic to views on different. There are many ways to parent children, right? Was agnostic to all of those things, but provided a framework to allow parents to sort of see how they could come together, find community, we always say to find community, forge collective identity and bring about change. We built this curriculum. And just so you know, as I mentioned, it is all free, downloadable on the parentnation.org website, both English and Spanish. And really it's a four session, 90 minutes sessions that allows the host and the families to go through it. It includes training and standalone activities. And it's really based on these ideals that I'm going to share with you. Should I share with you or do you want to ask me more questions? Because you think about what are the fundamentals? Parents want different things. They need different things. Their views on parenting are wildly different. They all want the best for their children, but how to get there is different. And these ideals are that we have a society that celebrates, honors, and makes space for the love and labor that goes into raising the future generation and strives for the. This society strives for these ideals. This is what a parent nation is. That first, that parents have real choice and that they have the opportunity to choose how to best care for their children from birth to childhood. Number two, that parents have wisdom and that wisdom is honored. Their inherent leadership is respected and uplifted, and their collective knowledge is recognized and supported. Because I think so often we sort of overlook the incredible wisdom that parents have. Third, that parents have access to supports, that they receive the resources and services and support starting at birth so that they can be their children's best brain builder or brain architect or teacher. That allows them to set up their children for success. There are only two more that children are invested early. A parent nation understands that learning doesn't start on the first day of school, but really the first day of life. And that we need to be investing earlier in children and families so that this can happen. And you'll love the last one. And this is really important, that employers are allies, that employers recognize that parents, especially parents with young children, need support and they need time with and for their children, and that they really set up workplace policies that honors this. And that's sort of the core of these parent villages in a parent nation. And I'll stop there. I can tell you more of the nitty gritty of how it all works, but that's sort of the high level.

00:33:53 - Priya Krishnan
No, I was going to ask you, could you create a parent nation at a workplace? And it was going to be one of those questions which is some of your communities come in the workplace and clearly you can. It is just bringing a group of people with the intentionality to say, we are committed to this. And if there's a childcare center at the workplace, you could have your parent nation around that childcare center.

00:34:21 - Dana Suskind
I would love that. I would love that.

00:34:24 - Priya Krishnan
Yeah. And maybe we should talk about how we do that at our bright horizons office. But one of the things that my younger son, accused me of and continues to accuse me of is the fact that he was the guinea pig of my childcare center. He said that I was the first student. You experimented on me. You tried all these new things. You have eight children. So how do you manage your professional sort of precocity versus the responsibility as a parent?

00:34:59 - Dana Suskind
Well, you can tell your son all firstborns are inherently the guinea pig. I was a first born, but the first borns benefit from that. But look, children Don’t come with instruction guides. That is the most interesting part of it here, building brains. And they Don’t come with instruction guides. But we can talk about the tools that we've built to give parents more personalized knowledge. But, yeah, I think it's really important to sort of state that we all figure it out as we go. Right? You've got to give yourself grace. There are plenty of times I said, oh, gosh, I could have been so much. So much. I could have Danae it better. And certainly I didn't know all this research when my kids were young. But our kids turn out okay, right? I mean, I think that what do kids need? They need unconditional love and nurturing and protection from toxic stress. And there are many ways. People seem to think there's only one way to parent children. There are many ways to parent children. There's only one way to build that child's brain through nurturing interaction and protection from toxic stress. But there are many ways to do it. And you never parent like, in one family, you never parent your children all the same way. Right? To your son's point, he was the guinea pig. The second one gets this. The third one, you can barely, like, my poor daughter. My poor daughter is sure that all of my oldest daughter's baby pictures are hers, because by the time you get to the third, you're like, you can wear your brother's. That's the whole point. None of us parent in the same way. We figure it out and we do the best that we can, and they turn out okay.

00:36:54 - Priya Krishnan
This is my second one, Dana. This wasn't my first one. The second one, he was the guinea pig. The first one's actually been very kind about the fact that he was the guinea pig. And this has been my coup out, is you'll turn out okay in spite of me, not because of me.

00:37:12 - Dana Suskind
No, that does sound like a middle child statement. So, actually, he wasn't the guinea pig. No. Joking. Yes. I always say, I mean, we can talk about all of that. My son, who during high school, now we're getting into really personal stuff, he was like, it was tough. I mean, he was the middle. I was like, okay, just finished your college essays. And now at his graduation from high school and now in college, he makes me feel so good. He said, mom, I couldn't have Danae it without you. He sent me a little quote that says I could pull it up. Something to the effect of, like, when you're in high school, your mother is the worst. And then you realize that everything she said was right or something to that effect. How old is your son now?

00:38:06 - Priya Krishnan
They're 18 and 15. And I'm going through the exact same experience. It's like, you can do something right.

00:38:13 - Dana Suskind
This probably should be offline. I can give you a lot. It does get better. That's the thing. I think the biggest recommendation for working parents. I mean, obviously, the early years, talk and interaction is the key to building brains, but also the fact that it goes up and down. And there have been times where I've been absolutely the worst mom in the world, and now you're the best. It'll be okay. I promise you. We can talk about that.

00:38:47 - Paul Sullivan
Oh, my. Listening to this, and I'm thinking just what you said, Dana. Like, I have three daughters, and when the first one was born, I was committed. I was going to keep a journal and write everything, every moment in her life. And she's got two or three journals. The second one has a know. The third one had this huge milestone thing happen over the summer, and I brought her journal down, and it just sat there making me feel guilty for, like, three weeks before I finally put it back upstairs. Not writing anything into it. We're having a good chat here. I mean, obviously, we're parents. We love our children. We love work. We're balancing this. We found this equation. But there is a section in parent nation. There's a lot of research on this outside, and nobody really likes to talk about. But parents are often unhappier than people who Don’t have kids. And there's a so called parent happiness gap. And we can talk about. Somebody told me years ago, you're only as happy as your unhappiest child. Forgot that. And if you have enough kids, one of them will be happy at some point. But what does that come from? Is it this parent happiness gap? Where does that come from? Because when we reflect on our kids, we talk about them. We'll tell the good stories. If there's a challenging story, we'll talk how we worked it through. But we deeply love our kids. But is it that we're too hard on ourselves? We think too deeply about how they're going to turn out, what causes that parent?

00:40:11 - Dana Suskind
Yeah. No. So you're referring to a really interesting article by Jennifer Glass and her colleagues that looked at sort of parental happiness. And as you mentioned, the parental happiness gap. Pretty universally, non parents are happier than parents. And it's not a difference in love of the fact that parents Don’t love their kids, they love their kids. But it's stressful raising kids, as Priya just mentioned, there is absolutely something always going on. So there's that part of it, but a big additional part of it that they looked at is how society supports parents and how it contributes to it. So even though that there is a gap, there are some countries where the gap is huge and some where it's very small. And the bottom line is the gaps. Our country literally has the largest parental happiness gap of all the countries, all the developed nations, they looked at. And what they figured out was that those countries with more societal supports, right, high quality, affordable childcare, paid family and medical leave, maybe child credits, those sorts of things, they had much smaller parental happiness gaps. Why? Because parents weren't worried. Like, am I going to be able to find a place that feels, that is going to complement my efforts and take care of my children while I'm at work? Or the fact that one in four parents, mothers in this country, go back to work after two weeks? Those things add stress and add to that gap. Look, we will never remove the fact that raising humans is not an easy feat. Right. There are so many upsides to it. I love my children like you all, more than life itself, and hopefully they'll take care of me when I'm old and decrepit. But the fact is, it's hard, it's stressful. And so we'll never remove that. And that's not the point. But our societal structures make it much, much more difficult than it needs to be. And we pay a price from a mental health standpoint, from all of that standpoint. But our society pays a price, too, with not only employees that are more stressed out, not as productive, but let's face it, we've got a fertility crisis looming. I was just in Korea, where it's like 1.7. I mean, people aren't having babies and people aren't having babies in this country either. And somebody's, if we want to be taken care of and have doctors to take care of us, we have to make it easier to parent. Yeah.

00:43:08 - Priya Krishnan
And it can't be a reverse pyramid with an aging population and lesser number of children. And actually, when you ask with the younger generations, and it's interesting, right. Even from an employment standpoint, you have five generations in a workforce, and millennials and Gen Z's typically are questioning the institution of marriage and having children. And having children at the younger ages is really critical if you have to at least have a dumbbell like an aging population and the younger population. So the economy is supported. So the notion of saying, how does society come about? How do employers play the role that they need to? Flexible policies, childcare supports, et cetera, how does the government play the role? Is something that we also rally towards saying, hey, this is not a parental issue. This is actually a societal issue. This is social infrastructure. So everything you say just absolutely resonates. But as two young mums and fathers just given, Paul is a lead dad, this is about parenting, this is not about genders. What would be the advice that you would give in terms of saying, here are three or four things that you should be thinking about as you're having children? I love the fact that you said, give yourself grace. I Don’t think we give ourselves the permission to fail. I think it's also important for children to see us fail. Right. But what would be two or three things that you say, hey, remember this? It's okay, you've got this. It is. But you turned out fine.

00:44:50 - Dana Suskind
Yeah. And to remember that, too, I think if you're asking from an individual who's sort of navigating the system as opposed to recommendations from the societal policy standpoint, I'd say, yes. Number one, give yourself grace and ride the tide. It goes up and down. Parenting does. And I'll tell you, all the stories also surround look at employer. If you've got the privilege to be able to look at who you're working with, the most important thing is both from the top as well as your community, are you going to be supported? Are you going to be seen as that whole individual? Are you going to feel like, oh, I've got to hide this part, because even though if it looks like in that one company, it looks that much better, but you're going to have to hide your part. That's not going to be sustainable for the long run. And lastly, Don’t be scared to reach out. Right. Everybody is struggling at some point. And if we can be open and honest and supportive, right. It's not just a take, take, obviously, it's a give as well. But when there's that sort of reciprocity, it makes us all stronger. So I guess those would be. But give yourself grace, and it is okay. I mean, when you're in the middle of it, you're like, will I survive? And will my child be okay? Even though he just bit someone in the preschool interview, which my son did, and now he's going to be a doctor, so it'll be okay.

00:46:33 - Priya Krishnan
I can tell you about the fact that my son said the same one, the one who's a guinea pig, who said in the preschool interview, which is a very coveted preschool, he said, I'm not carrying an eraser to this interview, because who's going to waste time erasing stuff? I'm just going to scratch my own. You're four years old. You Don’t get to say stuff like this.

00:46:58 - Dana Suskind
I need him because two daughters and one son, and the son is in the middle. I think we need to get. Because my son is now 21 or 22. Oh, my gosh. He is such a love. Like, I'm like, oh, you're going to be independent, and you're going to be successful, and you're going to make the world a better place. There was a period. I'm like, so we can get our boys together. He can mentor your son and get us through it. But you will go gray, just so you know.

00:47:25 - Paul Sullivan
No. Assure the listeners that your son, who is the preschool biter who's about to become a surgeon, he's not becoming a trauma surgeon. Right. He's doing something else.

00:47:34 - Dana Suskind
Yeah. No, he wants to, of course, be a pediatric surgeon like his father and his father would be so. I mean, his father would be proud of all of his children. But he would be just so tickled to see Asher. Asher has his heart, and I couldn't be more proud. But, yes, there's some time leading up that makes us gray, but that's just parenting for them.

00:48:03 - Paul Sullivan
You just gave some great advice there. And giving grace is when we have to reiterate, searching out the employers. But that's sort of the individual and the agency it's pending on the individual having agency with my kids. I have some friends who are sort of crossing that line. And by crossing that line, I mean, these are friends several years older than me who've turned 55. And when they cross that line, they immediately get a magazine from AARP announcing that they are old, whether they want it or not. And we all know that AARP has, I love old people very close to my grandfather, my grandfather, my dad's great. But they have an organization that advocates for their interest, as many groups have organizations. Why, when you become a parent, and I know there's a policy side to a lot of what you do, what would it take for when you become a parent, for you to receive the sort of know, equivalent of the AARP magazine on day one of.

00:49:04 - Dana Suskind
Yeah, yeah. And just so you know, Paul, when you're talking about old people, you're talking about me, too, because I got that. All right.

00:49:10 - Paul Sullivan
I mean, you do have eight kids. If that doesn't age you. I Don’t know what mean.

00:49:14 - Dana Suskind
But yeah, no, you bring up the question of know. I find the ARP so interesting because it's sort of, I Don’t want to say single handedly. I mean, there's always more complex, but really helped elevate and support the elderly population across demographics, across education, race, wealth, et cetera, and elevated the entire population as a whole. And I've often thought, well, why Don’t parents have something similar? Right. They're raising the next. I mean, obviously children can't vote. Why Don’t we have something similar to that? Maybe then we'd actually have paid family and medical leave in this country, which most people want. Right. Maybe we'd not be the country that invests least in, you know, children and families, which we are. And, you know, I, I do think that that would be an opportunity to sort of connect across, you know, all these things that we think separate us, you know, to this universal love of our children. And I really see it actually more as the Arp is actually a giant business as opposed to people think about advocacy organizations as let's march in the street type of thing. But it's actually a big business that uses the purchasing power of the elderly to advocate on behalf of them in terms of their needs as a demographic. And certainly parents have large purchasing power that I think could be leveraged towards this larger organization using that money to help support the needs of all parents. And that's a huge long conversation. But suffice it to say that the ARP helped back in the, it wasn't children that were the poorest segment of the population, it was actually the elderly. And through the AARP and the gray lobby, now it decreased the poverty rates by 70% in the elder population. And now who is the poorest segment of our US population? Children under five children as a whole, but the poorest are children under five. The exact time when all this brain building is happening, the exact time when we have an opportunity to get children on the right trajectory for being future employees and workforce of our country. We sort of do nothing or make it hard. So I think that, yeah, I would just like us to care more and invest more in our children and families, whatever way it is. Even if it's parents who have to say, look, this is important not just for us, but the future.

00:52:16 - Priya Krishnan
Thank you. So, Nina, I wanted to just say that if more of us do this, I have a lot of hope for where we could go as a society. So thank you for your work. And we could do a whole episode talking to you. We have three questions that we ask every guest at the end of the segment, so we wanted to ask you those three questions.

00:52:39 - Paul Sullivan
What is your go to way to unwind?

00:52:43 - Dana Suskind
Yes. So my go to way to unwind is now that I'm an empty nester, is that John and I love to bike, so we regularly bike the lakefront when it's warm and when it's not warm, we regularly bike in other parts of the country. So that's the way we spend time together and get some exercise, which, when you're getting older, like me, Paul, you have to do.

00:53:15 - Priya Krishnan
And you actually answered our third question I asked you earlier about what were three pieces of advice that you would give young families. So you answered that proactively, and we snuck that in into the previous segment with that. Thank you so much, Dana. We could have had a whole another episode talking, and you and I certainly need to share life lessons, so I will be on the side for that.

00:53:38 - Dana Suskind
I would love to. That would be a great honor. Thank you so much. This was so fun.

00:53:44 - Paul Sullivan
Thank you, Dana.

What's more magical than a childhood filled with days of play, learning, exploration and discovery? At Bright Horizons, we think of childcare as a chance to help a child experience it all. Our teachers go beyond the usual ensuring your child has an enriching, satisfying day. They take the time to listen, engage, encourage, and celebrate the wins big and small. At Bright Horizons, we put the care in childcare. Visit brighthorizons.com to find a center near you. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Work-Life Equation. For more parenting resources, visit brighthorizons.com and be sure to follow us on social media.


Priya Krishnan, Senior Vice President, Client Relations and Growth Operations
About the Author
Chief Digital and Transformation Officer
Priya Krishnan comes to Bright Horizons after founding and running India's largest childcare business. She is the winner of many awards for her work in the space, including Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Young Turk, FT1000 for Asia, and Red Herring Asia.
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