The great tragedy of leadership today is how the very positions of power that stand to benefit most from stable family relations are so onerous and taxing that maintaining a healthy family seems an insurmountable feat.
It's unfair to speculate about what motivates people to make very personal choices. Nevertheless, the family makeup of Western society's movers and shakers — those with outsize decision-making power — makes an intriguing study. Consider:
Four of the Group of Seven power players have no biological children. (To be fair, the U.K.'s Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife have spoken about their struggles with infertility.)
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is separated from his spouse with whom he has one son.
President Donald Trump shares five children with three wives.
That leaves Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has three children with his first and only wife.
Beyond the G-7, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is single and has no children, nor does Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
Social scientists have long reported socioeconomic benefits to marrying and having children. Stable families also foster emotional fortitude among members and provide an environment of love that's difficult to replicate outside a home. Even a simple thing as enjoying regular family dinner brings a host of benefits, including higher self-esteem, greater sense of resilience and lower risk of depression, according to the Family Dinner Project.
But using one's family as a strength of leadership feels incompatible with realities of high offices. For presidents, political analysts, ambassadors, members of Congress, chiefs of staff or any similar line of work, the work day literally never ends. "Nine to five" means working nine hours to take a five-minute break. It takes planning, teamwork and forgiveness to only see a spouse and children on the weekends.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, for instance, declined to seek re-election because being speaker tends to "take over everything in your life and you can just let that happen, but there other things in life that are fleeting as well."
He also noted, "Nothing trumps my family, nothing trumps the fact I don't want to be a weekend dad for my entire kids' lives."
Something's wrong when society's influencers admit they have to choose between running a country or taking care of their family.
What's the effect on the country? Significant, I'm sure.
Regularly participating in family life connects humans and imbues them with empathy. Family members see each other as people to care for rather than numbers on a spreadsheet. Parents learn the limits of their control and the value of personal agency. Someone in a strong family unit would presumably lead with both the heart and the mind — compassionate yet rational — and act with consideration for others' freedom of choice.
If this week's White House leaks and Senate confirmation hearing are any indication, this kind of discipline is conspicuously absent.
Here's another consideration: World leaders represent the tail end of the baby boomers, and Gen X is already making its mark among elected officials. In little more than a decade, significant numbers of leaders will be millennials, a cohort already shown to marry later and delay having children, if they tie the knot at all. What kind of effect will this have on public policy, diplomatic relations or judicial rulings down the road?
It's impossible to say. But by inferring from popular trends, it seems individualism will continue to cement itself in American life and the values of communitarianism will further fall by the wayside.
What's to be done? Changing the nature of the job is unlikely; the load of these positions will remain an injustice to deal with. Nor is the answer to shame those whose paths have led to a non-nuclear family or to no spouse or children.
Perhaps, then, we can change the way we value time spent with what family we have. Our culture of incessant work does nothing to promote society's fundamental unit or Edmond Burke's "little platoons." That can change. Sometimes things really can wait until morning. Employers can remember family time makes better employees. And the country can collectively decide to remember the treasure of supporting and celebrating families through both policy and media portrayal.
Somehow amid running a fledgling nation, John and Abigail Adams found time to exchange 200 letters during John's four years as president. Some are about political affairs, but many simply deal with family business and trivial personal matters. It's as if they put their dinnertime conversations to paper. But no matter how busy or wearisome life got, they never forgot to write their affection for one another. That should be our starting point.