Working Parents Are In Crisis: New Data And The 5 Best Responses

The future of work doesn’t look good for working parents, and especially for working mothers. New data from multiple sources demonstrates working parents are concerned about their children, struggling with work-life and taking steps back in their careers. They are also especially stressed about global and national issues.

But among all the bad news, there are actions individuals, communities and employers can take to have constructive effects on working parents and tilt the balance back toward a positive work-life experience.

The Good News

It’s important to start with the fact that the news isn’t all bad—there are some glimmers of good news. In particular, according to a study by KinderCare, 69% of working parents feel they’ve been able to be more involved in their children’s lives because of more flexible work schedules. Hybrid work and greater autonomy about where, when and how people work has many benefits, and quality of life and time with family and children certainly top the list.

The Sobering News

But there is also a raft of negative impacts of the pandemic, the economy and the current conditions for working parents.

Parents Are Concerned About Their Kids

According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), parents are concerned about their children based on the conditions created by the pandemic:

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  • 73% worry about their children’s social life or development
  • 71% worry about academic development
  • 71% worry about emotional health and development
  • 68% worry about cognitive development
  • 65% worry about physical health and development

Parents Are Concerned About Childcare

The APA study found 72% of working parents were stressed based on disruptions and uncertainty about school and childcare schedules. In addition, the KinderCare research found 39% of working parents said finding quality chidcare was getting in the way of successfully navigating parenting.

Parents Are Concerned About Surrounding Conditions

And according to the research, parents are also more stressed than non-parents about other issues as well.

  • 80% are concerned about money (compared to 58% for non-parents)
  • 77% are concerned about the economy (compared to 59%)
  • 72% are concerned about housing costs (compared to 39%)

Parents Are Enduring Rising Costs And Career Hits

Parents’ concerns about costs are well-founded as they are also experiencing increasing costs for child care. This is according to a report by LendingTree, which found parents have seen an average annual increase of 41% in childcare costs for center-based services. Families with children under five were hit the hardest in terms of cost increases. And parents in Hawaii have it worst, experiencing childcare which demands 29% of average wages.

The impact on working moms is especially great. According to a study by the to a Pew Research Center, working moms were significantly more likely to leave their jobs as a response to childcare challenges. In fact, about one third of working mothers have left their jobs since the start of the pandemic. This is according to Seramount.

The Best Responses

Given the number of parents who work (89.1% of families with children have one working parent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), effective responses are critical. When parents are supported at work, it’s better for them, for families and for communities. But it’s also better for business, because people can bring their best effort when they’re supported in all aspects of their lives.

So what are the approaches to support working parents—on the part of communities and companies?

#1 – Provide Predictability

One of the best ways to support working moms and dads is to provide predictability in terms of schedules and work hours. A tough challenge for parents is when they can’t predict working hours, or when childcare or school hours are in flux. Predictability can be relatively easy to accomplish for businesses which provide work schedules and set clear expectations for when people need to be reporting for work. It can be a tougher challenge when daycares must close for health reasons or when bus schedules change based on a lack of available drivers.

But the takeaway message is clear: Create as much predictability as possible in terms of when, where and how people work and in terms of children’s schedules. When there are changes that must occur, provide as much notice as possible so parents have time to make backup plans.

#2 – Provide Choice and Control

Another classic way to reduce stress on anyone—working parents included—is to provide as much choice and control over schedules, benefits and work as possible. Multiple studies have demonstrated when people feel they can control their schedules, their routines and their life choices, they experience greater quality of life and less stress. They also report that they parent better. Again, this is good for individuals, families and communities, but it’s also advantageous for business—because people can be more effective at work when they feel more on top of the demands they face.

#3 – Provide Community

Another significant way to buffer stress, foster happiness and increase wellbeing is by creating the conditions for plenty of connection and community. People need the support of others—whether through a culture which fosters great teamwork or an employer which sets up effective mentorship programs. People benefit from affinity groups where they can share their challenges and experience listening ears, and they benefit from leaders who are empathetic and compassionate. Employers can take these kinds of steps, and employees can take the initiative to advocate for these kinds of programs as well.

#4 – Provide Childcare

Perhaps one of the most impactful ways employers can help with the parenting crisis is by providing childcare. In addition to the obvious benefits for parents, families and communities, employer-provided childcare can also positively impact attraction and retention. And the data proves this. The KinderCare study showed:

  • 60% of working parents reported they would stay in their current jobs if they had subsidized child care
  • 55% said they would take a pay cut to work for a company that provided quality childcare
  • 81% of working parents said a company’s childcare benefits were a key criterion in the consideration of a job

In a related study by with Yahoo! Finance, 68% of working parents said they would be more likely to accept an offer from an employer that offers flexible scheduling for childcare needs, and 62% said they would be more likely to accept an offer when a monthly childcare stipend was on offer.

For companies considering childcare supports for parents, the business case is easy to make based on these data.

#5 – Ensure Equity

Overall, companies must—of course—create equity across all kinds of workers. Ironically, this means not providing greater benefits, flexibility or goodies to parents as compared to non-parents—a risk as companies seek to support parents.

In fact, a study by ResumeLab found non-parents sometimes feel discriminated against because they don’t get as much flexibility, vacation or control over their schedules. While companies seek to offer substantive and comprehensive support for parents, they are also wise to ensure they’re not overcorrecting and leaving out those who are not parents.

In Sum

The pandemic has been hard on everyone—for sure, and communities will feel the effects for many years to come. But it has had disproportionately greater negative impacts on working parents and women.

As organizations consider their roles in lives, families and communities they are wise to adopt comprehensive support measures. Likewise, employees are empowered to initiate, advocate and create the conditions for themselves and colleagues to support the work-family experience.

Work is a fundamental way people contribute their talents and skills to the community and feel a sense of value and meaning. Likewise, parenting is one of the most precious and important roles people can fulfill—for themselves, their families and communities. Contributive justice demands people of every ilk have the supports they need to contribute fully—and support for working parents is one aspect of this requirement.

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