Dear Working Parents,
You're amazing. You're juggling career and family with grace. The corporate structure wasn't built for this, but that's not on you. You're doing the work of two full-time roles, managing your career and your household, and that's no small feat. Don't doubt yourself—it's the system that needs to catch up, not you. You are enough; you are doing enough. You're rewriting the norms and showing your children what's possible.
We see you,
Being a working parent has its own set of challenges – managing a job, taking care of family, finding alone time, and dealing with bigger issues. Balancing work and raising kids can feel like a lot, making parents feel torn between their job and family. On top of that, one out of four parents in the U.S. say they've had trouble affording food or housing in the past year. It's time to have a conversation.
This article covers eleven challenges working parents face. It also gives solutions for both parents and organizations on how to offer better support.
1. The Juggling Act: Balancing Work and Childcare
One of the main challenges for working parents is finding reliable and affordable childcare. Regardless of whether they work remotely or in an office, parents still need some form of childcare support. While remote work offers flexibility, it doesn't eliminate the need for childcare. Parents may have to rely on daycare centers, nannies, or babysitters to ensure their children are well-cared for while they work.
It's important for employers to recognize and support the need for childcare, as it enables working parents to focus on their jobs without compromising their children's wellbeing. As an organization, you can step in to help. Here’s how:
- On-Site Childcare Facilities: Establish on-site childcare centers or partnerships with nearby childcare providers to offer convenient and reliable childcare options for employees.
- Flexible Work Hours: Allow parents to adjust their work hours to accommodate their childcare needs, enabling them to drop off and pick up their children at appropriate times.
- Childcare Stipends or Subsidies: Provide financial assistance or subsidies to help offset the costs of external childcare arrangements, making it more affordable for parents to access quality care.
2. The Mental Load: Feeling Like You're Never Doing Enough
Working parents often experience feelings of guilt and inadequacy, fearing that they are not giving their all to both their careers and their children. It's important for parents to put things in perspective and understand that it's impossible to be perfect in every aspect of life.
In the words of Serena Williams, “It’s not about what we can do; it’s what we MUST do as working moms and working dads. Anything is possible…if it means warming up and stretching while holding my baby, that’s what this mama will do.”
Some days, work may take priority, while other days, family needs come first. By accepting that balance is a constant negotiation, parents can alleviate some of the pressure and find peace in knowing they are doing their best.
Organizations hold an important role in alleviating these pressures and ensuring working parents feel valued and supported. Here are some strategies to help working parents feel that their efforts are indeed enough:
- Flexible Work Arrangements: Offer flexible work options, such as remote work or flexible hours, so parents can better manage their professional and family responsibilities.
- Clear Expectations: Set clear expectations for performance and provide regular feedback to alleviate the uncertainty that parents may feel about their contributions.
- Recognize Efforts: Acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of working parents. Recognizing their accomplishments and efforts can boost their morale and sense of accomplishment.
- Promote a Results-Oriented Culture: Emphasize the importance of achieving results rather than just counting hours worked. This can help shift the focus from hours worked to the impact of one's contributions.
- Offer Resources: Provide resources on time management, stress reduction, and parenting tips to help parents navigate their responsibilities more effectively.
3. The Perception Gap: Overcoming Stereotypes and Biases
Unfortunately, working parents, particularly mothers, still face stereotypes and biases in the workplace. The "motherhood penalty" is a well-documented phenomenon where working mothers are perceived as less committed or competent compared to their counterparts without children. It’s a reminder of the work that still lies ahead in achieving true gender equity.
Similarly, there’s also the “pregnancy penalty”. The very experience of bringing new life into the world, which should be celebrated, often becomes a source of adversity in the workplace. In fact, it’s costing women $16,000 a year in lost wages.
Leah Fink knows this reality all too well. She says her problems started when her employer, a New York City public school, found out she was pregnant. Her duties as assistant principal were re-assigned. She lost her personal office. She didn’t have a private, clean space to pump. And teachers at the school had biases towards her, leaving her in tears at the thought of her return to work. Leah’s story is one of thousands.
Women are constantly challenged with choosing between their career aspirations and starting a family. The motherhood and pregnancy penalties, and many others like them, not only deny mothers the support they deserve during a pivotal life stage, but they also deprive workplaces of the different qualities and contributions moms bring to the table. Even a Bright Horizons study found that 84 percent of employed Americans said they believed having working moms in leadership roles would make the business more successful.
Working moms aren’t the only ones. Working fathers are subjected to the “fatherhood forfeit,” where managers view them with suspicion and concern. Fathers themselves said they felt they got less workplace support than mothers and had to make more of a case for time off for their kids’ events or appointments. Not to mention the lack of changing stations within restrooms and the “Where is mom?” discrimination.
We are really far behind, but things can change. Organizations can address these biases and create an inclusive and supportive environment for all employees, regardless of their caregiving responsibilities. Managers should have open conversations with their team members about their work-life balance and provide opportunities for growth and advancement based on merit rather than making assumptions about a parent's dedication. Having children shouldn’t be seen as a roadblock for career advancement; rather, it should be embraced.
4. The Struggle for Work-Life Integration: Finding Time for Yourself
One of the biggest challenges for working parents is finding time for self-care and personal fulfillment. The never-ending list of responsibilities can make it seem impossible to prioritize one's own needs. However, taking care of oneself is essential for maintaining overall well-being and preventing burnout.
Whether it's scheduling regular exercise, setting aside time for hobbies, or seeking support from friends and family, it's crucial for working parents to carve out time for themselves. By doing so, they can recharge and show up as their best selves in both their personal and professional lives.
Here are some ways you can rest and recharge as a working parent:
- Quality Family Time: Spend meaningful moments with your family—engage in conversations, play games, or simply relax together. Cherishing these moments can be rejuvenating.
- Alone Time: Carve out a little time for yourself after the kids are asleep. Engage in a hobby, read, take a relaxing bath, or simply unwind.
- Exercise: Physical activity can do wonders for your energy levels. Whether it's a brisk walk, a workout session, or a yoga practice, moving your body helps you feel more refreshed.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Take a few minutes to practice mindfulness or meditation. It can help you unwind, reduce stress, and restore mental clarity.
- Creative Outlets: Engage in a creative activity you enjoy, whether it's drawing, writing, crafting, or playing a musical instrument. Creativity can provide an outlet for relaxation.
5. The Transition Dilemma: Switching Gears from Work to Home
For many working parents, the transition from work to home can be challenging. It's important to create boundaries and establish rituals that signal the end of the workday and the beginning of family time.
This can be turning off work notifications, practicing mindfulness exercises during the commute, or engaging in a brief self-care routine before entering the home. By intentionally separating work and home life, parents can fully engage with their families and be present in the moment.
“For me, being a mother made me a better professional because coming home every night to my girls reminded me what I was working for.” — Michelle Obama
6. The Return to the Office: Why Working Parents are Worried
In the last few years, working from home has brought flexibility to working parents. No more long commutes meant they could do their jobs, take care of their kids, and maybe even find time to exercise. Of course, this all depended on having someone reliable to watch the kids—a big "if." But for lots of them, working remotely made life way less chaotic. A study even showed that working from home saved working parents around 72 minutes each day!
But now, things are changing again. Companies want employees to come back to the office. For working parents, this brings a mix of feelings. Going back to the office sounds like a big adjustment after enjoying the flexibility of working from home. Saying goodbye to the extra morning snuggles and being there to help with school stuff feels tough.
Childcare can be so unpredictable, and the thought of going back to a long and terrible commute is a real downer. A typical nine-to-five day at the office just isn’t flexible for working parents who have so much on their plates.
A lot of working parents have actually found that they're more productive when they're working from home. The distractions are fewer, and they can really focus on the tasks at hand. As things keep shifting, going back to the office will be a chance to show how flexible working parents are, but it’s up to organizations to support them in this shift.
7. The Impact on Children: Nurturing Mental Health and Well-being
Working parents are not only concerned about their own well-being but also the mental health of their children. In the last few years, there’s been an increase in anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues among children.
Navigating the healthcare system to find qualified mental health providers and address their children's needs can be overwhelming for parents. It's important for employers to provide resources and support for parents to access mental health services for their children. Here are some ways organizations can champion family mental health:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Offer access to EAPs that provide resources, counseling, and support for both parents and their children, ensuring they have access to professional guidance.
- Childcare Support: Partner with childcare providers or offer childcare services to alleviate the stress of finding reliable care, giving parents peace of mind and reducing anxiety.
- Mental Health Resources: Provide access to mental health resources, including workshops, seminars, and online resources, to help parents and their families cope with stress and challenges.
- Workplace Wellness Initiatives: Establish wellness programs that focus on mental health, such as mindfulness workshops, stress reduction seminars, and yoga sessions, to support the mental well-being of parents and their children.
8. The Power of Communication: Open Dialogues and Understanding
An important part of supporting working parents is open and honest communication. Organizations should create a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their caregiving responsibilities and any challenges they may be facing.
Managers and leaders should actively listen and be responsive to the needs of working parents, offering flexible solutions and accommodations when possible. Regular check-ins and performance evaluations should take into account the unique circumstances and achievements of working parents.
9. The Need for More Options: Working Parents of Kids With Disabilities
Many working parents have their struggles. But parents of children with disabilities face even more challenges. Some of their children are at the doctor's office often. Some go to therapy multiple times per week. Some deal with behavior issues, so their parents get calls from school or daycare to pick them up.
Things can change in an instant. A child is doing totally fine but then suddenly is in the hospital or has an emergency. This make it tough because most employers don't understand. This is why remote jobs often work better, but even those need to be really flexible. Ultimately, being able to go to work is one of the biggest challenges parents of children with disabilities face.
On top of all that, they have extra expenses and the financial stress this places on parents can be heavy, sometimes too heavy to carry. Working parents can't try every single solution that exists, unless they want to go bankrupt. But learning about what's best for their child needs lots of time, talking to experts, and other families, leaving less time for their job.
Parents raising children with special needs speak their own language, and they need others who are fluent. It's important for organizations to create ERGs and support groups where they can have a community of others experiencing parenthood the way they are. Sharing knowledge, understanding, and empathy go a long way in supporting these parents.
Working parents shouldn't have to act like there are no kids at home. It should be okay for them to talk about their family without worrying that others will think they can't focus on work, travel, or be productive. Organizations need to start having conversations about how to help parents at work, especially if their kids have disabilities. Staying quiet about it isn't the right thing to do.
Here are some other ways organizations can help parents of children with disabilities from The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM):
- Offer a generous benefits plan or flexible spending account that covers occupational, speech and other therapies.
- Enlist an expert who can help parents apply for benefits for their children with developmental disabilities.
- Train supervisors to accommodate and support caregivers.
- Make remote work available to caregivers.
- Have resources available that can help research doctors, review care plans, schedule appointments and find child care options.
10. The Need for Workplace Support: Fostering Belonging and Inclusion
Organizations play a significant role in supporting working parents and fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace.
Employers can implement policies that promote work-life balance, such as flexible scheduling, remote work options, and parental leave policies. Additionally, creating employee resource groups specifically for working parents can provide a supportive community where parents can share experiences, seek advice, and advocate for their needs. These efforts not only attract and retain top talent but also enhance employee morale and foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.
Organizations can take an extra step by having their leaders join Inclusivv Membership on the Inclusive Leadership Journey. This provides leaders with the support and connections they need to enhance their organization's inclusive policies and practices.
In August 2023, Inclusivv hosted an online training and guided conversation focused on working parents with our members around the world. The session explored solutions, leaving participants with new insights, awareness, and actionable strategies to improve the experience of working parents within their organizations.
Members also recommended books, podcasts, and articles, fostering the community and support they've been longing for. Here are some of the recommendations:
- "Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change" by Angela Garbes
- "Fair Play" by Eve Rodsky
- "Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood" by Jessica Grose
- SHRM, “Biden Proposes $325 Billion Paid Family Leave Plan”
- New York Times, “The Forgotten Origins of Paid Family Leave”
- Organization of American Historians, “The History of Family Leave Policies in the United States”
11. The Embracing of Community: Collective Action and Advocacy
Working parents face systemic challenges that require collective action and advocacy. It's important for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole to recognize and address the barriers faced by working parents.
This can be achieved through initiatives such as lobbying for affordable and accessible childcare, advocating for policies that support work-life balance, and promoting workplace diversity and inclusion.
It takes a village to support working parents, and together, we can create a more equitable and supportive environment for all working parents.
- Hidden Value: The Business Case of Reproductive Health
- Strategies to Support Working Parents of Children with Disabilities
- Economic Policy Institute “Black women’s labor market history reveals deep-seated race and gender discrimination“