September evokes many different images, thoughts, and emotions. We associate this month with the end of summer and beginning of fall, a shift in the weather, and (for many) the start of a new school year. While back-to-school time can be a relief for many parents (caring for restless kids during the summer can be a full-time job on its own!), it can also kick off other types of complications—carpooling to soccer games, picking kids up from drama club, chaperoning school field trips.
For working parents, life is rarely easy or still. As we ease back into the school year, it’s helpful to acknowledge the challenges that come with balancing parenthood and a career. Sacrifices and compromises are essential parts of life. For working parents, things can get tough and stress levels can run high, but I’m here to tell you it is possible to juggle both, especially when you have the backing of a supportive employer.
This post is meant for two different types of people: working parents and the people who employ them. If you are an employer (or manager, HR rep, or anyone with some clout in your company), think about how you can support your people by taking some of the following actions. If you are an employed parent that is not receiving all the support you deserve, consider asking about some of the items on this list. When workplaces provide resources and empathy to working parents, everyone wins.
1. Flexible Hours
In many workplaces, it doesn’t matter if someone does their work at 10:00 in the morning or 10:00 in the evening. As long as tasks are accomplished and goals are met, why should the workplace care when these things happen? But traditions are hard to break, and many parents still have to fight for flexible hours.
According to a report by McKinsey, parents have been far more likely than nonparents to leave their jobs lately, and some of the reasons include struggles with “juggling childcare responsibilities” or “not finding consistent childcare.” And this trend is disproportionately affecting BIPOC parents, which is troubling on many levels.
EMPLOYER ACTION: If your workplace can offer flexible work hours but does not, question why that is. Even building a little flexibility into the workplace (flexible start and end times, a chance to work from home for a few hours each day, etc.) can be enormously helpful to working parents.
2. Paid Leave
The plain truth is that parents will occasionally need time off. They may need to stay home to care for sick kiddos, or they may want to take a few months off for maternity or paternity leave. These leaves of absence should be normalized, as they are in many other countries. Across the world, more than 120 nations provide paid parental leave, but not the United States. Even though this is not a national law, make it the “law” of your company.
The first months of a child’s life are vitally important. Not only are they completely reliant on a caretaker, they are also constantly learning and forming their first bonds—beginning to recognize their parents’ voices, appearances, and even smells. As a trained doula, I have a deep love for new life and parenthood, and it saddens me when new parents have to struggle with an extra layer of stress (a job that does not provide paid leave or pressures them to work almost immediately after welcoming a new child). This absolutely applies to adoptive parents, too.
EMPLOYER ACTION: Normalize paid leave—both sick leave and parental leave. A business should be well-staffed and able to easily cover extended leaves of absence. This will not only help new parents, but will also help anyone who has to deal with a serious/chronic medical issue.
3. Better Communication
Imagine a workplace where you don’t have to sneak around or make excuses. Imagine a place where it’s acceptable to say, “I’m going to drive my daughter to her soccer game this afternoon, but I’ll get to that project later tonight.” Or, “I’m having trouble making our morning meetings because that’s when I drop my kids off at school. Could we push things back half an hour?”
People sometimes feel as though they’re punished in the workplace for being parents. Collectively, we need to be more understanding. Most parents are working two jobs—their day job and their childcare job—and that can be a real struggle. But if open communication is welcomed and encouraged, it will be easier to find solutions that work for everyone.
EMPLOYER ACTION: Promote an environment that discourages judgment and promotes open, honest communication.
4. Start an Employee Resource Group
Sometimes the best people to help working parents are other parents. Employee resource groups can offer a safe space to talk about issues (and problem solve), share ideas, or offer support and resources. Members of this group might start a carpooling program, for instance, or advocate for more parental leave. Or they might simply meet on a regular basis to swap support, guidance, and stories. It all matters.
EMPLOYER ACTION: Spearhead an initiate to start an Employee resource group for parents.
Working parents are an integral part of the national workforce, but they are severely lacking the support they need (and deserve!). With a combined effort from employers (or company decision-makers) and parents, we can make some relatively simple changes in the workplace that can make a world of difference to working parents. Consider it an investment in the future.