As a working mother with a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, I know firsthand what working parents face each day when trying to balance work and family needs.
I’ve been the recipient of the unexpected phone call from child care to let me know my daughter is sick and needs picked up immediately, despite the fact that I’m about to head into a big meeting. I’ve searched for a private place to pump milk that isn’t a bathroom, because who wants to make food in a bathroom? I’ve come into the office exhausted after spending the entire night holding a baby who is teething and just won’t go to sleep. I’ve done the “who has a busier day?” dance with my husband, negotiating who has to stay home and who has to go in to work when there’s a snow day.
I’ve been there. And as a mom, an employee, and now a small business owner, I can say from experience that for working parents, the struggle is very real.
My experience is not unique ― in fact, it’s the norm in our country. That’s because many current employer and public policies are based on an outdated model: a two-parent household, with one parent who stays at home to care for children full-time.
But that model accounts for only 9% of all families today, which means the vast majority of families must work in a system that leaves parents struggling to balance work and family needs. Here’s what that means for parents as they navigate the workplace:
- Nearly one quarter of mothers are back to work two weeks after having a baby, due largely in part to not having access to paid leave. The United States is the only developed nation (and one of only two countries worldwide) that does not offer universal paid parental leave, and only 16% of private sector workers have access to paid leave through their employer.
- One in three parents feel they’ve been overlooked for a promotion as a result of taking parental leave.
- 75% of mothers and 50% of fathers have passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit to care for their children.
- Nearly 40% of parents say they’ve left a job because it lacked flexibility.
- Nearly half of breastfeeding mothers say they’re concerned that breastfeeding or pumping at work impacts their career growth and say they’ve considered a job or career change because of their need to provide breastmilk for their baby.
Conversely, when parents are supported at work with policies such as flexible schedules, paid parental leave, accommodations for pregnant workers, or child care subsidies, they are more loyal to their employer, happier at work and at home, healthier, and less likely to leave the workforce.
Not only do workplace supports lift up parents, but they also positively impact children ― from lower infant mortality rates to increases in immunization rates, IQ scores, and regular school attendance, to name a few benefits. All of this leads to better health and well-being for our children now and in the future, when they get ready to enter the workforce.
Employers across North Carolina support the idea of family-friendly workplaces according to research conducted by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF), the state’s only organization focused exclusively on children from birth to 8. But oftentimes, employers don’t know where to start when it comes to incorporating those practices into their own workplaces.
That’s why NCECF launched Family Forward NC, an initiative to create more family-friendly workplaces across the state. NCECF’s Guide to Family Forward Workplaces, informed by research and an advisory council of prominent business leaders, community leaders, and health experts, provides tools for employers of all sizes with practical tips for selecting and implementing 16 family-friendly workplace practices that have evidence to support positive business impact and a positive effect on child health and well-being.
The guide also provides advice for parents who want to work with their employers to encourage more family-friendly practices in their own workplace. Is that you? If so, try starting with these ideas:
- Know your rights. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or need time to care for yourself or a child, you may have some legal protection. Make sure you understand the laws and know what rights you have.
- Encourage your employer to start with policies that are easier to incorporate, like support for breastfeeding moms or accommodations for pregnant workers.
- Learn about what other employers across North Carolina have done to make their own workplaces more family friendly. Check out the case studies and sample policies in the Guide to Family Forward Workplaces.
Visit the Guide to Family Forward Workplaces for more ideas and inspiration for you and your employer. And hang in there, mom and dad. I see you. Balancing those late-night feedings and early morning meetings. Doing what it takes to make it work in a system that does not work for you. Let’s fix it together.