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Perspective | North Carolina’s working parents deserve better

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 That’s because many current employer and public policies are based on an outdated model: a two-parent household, with one parent who stays at home to care for children full-time.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:

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:

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.

Emily Swartzlander

Emily Swartzlander is the president of EBS Strategies, a consulting firm that helps mission-driven organizations make a meaningful impact, and a chief strategy consultant for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s Family Forward NC initiative. Visit www.buildthefoundation.org or www.familyforwardnc.com for more on NCECF and Family Forward NC.