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For working parents, childcare is a heavy load. Guess who shoulders most of it?
TIME magazine put it best, “Being a Working Parent Sucks Right Now.”
As offices begin to reopen and the world emerges from two years of isolation, childcare facilities and schools have been slow to follow suit. Staff shortages, which are plaguing every industry, and breakouts of Omicron are forcing many schools to revert back to remote learning.
Daycare centers and other kinds of childcare facilities are even worse off, with worker shortages in nearly every state. This is forcing many centers to reduce operating hours, cut back on the number of children that can be enrolled, and drastically raise prices. All of this is having a ripple effect on the economy at large as parents struggle to find suitable — and affordable — childcare options for their little ones.
We were curious to learn more about the plight of working parents and how they are coping with the pressures and strains being imposed on them in the pandemic era. In December 2021, BetterUp surveyed 584 full time working parents in the US. The audience we surveyed was split nearly even between mothers and fathers (49% and 51% respectively).
What the data say:
At first glance, it looks like working parents are taking on about 25% of the childcare responsibilities regardless of their working arrangement, but when you break these numbers down by gender, they tell a very different story.
Women self-report being responsible for childcare roughly 32% of the time, whereas men report around 17%.
Gender bias is still prevalent in our society today. Stereotypes around gender roles persist and teach us that men are expected to work. And while women can work outside of the home, domestic needs are primarily theirs to manage. That's not to ignore the many men who do step up as child-rearing partners, but the data show that overall there is still a significant gap. As a result of these attitudes, we see that women still take on the lion’s share of household responsibilities — childcare included.
When we dive deeper into these numbers, we see they vary depending on the working arrangement.
On average, women are taking on nearly 10% less of the childcare burden when working in-person as compared to remote or hybrid arrangements. Interestingly, the opposite seems to be the case for men. Working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement gets them out of childcare responsibilities more than working in-person
This is even more clear when you collapse across hybrid & remote arrangements (basically any situation in which there is a level of flexibility).
Although we can’t say for certain what is causing this discrepancy, it’s likely that gender bias and long-standing family dynamics are to blame here as well. The workweek is longer for those that work remotely, and kids are more likely to hear “Don’t disturb Dad while he’s working” these days. Mom on the other hand? Of course, she can help you. She's superwoman — or at least she feels pressure to be. It isn't that all families expect that mom is a superwoman so much as that "mom" has come to mean always tracking and caring about what is going on for the children. Whatever the reason, when it comes to working parents juggling childcare with work demands, mothers continue to do the heavy lifting.
What working mothers can do:
There’s no dancing around it, the demands placed on working parents are heavier than ever before. Raising children while working full-time has always presented a unique challenge, and it’s gotten exponentially more difficult in the pandemic era. But open communication between mothers and fathers and between employees and their managers can help lighten the load. Here are a few practical steps working mothers can take:
- Identify areas where parity would make the biggest difference
It’s not easy to accurately assess who does more in the home (and it might be inadvisable to get too precise). The reality is that splitting chores up perfectly is impossible. Some things are just more difficult or time-consuming than others, and some require skills that one partner has that the other doesn’t. Rather than trying to tally up a perfect balance, try to identify specific areas where it would make a meaningful impact on your workload and well-being if your partner took on a task or responsibility.
- Talk out the division of labor with your partner
The next step is to speak with your partner about the areas where you need their help. Assume best intent. In many cases, the other person may be overestimating their own contributions or underestimating the workload that you’re taking on. Practice actively listening and give them ample opportunity to express their feelings as well. They may be managing additional responsibilities that you are unaware of or have reasons why they can’t take on certain chores. Have an open mind and view them as a partner, not an opponent.
- Have an honest discussion with your manager
Once you have made some progress within the home, it’s time to get some help with the work outside of the home. At a minimum, most parents can benefit from flexibility in working hours to adapt to the shifting family schedules, and many employers are offering it. Companies are aware that their employees are struggling and many have taken steps to provide assistance. Your manager may be able to point you to resources you didn’t know were available, help you achieve greater work/life balance by opening up your schedule and redistributing your workload, or providing professional coaching which has been proven to help working parents reduce stress and improve their well-being.
- Practice self-compassion
As hard as it is to be a working parent, mothers, in particular, can make it harder by judging themselves too harshly. Self-compassion isn’t a soft, nice to have. The proven benefits of self-compassion are critical for you to sustain performance and commitment over time in this era of hybrid work and ongoing uncertainty. It benefits the people around you — your team and your family — too. We’ve seen in prior research that individual contributors tend to be lower in self-compassion than other groups.
The bad news is that challenges facing working parents are likely to extend well after the pandemic ends. The good news is that organizations are more willing and have access to more resources to help lighten the load for working parents. It’s thrilling to see companies across industries stepping up and expanding their benefits to support their employees.
Our advice to struggling parents is to stop suffering in silence. Strive to have open communication with both your partner and your employer. Make your needs and challenges, and expectations, known.
Be open, not just to hearing their perspectives, but to thinking imaginatively about other workflows, staffing, or schedules that could make life work better for you. You may just find that they are willing and able to give you the support you’re looking for.
BetterUp Applied Behavioral Scientist Khoa Le Nguyen led the survey and analysis behind this insight.
Sr. Insights Manager