No one has escaped the effects of the pandemic, but working parents are struggling. Staring down a lack of childcare, new work-from-home situations, and insufficient support from employers or public resources, these individuals are nearing the end of their rope emotionally, and for many, financially. The start of the school year further complicates matters as parents grapple with difficult decisions and limited options due to school policies or their own financial and employment constraints. While parents navigate this fraught period for their families and bank accounts, the country must understand three things: Where parents stand now, what they need from their employers in the future, and what can be done in the meantime to find relative peace and security.
Where Parents Stand
According to Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census, over half of Americans said their financial health was negatively impacted following the outbreak of the pandemic. For Millennials and Gen X, many of whom are parents of school-aged children, more than one in five households saw their income fall by half or more. It is no surprise, then, that 58 percent of caregivers, a group which includes parents, are currently concerned for their financial futures. Working parents today are scared and depleted. Doing their jobs at home while simultaneously managing their children’s health, entertainment and education all day, parents have been juggling at least two full-time jobs since March. On top of that stress, their changed financial situations have led to higher stakes and fewer solutions when it comes to education and care as the school year begins.
What Parents Want
In the midst of a financial crisis, the Financial Wellness Census found that Americans turn first to the federal government for help, followed closely by family and friends. Only 14 percent sought financial assistance from employers during this time, but results concerning employees’ feelings about benefits reveal how workplaces can evolve to provide parents with greater support. The statistics are particularly telling for women, who typically carry a disproportionate amount of household childcare responsibilities. In fact, 43 percent of women want more flexible work options compared to only 29 percent of men. “Flexible work options” means the freedom to work remotely or at nontraditional hours of the day, but for parents it means being present for their children at bedtime and making their kids’ lunch without anxiously checking work emails. Less constraining expectations around working hours can even open up the possibility of homeschooling for high-risk families who cannot afford private tutors.
What They Can Do Now
Times are hard and deep systemic problems can slow needed changes. In the meantime, Amanda Clayman, financial therapist and Prudential’s Financial Wellness Advocate, is guiding parents. “As parents in a state of fear and exhaustion, processing reality is difficult, which puts us at risk of reacting (often financially) instead of thoughtfully responding to our situation,” says Clayman. “I recommend slowing down and asking yourself: What are the facts? What aspects of this situation do I control? And what is outside my control?” From there, Clayman encourages parents to find a best-fit solution for their family within their financial means. “Be open to giving up the idea of a feel-good decision and remember your family solution will look different from your peers,” she says. Try looking to community resources for support and solace. No path forward is perfect in a pandemic, but by regularly tuning in to personal priorities, leaning on their communities, and reminding themselves of their emotional and financial adaptability, families can find avenues for support.
Working parents have responded to financial and situational setbacks with creativity and courage this year. Their efforts have kept them afloat, but they are tired. As these parents look to the future, workplaces can help by offering environments, benefits and scheduling options that allow their employees – and their employees’ children – to thrive. Until then, keeping a firm grasp on their emotional and financial reality, being gentle with themselves, and taking pride in their flexibility will keep working parents going.