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How to support working parents at every stage of a child’s life


Working parents make up a sizable chunk of the U.S. workforce, which means it’s likely that many of your best employees have children or intend to.

In nearly half of all two-parent American households, both parents work, according to Pew Research Center data from 2015 (the latest available data).

And they could use all the help they could get. From finding newborn childcare to helping a teenager choose the right college, raising children is an all-consuming labor of love that doesn’t stop during business hours.

Supporting working parents makes life easier for your employees at home and work. It’s also a wise choice in a tight labor market. Having a reputation as a family-friendly workplace attracts talented workers, keeps your top performers from jumping ship for more supportive environments and can help boost the overall productivity of your business.

Simply put, less stressed employees are happier and more focused workers. Here’s how you can help your employees at every stage of their parenting journey:

1. Pregnancy and adoption

Supporting parents starts before the baby arrives — during pregnancy or the adoption process.

Empathy is especially important at this stage. Pregnant mothers may be dealing with morning sickness and other physical symptoms, especially if they have a high risk-pregnancy. Parents seeking to adopt may confront emotional, legal and financial challenges.

The lead-up to the new baby’s grand entrance is a huge transition, involving loads of decisions. Should the mother breast feed or use formula? Daycare or nanny? Apartment in the city or a bigger house in the suburbs? The list goes on.

During this roller-coaster-ride period, it’s critical to support all the parents involved, whether that means mothers and fathers, same sex partners or single mothers.

Meet with the expecting parent early in the pregnancy or adoption process to discuss their needs, plans and the kind of support your company can provide.

When you have an open and candid conversation, and proactively lay out options for parents-to-be, they are less likely to feel awkward and demanding about accommodations.

What parents need and how businesses can help

  • Time off or a flexible schedule: Pregnancy includes many trips to the doctor. Allow parents-to-be proper leeway for prenatal appointments. In the case of adoptions, allot time for site visits, court proceedings or other legal procedures. Ensure this flexibility is afforded to both future moms and dads.

    Assure employees that their time off and absences will be excused and communicated to other fellow employees. Missing work can be stressful for parents if they fear being judged for their absence by their supervisors or coworkers.

    Explain your company’s family leave and paid time off (PTO) policy and how much time they are entitled to take off under the Family Medical Leave Act or equivalent laws at the state level. Some states provide paid family leave, so it’s a good idea to communicate this as well.
  • Understanding: Pregnancy and adoption include many variables that may be out of the parent’s control.

    In cases of a high-risk pregnancy, for example, a mother may need to go on bed rest. She may need to work from home or take additional leave before the baby is born. Remember that pregnancy is a protected condition under federal (and most states’) law, so it’s best to maintain open communication and ensure non-discriminatory treatment.

    The adoption process might encounter roadblocks that require unexpected time off. Bringing home a new baby can be an uncertain affair.

    Discuss a plan for return that takes into account your employee’s needs. What are their thoughts about returning to work? Would they want to come back full time right away, or ease the transition by first returning part time and then to full time? It’s important not to make assumptions or let your own experience dictate.
  • Help finding childcare: There are so many options — nanny, au pair, day care center, home day care, relative care, staying at home or a combination of situations.

    If you have an employee assistance program (EAP), a confidential work-place program that’s designed to help employees resolve personal and work-related problems, many offer referral services that help employees sort through choices. In some cities, non-profits offer these services as well.

2. Infancy, toddler and preschool years

Those first days and weeks after the baby arrives are exhausting. Parents of newborns lack sleep and may be emotional about leaving their babies in the care of others for the first time.

The next big challenge for parents, after that initial transition back to work, is caring for sick kids. It’s estimated that babies and toddlers have eight to ten colds a year before they turn two years old, according to research from the National Institute of Health. Colds become more prevalent as kids enter preschool.

What parents need and how businesses can help

  • Time off to care for a newborn infant: If your company has 50 or more employees, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Many states have similar leave laws as well.
  • Smooth transition back to work: Going back to work after family leave can be overwhelming. Allow returning employees some time to get their bearings, before launching them full-force back into demanding projects and responsibilities.
  • Flexibility and a generous PTO policy: Work together to find solutions that help parents better achieve work-life balance. Are there certain days they could work remotely from home?
  • Access to health benefits: To help parents keep their children well, offer an employee-sponsored health plan or health care savings account, if possible. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, many offer a nurse line that parents can call for guidance about whether they should take their child to the doctor or provide care from home.
  • Lactation support for new mothers: Provide a clean, private place for breastfeeding moms (not a restroom), as well as reasonable breaks throughout the day to pump. This is required under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

3. Elementary school years

For the most part, parents are out of survival mode once their children start elementary school.

Now they’re dealing with different challenges, such as securing before and after school childcare and keeping their kids safe and busy during the summer.

Many children start extracurricular activities at this time, such as team sports, dance, scouting or tutoring. That means more time in the car shuttling kids back and forth to activities for mom and dad.

What parents need and how businesses can help

  • Help with the second shift: Parents need the option to take kids to after-school activities, attend parent-teacher meetings and occasionally volunteer at school. Again, flexibility is key. Are there times when the employee could work a different schedule, work remotely or finish a project over the weekend?
  • Assistance with childcare gaps: The school day is covered, but who’s going to take care of the kids before and after school and during summer break? You can help by posting and distributing notices of area summer camps among employees. Some EAPs or local organizations may provide employees with summer camp referrals.

4. Tweens and teens

By the time children enter middle school, frequent doctor visits are likely decreasing, but extracurricular activities may be ramping up, and college and careers are on the horizon.

This is also an especially challenging stage of parenting, as tweens and teens seek independence and test boundaries. At the same time, many parents at this stage are also caring for aging parents.

What parents need and how businesses can help

  • Extra time for growing children and aging parents: Many employees need time off to take kids to after-school activities, and later, college visits. Some employees may need time off to take their parents to doctor’s appointments. Continue to offer parents of older children the same flexibility you give new parents.
  • Financial counseling: Parents need information about paying for college and access to savings plans.

    A lunch-and-learn is a great way to brief employees on the latest about scholarships, loans and college saving plans, and balancing saving for college with saving for retirement. Companies can partner with their EAP or nonprofit organizations to provide this kind of programming to employees.

    Consider establishing a scholarship program for children of employees to offset tuition costs.
  • Exposure to the work world for teens: For example, you can sponsor a day when employees can bring their children to work with them. This provides a glimpse into the professional business world and a chance to see another side of their parents.

    Only consider this if it is appropriate for your work environment. If you work in a factory or a safety-risk area, bringing a child to work could be hazardous.
  • Emotional support for parenting tweens and teens and aging parents: A bit of compassion goes a long way at this stage of parenting. An EAP also offers access to mental health services for struggling employees.

These are just some suggestions to help you support employees who are working parents.

It all comes down to being mindful of what your employees need and supporting that in a way that makes sense for your business.

In turn, employees who feel supported will reward your efforts with loyalty and increased productivity, and you’ll earn a reputation as business that offers work-life balance, an increasingly sought-after benefit for today’s employees.

Looking for more tips on creating family-friendly policies for your workplace? Download our e-magazine: Building a Better Team: How to Attract, Recruit and Hire Top Talent.