During the pandemic, I switched careers to a permanent remote job, running my own business. I was also pregnant with my fourth child, had two kids attempting the hot mess that was remote learning, a husband stealing parts of my desk for his Zoom calls and about all the chaos possible. What I didn’t anticipate was the impact remote work would have on all aspects of my personal and professional life, especially parenting.
At first, many of us tried to survive without child care because of the pandemic. We realized how impossible it is for most jobs, even remote ones. But it was tempting to reduce the time my kids spend in day care when I realized I didn’t have to pay someone to watch my kids during their consistent afternoon naps, or that I could try a 4-day workweek.
So what started as panicky chaos led to a realization that parenting and work can coexist. Now, in an elaborate schedule of kids going here and there, two of my young kids are able to nap at home in the afternoon while I schedule most calls in the morning during their day care half-day. At other times, I’m able to get some (interrupted) work done while they are awake, juggling my partner’s schedule against my own.
In a recent KinderCare Learning Companies study with Harris Poll, 41% of participants said hybrid models are ideal, an increase of 5% from 2022. Plus, 75% say hybrid work “has or will change their child care needs,” and almost half would consider switching jobs to be more available to their children. In fact, 31% already have.
What parents learned from remote work
Here’s what I, and other parents, have learned from the changing work landscape, and how it impacts parenting.
Parents can watch young nappers, but not wild toddlers, while working.
It’s one thing to spend those napping baby days typing away, and another to parent a wild toddler during a Zoom call. Lauren Hobbs, a mother of two young children, is currently working in a hybrid work environment as chief marketing officer at Vivvi, a child care and early learning company focused on creating more affordable and accessible care solutions for working parents. In Vivvi’s “Beyond Parental Leave” report, conducted alongside Werklabs and The Mom Project, they found more parents “took a career pause” during toddler and preschool years (37%) than at any other time in parenting. Relatable. In the course of writing this very article, my preschooler has come into my office (despite another caregiver being home) not once but four times.
“That’s when parenting pressures increase, child care expenses go up and there’s a lack of endemic support in the workplace,” Hobbs says. “Most of the family-friendly benefits that employers offer occur during the first sprint of parenting—pregnancy and postpartum—and then drop off; but our study showed that it’s the marathon of parenting—beyond parental leave—when parents need support most.”
Parents still need child care to work remotely.
You might remember the original work-from-home parent who got quite publicly interrupted—“BBC Dad,” whose toddler sauntered into his office in 2017, while he did a live interview with BBC. Hilariously enough, his second child rolls on in using a baby walker, while his wife tries to corral the children out of the room. In true prepandemic fashion, he apologizes several times, clearly mortified at the interruption. Now, most of the time, we can all laugh it off as another post-COVID reality we can all relate to. But sometimes, it’s genuinely too stressful to laugh off interruptions, especially on a long workday where kids really need other stimulation and attention, and parents need to focus to be efficient.
“There has been this long-held belief in the workplace that if a parent had the flexibility to work from home, they could both work and take care of their children at the same time,” Hobbs says. “But Zoom life during the pandemic exposed something that every working parent has always known: You can’t work if you don’t have child care.” She adds that while hybrid work has increased our flexibility, it can never replace child care.
“We’re seeing more employers invest in flexible types of caregiving support for their employees, such as neighborhood or in-home back-up care, as well as care reimbursements that can cover friends, family and other types of caregivers. But we’re still seeing a huge gap in need versus investment,” she adds, pointing to data from the Vivvi report showing while “78% of parents have needed backup care during their career; just 8% have child care subsidies.”
Parents can produce high-quality at home, even after bedtime.
Gone are the strict 9-to-5s and the recommendation that you just can’t send an email at night without looking… imbalanced. Laura Gassner Otting, an executive coach, author of Wonderhell: Why Success Doesn’t Feel Like It Should… and What to Do About It and a TEDx presenter, explains this benefit of parenting and hybrid working.
“If the work is client-centered work, it should be done on the client’s schedule, but if it’s not, shouldn’t we all ask ourselves, ‘Is 10 a.m. really any different than 10 p.m. if 10 p.m. is when I am most creative?’” she says. This frees up busy parents to settle in after their kids’ bedtime, or before they wake up, to crank out their creative work.
This was a hesitation people had when they witnessed Otting’s success with remote work models decades before it was “COVID cool,” she jokes.
“Because we all worked from home, and we were for the most part parents of young children, my staff members were able to bring their whole selves to work in a way that helped us all,” she says.
Top-notch communication is needed to make it work.
Otting isn’t about micromanaging parents. “We overcomplicate management when we think that the only way to know if someone is working is by watching them work. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really busy getting nothing done for loads of time at my desk. So, rather than judging our progress by the clock, better to judge our progress by our actual progress,” she says. This level of trust in employees doesn’t come automatically, but instead through clear communication of standards and goals, and openness for employees to discuss deadlines, as well as conflicting priorities, she says.
Heather Hammond is a Vermont-based employment attorney at Gravel & Shea. She says that in the absence of any laws preventing employees from having children around when they work remotely, employers should have clear productivity and focus expectations in place. Hammond recommends employers explore the following:
- If an employer is willing to accommodate a worker who does not have child care for a young child at home, how will that employee’s attendance be measured?
- What if the child’s needs conflict with mandatory meeting times?
- How will the employee’s pay reflect hours actually worked?
- How will that employee’s performance be measured against employees who do not have similar restraints on their ability to work remotely (whether it be a child at home, a parent who needs assistance or some other need)?
Keeping parents happy might be as simple as allowing them to block out drop-off and pickup times from day care or school in their calendars, and other simple compromises. In the end, both workers and employers want happy, healthy, well-balanced parents who can give their all at work and home, not one or the other.
Photo by Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock