Working Mothers and Fathers Are Not Theoretical

working mothers and fathers

When it comes to understanding workforces, individual groups are by necessity characterized in terms of massive numbers.

So, to sum up the overall picture of working parents, for example, the Department of Labor Statistics refers to 34 million families with young children. To understand changing family demographics, Pew points out that 40% of working mothers are today's primary breadwinners and that 34% of today's moms and dads are unmarried and mostly single parents.

The Working Mothers and Fathers Behind the Data

Naturally, this makes perfect sense. Those statistics represent large subsets of the workforce. And employers understandably want to know who they need to focus on (and 34 million is something to think about), and what makes those employees tick.

But when you're talking about numbers with six or more zeroes, the actual people have a tendency to fall into the background. In other words, the data is just one part of the narrative; what can often get lost in the assessment is what the numbers represent; so, the stories behind the numbers.

We often see this especially clearly when we look through comments people make about some of our workplace solutions - particularly backup care. It's one thing to talk in a broad sense about why employers provide backup care - because it gets employees to work when something goes wrong, like a nanny is sick. On a large scale, it saves clients days. But it get a completely spin when you talk about it like this:

"Back up was a lifesaver for me this past week. I am a single mom and was traveling for work. My son got ill and could not attend school. I was able to call back-up while away and confirm care for him."

"I am a single parent and I do not have a close family so, it's just me. If my kids miss school then I miss work. This program gives me confidence that my children are well taken care of and assures my job safety."

Those are some real-life perspectives that bring to life the actual challenges represented by the Pew single-parent statistics. It's also a micro perspective of how that single-parent number has potential to filter down into workforces, and so bottom lines.

Working Mothers' and Fathers' Losses are Employers' Losses Too

Another illustration is data from the Modern Family Index and what mothers and fathers told us about the state of the American work/life equation. For families around the country, it's a tough road with working parents telling us, for example, that they're burning out in large numbers because managers don't "get" the family dynamics. That alone should cause employers pause.

But again, those facts aren't theoretical just constructs - in other words, they represent real people working for real employers.

When you look at it that way, the MFI's "More than half of parents say they're unhappy with their current job" becomes the single dad who leaves and takes his integral knowledge of your whole new IT platform with him because his current manager doesn't get that family needs to be a father's priority.

And "98% of working parents say they've been burned out" becomes the working mom who is no longer the engaged star employee regularly winning big clients.

Neither of those is theoretical: they're both big, expensive losses with equally big and tangible costs.

So when it comes to thinking about support, forget the big numbers for a minute and think about the challenges, the solutions, and the individual jobs that may or may not get done in your company. True, the collective universe of families may add up to millions.

But as a practical matter, sometimes in terms of day-to-day business success, it comes down to the ability of just one.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.