A decade in review: Three ways working parents’ expectations have evolved

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Since 2014, Bright Horizons has tracked the experiences of working moms and dads as they perform the delicate balancing act between work and family responsibilities. While the past ten years have brought tremendous changes to the workplace, the tenth annual Modern Family Index (MFI) shows that the most significant change may be to employees themselves. Commissioned by Bright Horizons and conducted by The Harris Poll, the MFI explores the risks and realities of today’s workplace and how it impacts the wellbeing of working parents and their families.

Here are three ways working parents have evolved in the past ten years:

1. Newly empowered to speak up

Today’s employees are not only clear-eyed about conflicts between work and family they are also more willing than their predecessors to take a firm stand on what companies need to do to gain their loyalty. Seventy-eight percent of today’s working parents are more comfortable speaking up about family responsibilities than parents were ten years ago.

While parents in 2014 and 2024 both list family care among their top three priorities, current parents are less fearful of discussing family care needs in the workplace. For instance, far fewer parents now worry that family responsibilities will cost them a raise (29% in 2024 versus 39% in 2014), a promotion (26% vs. 37%), or their job (28% vs. 48%).

2. Choosing career paths based on care availability

Parents today are more willing to demand what they need in the pursuit of work/life balance, even if they must find another job to get it 70% of working parents say working for a company that offers benefits to support work/life balance is non-negotiable.

And, while women are typically the heavy lifters in caregiving, the data shows that fathers are feeling pressure too:

  • 61% of working dads report negative feelings about balancing children and jobs
  • 34% report feeling stressed by unexpected child care issues or emergencies during the day
  • 24% have taken sick days to meet a family obligation

3. Crave more comprehensive support

While there have been practical improvements in job flexibility, parental leave policies, and hybrid work initiatives, not all parents receive such benefits. In fact, 40% say that the workplace has gotten worse for working parents in the last decade. Among the 35% of employees who lack child care assistance from family members, the situation is even more dire. This group is less likely to receive work benefits such as mental health care, parental leave and work hour flexibility. Inevitably, this leads to increased stress, greater work/life conflicts, and career growth limitations.

Hopeful for the future

While today’s parents are more vocal about what they need, they also seem more optimistic about the future of working and parenting. Many working parents (44%) anticipate that the workplace will get better for them over the next decade. So, while in some respects the report should sound an alarm for employers, it should also signal an opportunity. Child care consistently tops working parents’ benefits wish list, ranking even higher than unlimited remote work. Employers willing to meet their employees where they are with the care they need stand a much stronger chance competing for talent in a workforce that is getting younger every day.

Want to learn more? Download the report here

Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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