When are Working Parents Most Stressed?

working parents
For working parents, stress goes away once their children are past the toddler and preschool stages and ready for school, right? Wrong. Once children are school-age, parents can stop worrying about potty training and getting ready for kindergarten. But this ushers in a whole new set of things to think about, from new developmental milestones...to college.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are more than 30-million families with children under 18. That translates to many employees trying to balance work with family responsibilities. Supporting them through all stages of their children's lives is in everyone's best interest, but requires benefits that meet people where they are.

Early Childhood

For new parents, the unknown and the never-before-experienced can create feelings of stress, anxiety, and frustration. Working parents might be thinking things like "I've never been away from my child for longer than a couple of hours" and "How can I make time to help my child get ready for kindergarten when I work full-time?"

As an employer, you can help by providing resources. On-site or nearby child care helps by removing worries about children and their safety, development, and care. Similarly, back-up care can give your employees peace of mind when regular care falls through. Without back-up care, when the nanny has the stomach flu or grandma goes on vacation, your employee might not have any other choice but to stay home from work to care for his child.


The school-age years present working parents with a slew of entirely new challenges. Many schools operate on a standard 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. schedule, and don't necessarily offer an after-school program. Children on sports teams and in clubs often have practices, games, and performances. There are school holidays, half days, and parent/teacher conferences that don't match up with employees' work schedules. There's also that entire three-month block during the summer when alternate care arrangements need to be made.

Timing issues and schedule conflicts can make parents feel like they need to be in two (or even three) places at once. Employers that offer flexible schedules, telecommuting options, and back-up care are not only helping working parents cope, but retaining them during pivotal career years.

Teenage Years

Middle and high school brings their own challenges. Generally speaking, many teenagers can be at home alone. But should they be? Will their homework get done? What if a rowdy friend comes over? When working parents know their teenager is home alone, it can preoccupy their brains, taking away from their ability to do their jobs well. Those who are able to take advantage of a flexible schedule or work remotely every now and then will be less stressed and better able to focus.

College Days

The time leading up to the college decision - and college itself - can present quite a bit of emotional and financial stress. Most parents, according to a study by Horizons Workforce Consulting, are stressed about paying for their child's education. Parents of high school students are spending an average of two hours of work time each week on their child's college admissions. The stress wreaks havoc employees' lives, and their work, too.

Educational advising services, like College Coach, help employees navigate education issues throughout the years. The result? Less stress and higher employee engagement and commitment.

As for the original question ("When are working parents most stressed?")...the answer seems to be: all the time. No matter the age of your employees' children, there's bound to be something weighing on their minds or schedules. Meet them (more than) halfway with benefits and resources that will help them better balance work and life through every stage.
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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