“Mrs. Shuster, you have a call on line 2,” the secretary’s voice came through the classroom intercom, just as I was beginning to explain fractions to my class of eager-eyed third graders. I popped my head out the door and asked my across-the-hall teacher neighbor to keep an eye on my class for a minute. I gave the kids a quick instruction to draw in their journals and ran down the hallway to the teacher’s lounge to pick up the call. Getting interrupted during a lesson was unusual. Typically, a message would be taken and left in my mailbox or I would get an email letting me know about a call. Being interrupted never meant anything good, and lately, it was happening way too often.
My spirited, strong-willed son had entered middle school and it seemed like everything about this new environment brought out the absolute worst in this kid. The chaotic hallways. Seven subjects, seven classrooms, and seven teachers to navigate. Trying to fit in with a new peer group. It was all too much for his system, and things started to go horribly awry. He worked to be liked by his new friends by performing for them. And the problem was, he is funny, REALLY funny. He could get the whole class going and many of his teachers just had no idea what to do with him. The more experienced teachers who had kids of their own often “got” him and could easily get him to settle down and get to work. The newer, younger teachers relied on threats, punishments, and shame intermingled with a lot of “heart-to-hearts” with him outside of the classroom. When all of these efforts failed to work, my emails started blowing up, and then the phone calls. This became a daily occurrence and sometimes a multiple times a day occurrence, and eventually became so disruptive that I had to take advantage of the 12-week Family, Medical, Leave policy. You should know, this was unpaid, but it bought me the time and space that I desperately needed. My efforts to support my son became my new full-time job. I had to figure it all out before I could go back to work and actually be able to focus on my job and not the antics of a middle-schooler gone rogue.
My experience is not unique. The reality is most working parents will tell you that when things aren’t alright at home, their work performance suffers. Worrying about our kids is not something that can just be turned off or on at will. We bring it with us, and this most certainly is going to have a negative impact on productivity. My own experience along with the experiences of the parents I work with is additionally supported by current research.
NIH recently shared that, “For employed parents, balancing the demands of raising children with behavioral health needs against work commitments can lead to higher levels of stress and burnout, making it difficult to be a present parent and productive employee.”
The following data was reported by On Our Sleeves, the movement for children’s mental health, after conducting a national study in spring 2021:
53% of working parents have missed work at least once per month to deal with their children’s mental health.
54% of working parents interrupted their work to answer communication about their child’s mental health needs during business hours.
30–50% of working parents’ thoughts are on their child’s mental health and well-being even while they are at work.
85% of working parents think it’s a good idea to talk about children’s mental health, but few talked to their managers (20%), the human resources department (23%) or colleagues (21%).
Working parents under the age of 40 are more concerned about their children’s mental health and are also more likely to choose employers based on access to mental health care benefits and resources.
Psychological Science states that “increasing support for working parents can help prevent conflict between the demands of work and home. The researchers argue that employees who aren’t stressed about conflicts between their various responsibilities can ultimately benefit the business bottom line through more effective and efficient work.”
And finally, a survey of over 350 individuals, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), found that “behavioral health struggles in children were associated with productivity loss for parents and caregivers. Eighty-five percent of respondents said their child’s behavioral health needs have an impact on their productivity—almost half saying it had a “large” or “definite” impact.”
It is time for companies to level up their support of working parents. There are many ways this could be accomplished. For example, offering paid time off that would allow parents to address critical situations with their children. In addition, including access to a certified parent coach as part of a benefits package option could be impactful. It’s not only the compassionate thing to do, it is good business. Parents who have peace at home will be productive and happy employees.