11/08/2018 Steph Anderson

The juggle is real for working parents and child care

Families with two parents working outside the home are common today. In fact, among married-couple families with children, 61.9 percent have both parents employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

My household is one of them. With both my spouse and me working, we rely on extended family, flexible work schedules, and quality child care to help us grow our careers while raising our little ones. Child care is, of course, the largest component in making our working household work.

From potty training to teaching manners to hugging them after a boo-boo, child care providers are on the front lines with our kids giving them the necessary love and support they need to thrive. It’s difficult to be away, and I even get a little jealous of my kids’ day care teachers when I hear about all the fun things they get to do with them … until I imagine getting 15 kids in snowsuits at the same time. Seriously, child care providers are amazing!

The reality is I am fortunate to have access to dedicated providers I — and my kids — adore. Not every working parent is so lucky. In many cities, child care deserts make it virtually impossible to find care at all. Wait lists are longer than pregnancies. The monthly cost easily surpasses rent or a house payment.

If you do find good, affordable child care, your worries are far from over.

If you work across town, what happens when you get stuck in inclement weather and child care hours are ending? If day care is closed for teacher development (which they certainly deserve), what do you do if you’re low on PTO? And of course with more kids at day care come more germs, so certainly you’ll need to spare some time off for sick kid days.

Fortunately, as times are a-changin’ and more parents are working, corporate America is changing, too. A growing number of companies are standing behind working parents by easing the child care burden with a variety of helpful policies, and your organization can be one of them.

Flexibility: The first and probably simplest option is to allow working parents a more flexible schedule. If possible, let parents set start and stop times around their child care hours to reduce stress. What’s more, make a rule about not starting meetings before or after a specific time. No one wants a meeting to wrap up after 5 only to hit rush hour traffic and miss that 6 p.m. day care close.

Cost: The financial burden of child care can be tremendous. Some companies offer subsidies to assist. One option that is becoming commonplace is dependent care flexible spending accounts. These accounts let employees designate up to $5,000 pretax toward eligible expenses, such as child care, after-school care and even summer day camps. This allows parents to save an average of 30 percent on dependent-care services.

Options: Larger company campuses may offer onsite child care, so employees can see their kids on lunch hours and pick them up quickly after work. Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney Resorts are just a few examples of companies offering this perk. Backup child care is another growing trend, where companies sponsor programs to provide child care if an employee’s regular provider is unavailable due to vacation, time off or illness. 3M and Target Corporate offer that in Minnesota. Mayo clinic in Minnesota even offers child care for sick children, where trained pediatric registered nurses will look after little ones feeling under the weather.

Limited travel: Jet-setting the world for business can be challenging when you’re a parent. If employees’ responsibilities include travel, try to provide long lead times to facilitate planning and make times away as short as possible. What’s more, while they’re traveling, be creative with extras to ease the burden of being away. For example, one perk I just heard about from a friend who works at Cargill is they provide Milk Stork to working moms pumping while traveling.

The bottom line is no one should have to choose between the desire to work and the desire to be a parent. Quality child care is necessary to make this happen. It benefits professionals, communities, the economy and more.