While companies tout their benefits for new parents, a new report shows they may not actually be delivering on these promises. 

A survey by non-profit Moms First and consulting firm APCO Worldwide polled 1,000 moms who provided negative feedback on the process of returning to their jobs after having a baby. One in three moms said they have considered, or are considering, leaving the workforce entirely. 

Some of the respondents shared they started having concerns after they learned they were pregnant – from the length of their maternity leave to childcare option to even how they felt about returning to work when their children are still young. 

Three in four moms said their companies could be doing more to support them. From on-site childcare to more opportunities for remote work, these new parents say they need more support than what is being provided in today’s corporate climate. 

What about Dads? 

That is how moms are feeling, but what about new dads? In addition to the same climate, they are also fighting a stigma toward male caregivers. One in seven Americans do not think men should be able to take any paternity leave. In fact, more than 70% of American fathers return to work full-time less than two weeks after the birth of their child. 

Regardless of gender, only about a quarter of American workers have access to paid parental leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most new parents in America must use up their vacation time and sick leave or simply take unpaid leave to stay home with their newborn. 

Although the United States has no national paid leave program for new parents, there is a policy called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. And the rules only apply if you have worked for your employer full-time for at least a year and your company employs more than 50 people. 

Small Companies can Care

This was the situation facing one of my coaching clients when she had her baby last year. Kate works for a small business in the hospitality industry that does not employ more than 50 people. She cobbled together her PTO time with short term disability to provide some extra financial support for her family. 

Kate was able to work out a plan to suit her family’s needs with the owner of her company, but when her daughter Scarlett was born eight weeks early, the plan had to be quickly revised. With Scarlett in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a month, once Kate recovered from the delivery, she was able to work full-time remotely from home. “In a lot of inflexible companies, the mom would just start maternity leave at the time of delivery, but I wanted to work while she was in the hospital so I could spend more time with her when she was able to come home,” said Kate. Her boss was flexible and worked with Kate to adjust the plan so that she could take two weeks off once the baby came home. After that, Kate transitioned to a part-time remote position. Six months after her daughter was born, Kate returned to full-time work. She still works mostly remote, but when she is needed in the store, usually one or two days a week, Scarlett goes to daycare. 

Kate says her employer was a big proponent of open communication about her needs as a new mom because they did not want to be surprised by a decision by Kate to not return to the workplace. Kate says she is appreciative of the transition period provided by her company which allowed her to work into change gradually, instead of all at once. 

“I think people who try to work full-time from home with a new baby cannot dedicate the time that they need to each – your child and your job. Working from home part-time allowed me to have time for both. I am lucky that my schedule is flexible so I can work early in the morning or late at night while my baby is sleeping, if needed. I do not have a job that is so regimented that the company couldn’t allow for some flexibility in schedule,” said Kate. 

Kate’s biggest issue with being a working parent is the high cost of childcare, so she understands why a lot of new parents opt to stay home to care for their children. They simply cannot afford to return to work and pay for childcare. Daycare for only two days a week costs Kate about $1400 a month in Chicago, and while that is a tough pill to swallow, she is grateful it is not more days. “Where else in hospitality is someone going to be able to work three days remote and have weekends off? There are not a lot of places where you can do that,” said Kate. 

Possible Perks

Kate was able to negotiate a plan that worked for her family, and she feels that other organizations can be more flexible in offerings for new parents. But now that companies are clamping down on some of the flexibility offered during the pandemic, it can be hard to ask. I have had many clients who say they do not want to go back to work after having a child, but they feel as if they have no other choice. Perhaps if there was more support in the workplace, this transition could be easier. Here are some benefits new parents say would be helpful for them: 

  • Paid parental leave,
  • Transition period that allows for part-time work,
  • Pre-tax dollars that can be used toward childcare (like a Health Savings Account offered by many employers),
  • On-site childcare and lactation rooms, and 
  • More opportunities for remote work.
Dragging our Feet to the Office

New parents are not the only ones reluctant to return to the office due to the perks of a work-from-home lifestyle. Another recent survey of over 3,000 employees by Jobera shows some unexpected reasons why people prefer remote work:

  • 24% say they can handle more chores during the week (i.e. laundry, dishwashing, etc.) so they have more free time on the weekends
  • 19% of people like having their own bathroom over using a public restroom
  • 9% of respondents say they like spending more time with their pets
  • 37% are happier when they can ditch the commute to work
  • 7% of us think lunch at home is better than lunch at the office
  • 4% prefer creative break times, whether that is taking a short walk or a quick nap in bed
  • Only 2% of parents say they value the extra time with their kids working from home brings but more of them (43%) are on school drop-off duty with remote work. 

A Parent’s Perspective

It is clear that organizations need to do a better job of considering a parent’s perspective when creating their company culture. Your values and priorities change when you become a parent and this message was clear in a recent podcast I listened to with Mary Louise Kelly (host of NPR’s All Things Considered). 

Kelly’s nest is nearly empty, and she wrote a book last year called It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs about the year before her son goes to college. As a decorated journalist who has reported from war zones all over the globe, it is an interesting story about whether a mother failed her children because of pursuing her career and missing every soccer game her boys ever played. She told the story in the podcast of asking her 17-year-old son James, “Was there ever a moment where you needed me, and I didn’t come? He looked at me for a long time. I’m sure there were times, but I can’t remember them now. Can I have $15 for Chipotle?”

Related: Helping your Child Transition to College: The Ultimate Balancing Act

This humorous story shows James likely is okay with his mother’s choices, but Kelly attributes motherhood to changing how she approached that career. She used an example in the podcast of interviewing a woman who is a big force in Ukrainian foreign policy right before Russia invaded Ukraine. The topic was about national security and sanctions, but the interview turned emotional. The woman paused during the interview and said that what was stressing her out the most was that she had promised her daughter she could get a guinea pig as a pet. But how was she going to evacuate her family including elderly parents and a guinea pig from a war zone? The guinea pig became the centerpiece of the interview. Kelly says she has since interviewed the same woman at least five times since the war began, and she always asks about the guinea pig because that is what her listeners want to know about. Kelly says she acknowledges that the 25-year-old reporter version of herself would ridicule her for her softness, but the mom in her says that is the important stuff. 

Companies can ask their new parent employees about their own “important stuff” and get a better understanding of what is needed for them to return to the workforce. If you have a career situation you would like to talk through, our coaches can help you navigate negotiations with your employer or even advise you on making decisions on the future of your career. 

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