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7TH ANNUAL MODERN FAMILY INDEX New Data Shows the Pandemic is Making the Mental Load a Family Affair
FAMILIES ON OVERLOAD It’s been a year since COVID-19 swept the world — a year that has taken a major toll on working families. Worries about job security, school shutdowns, and children’s remote learning have piled the pressure on parents — people who were already struggling to balance families with jobs even before the pandemic. This year’s Modern Family Index, commissioned by Bright Horizons® and conducted by Kelton Global, explores the impact of the tumultuous year, not just on parents, but on all members of the family. For working mothers and fathers, the stress and the mental loads are bigger than ever. Yet it’s not only parents who are struggling. In the era of COVID, children are managing their own mental loads, burdened by decidedly grown-up worries about social distancing, remote learning, and fear of illness, creating concerns for parents about the impacts on their children’s social skills, cognitive development, and what this year will mean for their childhoods.
HOME LIFE UPENDED COVID-19 has accelerated major changes in working parents’ personal and professional lives, transforming how they work, take care of the home, and raise children. The pandemic pushed roughly half (49%) of all working parents or their spouses/partners into work-from- home arrangements, and added substantially to what were already full plates. Three in four (75%) employed mothers and fathers report increased child care responsibilities; more than half with young children (ages 0-5) feel more responsible for their children’s development (55%); and nearly as many with school-age children (ages 3-17) are playing a larger role in supporting their schoolwork (51%). As if that’s not enough, nearly half are both taking care of their children’s daily needs (49%) and entertaining their children (48%). Hunkering down at home has also added to the weight of family responsibilities. More than four in five working parents (82%) are managing growing household chores, including cooking more meals for their family (58%), cleaning their house more frequently (58%), doing the family laundry (50%), and taking out the trash (43%) more often. WEIGHED DOWN BY THE MENTAL LOAD The mental load was a force before COVID; the pandemic has only made it bigger — and 50% more concerning. Nine in ten parents are worried about their own (91%) and their of parents spouse/partner’s (91%) mental load. They’re say concerns about both also worried about the impact their mental load is having on the health of their family, their children’s mental with close to three in ten (28%) admitting load and mental health that concerns about their family dynamic outweigh anything else. have grown in the last year Children’s new routines are further straining these employees, heaping on new responsibilities, and compounding the already-stressful situation. Amid child care and school closures, more than two in five working parents (42%) say they are forced to act as stand-in teachers for their children; 41% say that their whole family is missing the schedule and structure that school and/ or child care typically provides. Further, roughly a third say that it is stressful to provide or even find more educational (33%) and developmental (30%) opportunities for their home-bound children.
CHILDHOOD REDEFINED School Progress in Jeopardy, Sharing the Mental Load Working parents say child care and school closures are stealing children’s precious developmental support, with the majority agreeing their children are missing out on the social aspects of school or child care (60%). Additional worries include too much screen time (60%), a lack of extracurricular activities (53%), and physical inactivity (48%). About one in four (24%) also believe their children are becoming more withdrawn or introverted. This is raising additional fears about developmental issues. Working parents are worried their children are off-track and at-risk for falling behind. They’re worried about progress, with seven in ten (69%) at least somewhat concerned that their children will not be able to meet key developmental milestones, and one in three (33%) of this group admitting they are extremely concerned. Topping the list of parent developmental worries are social and emotional milestones (76%), followed by communication (70%), cognitive (68%), and physical (64%) milestones . And there are yet more concerns about children’s academic performance. Among working parents with school-age children learning from home, three in ten (30%) say that their children are falling behind academically. Three in four with high school students (74%) are very concerned their children will not be prepared for the college admissions process; and one in four (25%) believe their children are already behind in college prep. 76% of parents are worried about their children’s social and emotional milestones
A Generation Forever Changed: Real Fears About the Pandemic’s Lasting Legacy If working parents are concerned about their own mental health and mental load, they’re even more concerned for their children. Half of them say concerns about their children’s mental load (50%) and mental health (50%) have grown since last year. More than one in four (26%) say their children’s mental health is what concerns them the most, above all else. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given what else is on working parents’ minds. About four in five (79%) worry about their children’s view of what a healthy childhood should be. Many express equal concern about their children’s confidence and self-esteem (71%) and their waning interest in activities outside the house (73%). Without child care or in-person schooling, these parents are predicting negative consequences for their children. About two in three believe the pandemic will compromise their children’s social and emotional development (67%) and academic progress (63%). Half predict that children’s communication (56%), cognitive (54%), and physical/biological (50%) development will be negatively impacted. And they aren’t just worried about short-term effects. Many parents expecting negative impacts worry that the scars of the pandemic will be long-lasting. In particular, they’re worried about long-term negative effects on academic progress (43%), social and emotional development (42%), and communication development (39%). Parents are worried about long-term consequences for 79% their children: of parents worry about their Academic progress children's view of what 43% a healthy childhood should be Social and emotional development 42%
New Parents Without a “Village” Going it alone has proven especially difficult for parents of infants. Perhaps Isolation Taking Its Toll on Parents, Too that’s because new parents are uniquely Yet the challenges aren’t limited to these families’ dependent on their “village.” And indeed, youngest members. The same isolation that is parents of children ages 0 to 2 feel more affecting children is also weighing on working disconnected from friends (45%) than parents, with many feeling disconnected from friends parents of toddlers (36%), elementary/ (38%) and extended families (32%). As they struggle middle school children (34%), or high to be present both at home and at work, nearly one in schoolers (39%). Without child care or five feel disconnected from their work life (19%) and in-person learning, parents of infants their spouse/partner’s life (18%). Fourteen percent miss exchanging advice with other even feel disconnected from their children’s lives. parents (37%); they long for a sense of community (42%); and they struggle And for today’s working parents, the absence of more than parents of school-age children school and child care has been more than just a to entertain their children (41% versus practical loss. More than one in three (35%) say they 30%) and provide developmental are missing the sense of community and support these networks used to provide. They are also longing opportunities (40% versus 29%). to connect and socialize with other parents (35%) and miss exchanging advice with these peers (28%). The absence of a support system even has parents of infants questioning However, despite the concern for themselves, working their ability to take care of families and parents are significantly more focused on what is colleagues, leaving them more likely than missing for their children. Parents without child care parents of school-age children to say that or in-person schooling yearn for their children to they are faltering as parents (33% versus be able to connect and socialize with peers (66%), 28%), as spouses/partners (33% versus engage in developmental activities/curriculum (60%), 27%), and at work (30% versus 24%). and get the community and support they received from attending school or child care (43%).
A Disproportionate Impact on Women Not everything about pandemic life is different — survey data shows women are still bearing the brunt of their family’s New Challenges, Longing for mental load. Some “Old” Normal Working moms are taking on more of the What do parents want for the future? Moving increased household chores than working forward, their number-one concern is their dads (85% vs. 79%); they’re cooking more children’s happiness and well-being (45%). These (67% vs. 48%), cleaning more (63% vs. worries outrank even health considerations, such 53%), doing laundry more (59% vs. 40%), as the fear that they (38%) or a family member and taking out more trash (49% vs. 35%). (38%) will get sick. On par with physical health This falls in line with pre-pandemic data are worries about their family’s mental load and from our 2017 Modern Family Index, mental health, with one-third or more of working in which 86% of working moms said parents worried about their own (38%), their they handled all family and household children’s (37%), and their spouse/partner’s (35%) mental load. responsibilities, and in which breadwinning mothers were nearly twice as likely as Moving forward, most are focused on getting breadwinning fathers (71% vs. 38%) to their children back in school and with their say they were making sure all family friends. As they look to turn the page on the responsibilities were handled. pandemic, working parents are in near-universal agreement that in-person school (90%) and Working moms are also saddled with interacting and collaborating with friends (93%) more of their children’s pandemic-related are important for their children’s return to challenges. Facing lost child care or “normal” life. school closures, they are more likely than working dads to find it stressful to provide Likewise, more than nine in ten working parents educational opportunities for their children believe it will be important for their children to (36% vs. 29%) and to report that their family socialize with friends without concerns about misses the schedule and structure that getting sick (93%); they also believe it’s important school and/or child care once provided for their children to have the chance to resume (44% vs. 37%). activities, like sports, outside the home (91%). Looking towards the future, working Perhaps above all, parents say these worries far moms are significantly more concerned outrank “normal” options for themselves, such than working dads about their children’s as re-opened workplaces (86%) or the ability happiness and well-being (52% vs. 38%), to socialize with other parents without fear of getting sick (84%). potentially getting sick (48% vs. 28%), and even getting their families sick (42% vs. 33%). Likewise, they are also significantly more likely to be concerned with their own (44% vs. 30%), their spouse/partner’s (38% vs. 32%), and their children’s (41% vs. 32%) mental loads.
Working Parents Speak: What They Need to Move On There is some good news. Most parents say employers have played a positive role during the pandemic, with four in five saying their employers have understood their needs (81%), been sympathetic to their situation (80%), and — perhaps most importantly — provided both the right kind of (78%) and enough (78%) support. But it’s not universal. Working moms are less likely than working dads to feel so positively, with only 77% of working moms describing their employer as understanding, versus 85% of working dads. It’s also not consistent across racial lines. In a year marked by calls for equity, racial disparities remain. White parents (82%) were more likely than Black (72%) or Hispanic (77%) parents to call their employers sympathetic to working parents’ situation; white parents were also more likely to say their employers 46% provided enough (82%) and the right kind of (81%) support, of working versus 74% and 74% of Hispanic parents, 69% and 67% of parents hope their Black parents. employer will provide some form of child Yet all have a wish list for what comes next. Six in ten working parents (58%) who began to work remotely at the beginning care or emergency of the pandemic would now prefer to continue to do so. Half child care. of working parents (50%) hope to see their employers offer flexible work hours; nearly as many (45%) want their companies to allow employees to work remotely in emergency scenarios, such as when a child gets sick. A similar number (41%) would like their employer to allow employees to work remotely as often as they want. And after a monumental year of going it alone, working parents have especially high expectations around child care. Nearly half (46%) of working parents hope their employer will provide some form of child care or emergency child care, and more than one in four are looking for their employer to offer academic (27%) and college preparation (26%) tutoring or resources that will benefit their children. This pandemic has certainly left its mark on the world, changing how people live, work, and connect. The path forward is uncertain; and even as life “normalizes,” workplaces need to recognize that their working-parent employees will continue to face challenges. Employees are looking for employers to meet them where they are, and provide more meaningful benefits that allow them to support their families and be productive at work. Gone are the days when foosball tables and on- site gyms topped the list of most-wanted perks. These days, parents want real family support. In the future, employers who provide those supports will reap the benefits of a workforce that is engaged, productive, and loyal. ABOUT THE BRIGHT HORIZONS MODERN FAMILY INDEX The Modern Family Index is an internet-based survey conducted by Kelton Global from February 2 to February 12, 2021. The sample consisted of 2,083 working parents aged 18+, with children under the age of 18 at home. The survey was conducted online and has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%. *Note: Please refer to the survey as the Bright Horizons Modern Family Index.
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