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Working Parents Are Exhausted

By Sierra Black |

2799660759_3855f78fef_mAccording to a new study, middle-income American parents work more hours than the wealthy or the poor. Almost 60 percent of middle-class households have both parents working outside the home. And we’re exhausted by it.

Our work/life imbalance has turned sleep into a luxury item few of us can afford, even when we do get our kids to sleep through the night. Over a third of parents are routinely sleep-deprived. And it’s no wonder, when our work and home lives fill up all the available time and then some.

The study, called Three Face of Work-Life Conflict, highlights differences between the way poor, middle-income and what they term “professional” families experience conflict around parenting and work.The study defines the poor as those in the bottom third of household incomes, making less than $34,000 a year. The professional class is those households making over $114,000 a year, in which at last one parent has a college education. Everybody else is in the middle.

These middle-class parents, whose annual household incomes range from $34,000 to $110,000, make up the majority of American families. Their living situations and needs get the least attention from media and policy makers, though. These aren’t the poor families struggling to scrape by on Food Stamps and a minimum-wage job, and they’re not the lawyers who get profiled in the New York Times about the hard choices they have to make between career and parenting.

According to the above-mentioned Times, most of the families in this income bracket are working “rigid, highly supervised jobs that often leave them one sick child away from being fired.” These are the nurses and technicians and bus drivers who make the world go round; but they do it on a knife’s edge between their demanding jobs and their homes and kids.

Parents in middle-income homes increasingly work opposite shifts so that they can juggle childcare and work responsibilities. Even with that dance, middle-income households pay a higher percentage of their income for childcare than any other economic bracket.

The study points out that American parents enjoy fewer legal protections and accommodations in the workplace than parents in any other developed country. They advocate for extending childcare subsidies to middle-income families, explicitly protecting workers from job loss due to child or elder care needs and providing paid family leave to employees.

What do you think? Should the government step in and give middle-income parents a hand? What does your family need to make a work-life balance work? Do you and your partner both work outside the home, or do you have a full-time stay-at-home parent in your household?

Photo: Wiros

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Museum Says Member Cards Not Safe For Kids

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About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Working Parents Are Exhausted

  1. Louise says:

    Oh, man…this is gonna be good…<running to get popcorn>

  2. Marie-Eve says:

    I would be interested in knowing if it’s any different for the “upper-class” or whatever…

  3. GP says:

    Should the government step in and give middle-income parents a hand? No. They should develop policies that would enable a household to be run on one adult salary, like it used to.

    What does your family need to make a work-life balance work? I work part-time from home and will work more, probably outside the home, once my child is in school all day. I know I will probably never had a high-powered career because I am choosing to be present for my kid and the job is secondary.

    Do you and your partner both work outside the home, or do you have a full-time stay-at-home parent in your household? See above.

    What I *do* think needs to happen is people need to be DECENT HUMAN BEINGS. Really, it is pretty much up to the discretion of HR departments and bosses whether someone is going to be fired for missing work because of a sick kid or whatever. Must we legislate compassion? If an employee is good and hard-working most of the time and these needs for time off are occasional, then the bosses need to be human. I guess if we can no longer rely on that kind of decency, there do need to be rules in place to protect working parents. But, child-care subsidies, etc. for the middle class? Nope. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul and in the end, the kids lose.

  4. PlumbLucky says:

    They say that you can’t legislate morality, BUT nobody should lose their job because they have a sick child…and since currently the system of “the boss should be a human being”, which I agree with wholeheartedly, doesn’t exist for most people, maybe its time to put some protections in place. I’m lucky in that my bosses ARE decent human beings. Not everyone is so lucky.

  5. tlr says:

    I stay home while my husband works. So, we are living in luxury comparatively. When the kids are sick, I am already home. My husband only has to take time off when *I* need something… which is rare.

    I also used to be a Union Organizer/Rep and had to help save MANY jobs where parents were about to be fired for missing too much work to take care of their sick kids. It’s insane because most companies do not allow you to use your own sick time to take care of sick children. The only time you have any protection at all for taking care of sick kids is when the illness qualifies for FMLA. That’s only for chronic illness, not your sometimes several weeks out of the year you are home nursing your kids’ stomach bugs, etc. Even with FMLA protecting, employers will fire their employees and if the worker doesn’t know any better or know how to fight it, they are just out of luck. I have dealt with HR managers whose attitude toward their workers was to just say that they needed to come up with alternatives when their kids were sick. So, we should all just have family members who sit around all day waiting to take care of our kids when we are at work and they fall ill. That was literally the HR manager’s solution to the problem. WHO has that? Not many people. And we were talking about people who fall into the “working poor” category too, not people who had money to throw around for nannies or other childcare. It makes me sick to even think about.

    I think we need to have the government step in to demand real policies that allow people to take enough PAID time off to take care of their personal needs. WE already know that we don’t get enough time off work in this country… for parental leave, vacation, sick time…. all of it. That’s where we need help!

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  10. Klem says:

    There’s no point in whining that working parents are exhausted, they weren’t forced into being parents….Becoming a parent must be thought through..it’s too easy to irrepsonsabily breed and then whing that your life is hard…I’m sorry, but what would you say to a friend whining that having 5 rottewiller at home is expensive and time consuming…?

  11. kaylen says:

    Hey Klem – if you don’t have kids then Sh! You have no clue what you’re talking about. A rottweiler (or 10 rottweilers) are NOTHING in comparison to raising a human being.

    Protections SHOULD be in place so that you cannot be fired for caring for a sick child. Not all of us have ready, willing and able childcare as a backup for when our kids are sick. That would be the job of a parent anyway, not a random family member or friend who has nothing better to do that day. Parents should be able to take care of their sick kids, and there needs to be legislation to enforce protections for parents needing time off to do so (that are not already protected under FMLA).

    Not all of us can afford to, or should have to, keep one parent home. And what about SINGLE parents? Should a single parent be fired because their child was sick? As their child’s only source of income and support?

    Because bosses may not understand parenting (much like Klem here), we as parents need to advocate for this legislation. It’s imperative, no matter what your feelings are about how parents should handle parenting. How you brought kids into the world is irrelevant – the point is, we need to create a working environment here in America that is designed to absorb the demands of parenting. Legislation is how we get that party started. So let’s get it on.

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