Parents Struggle to Find a Work-Life Balance That Supports Children’s Mental Health

Parents often have to miss work to care for a sick child at home. In recent years, a growing number of parents are reporting lost work days due to children’s mental health concerns as well. 

According to the organization On Our Sleeves, over half of parents surveyed say that mental health concerns have risen since the start of the pandemic, and the same number of parents have sought professional help for their children.

For working parents, this often leads to a disruption in their schedules and productivity, leaving employers and employees frustrated. 

When parents are forced to choose between work and home, it can lead to high levels of job stress and dissatisfaction in the workplace. This frustration has led many parents to find new employers with a more family first mindset. 

Family first 

“A ‘family first’ employer is typically one who understands the challenges of raising children and who is flexible in terms of hours worked, time taken for appointments or illnesses, and hybrid models including opportunities to work from home,” said Jen Burke, JD, LMSW, IMH-E at Rise Wellness Collaborative in Saline. 

Burke, along with co-director Aimee Tuck, MS, LLP, PMH-C, recently opened their new office in Saline that specializes in infant, child, and family mental health services. 

“Access to mental health care is so important, and managed mental health can lead to an increase in productivity and overall happiness and willingness to engage in company culture and projects,” Burke said. “Flexibility in this sense can mean virtual options (if the child needs a mental health day and cannot be left unattended at home), understanding that early mornings are hard and are receptive to more non-traditional work hours, and flexibility to schedule therapy or psychiatry sessions during the work day so long as all work is completed by the realistic deadlines set.” 

When home life affects work life 

Working parents know that disruptions in daily schedules can cause chaos. Snow days, sick days, and school breaks can have parents scrambling to find caregivers for their children. In the same way, scheduling time for a child’s mental health can be tricky.

“A child’s mental health can impact parents’ work and productivity in many ways,” Burke said. “When a child is struggling, they require more support, attention and empathy from parents, as well as more time from parents to find resources that can help their child manage their mental health. If a child is suffering from anxiety or depression, that impacts school attendance. This can also create additional stress to navigate getting the child to school, having appropriate support at school, and navigating childcare for absences related to mental health.” 

Finding therapists and making appointments can also be a challenge. 

“Parents may need to take time off of work to get their child to therapy, as many child therapists are booked and only have daytime openings,” Burke said. “It should also be noted that the parent’s own worries about their child’s wellbeing is surely distracting, as it can be hard to be fully focused on the task at hand while knowing the child is struggling.” 

Making mental health a priority for the whole family 

Burke feels that parents should prioritize their own mental health also. 

“The mental health of any one family member, by nature, impacts the whole family system. When parents are struggling, kids often pick up on this and exhibit behaviors that are atypical for them,” Burke said. 

If a child appears more worried, if they are seeking more attention, or if they seem to be acting out more, these could be signs that there is cause for concern. 

“When kids are struggling, there is a quote that resonates with a lot of parents we work with. ‘You are only as happy as your saddest child.’ Parents who have children struggling with mental health are often struggling themselves,” Burke said. “To have a productive, happy and healthy society, it is crucial that the mental health of children and their parents are prioritized and accommodated.” 

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