Striking a healthy balance between work and family-life is becoming more and more difficult for parents today. Supporting parents’ efforts to be with their children promotes optimal early childhood development. In order to become productive adults, children need more than a roof over their heads and enough to eat. They need their parents' time. Working parents strive to give their children the time and attention they require, but the demands of their careers make this difficult. Most children, over 70 percent, grow up in a family with either a working single parent or with two working parents. In Shelby County, the number of single moms having children has been growing since 2004, and now, over 60 percent of all births are to unmarried women (Kids Count, 2011).
Family friendly workplace policies have an important place in a young child’s cognitive development. Research on how children learn suggests that engaged parents give their children an advantage. When parents spend time with their children, those children are more likely to become successful, creative and productive young adults. Four major types of interactions between parent and child are especially conducive to optimal early development. When children have a "conversational partner," as some developmental psychologists describe it, they grow socially and cognitively. The amount and quality of speech that parents use with a child is one of the strongest influences on his language skills, especially before age three. Parents also need time to read good books to their children every day. As with oral language, reading and writing are also grounded in early experiences in the home. Experts say that children respond much better to disciplinary approaches that are neither punitive nor permissive but instead are firm, loving and consistent. Children who can count on strong relationships with their parents are likely to have fewer behavior problems in school and more academic success. Play time is also a crucial form of interaction between parents and children. When they are at play, children are strengthening their motors skills, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination.
The faltering economy has made it difficult for parents to balance childcare with their careers. Parents now face even more obstacles at work, including stagnant wages, increased job competition and extra hours. In her 2009 testimony to the House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Workplace Protections, Senior Economist Heather Boushey from the Center for American Progress Action Fund agreed that the recession has important implications for the family friendly workplace.
She explained that the recession has lead to higher unemployment among men than women, and therefore, a woman is supporting the family in millions of U.S. households. This affects families and their ability to provide a secure and healthy environment for their children in a number of ways. Families are now increasingly dependent on women’s earnings, which are typically lower than men’s and are less likely to come with health insurance. In addition, the low rates of job creation means that families will need to ensure that they do what they can to keep parents working. Losing a job because a parent needs some time off to care for a sick child, will create increased hardships for families, since finding a new job is now much more difficult (Encouraging Family-Friendly Workplace Policies, 2009). Boushey argues, “These new trends should shape our thinking about what policies are most important to support working families who struggle to balance being a good employee with being a good caretaker.”
Family-friendly flexibility in the workplace supports optimal early childhood brain development. Child well-being is enhanced when parents are able to spend time with their children. There are clear benefits of family friendly policies in the workplace; they help to grow the next generation of productive workers and citizens. Unfortunately, the current economic downturn has made it difficult for parents to balance childcare with their careers. This is especially true of our local community where single parenthood, unemployment and poverty make it more difficult for parents to provide healthy and stable environments for their children. Policies that help bridge this gap are the best hope for both working parents and our youngest citizens.