Parenting — even under normal circumstances — comes with challenges, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have faced unprecedented challenges raising their families. Heightened concerns about their family’s health, navigating remote learning and remaining socially distant from loved ones and friends are just a few of the challenges parents have faced over the last 11 months. Recent research has shown that the pandemic has been particularly stressful for American parents, who reported feeling significantly higher levels of stress than adults without children. However, parental support may have a protective effect on parental stress during the pandemic.
In this month’s Voices of Child Health in Chicago report, we focus on parents’ sources of support and parenting challenges, such as balancing work and family life, during the course of the pandemic. To explore these issues, we surveyed 1,642 Chicago parents from all 77 community areas in the city through our Parent Panel Survey from May–July 2020.
To better understand sources of parenting support, we asked Chicago parents “How supported as a parent do you feel by the following people?” Parents were most likely to say they felt “very supported” by their child’s health care provider (70%); followed by their child’s grandparents (69%); their child’s other parent (66%); their child’s babysitter, daycare provider or teacher (56%); other relatives (56%); their own friends (56%); spiritual leaders (40%) and people on social media platforms (17%) (Figure 1).
When we explored sources of parenting support individually for moms and dads, the same sources emerged as the top sources of support, but in a different order. Among moms, the top three sources of parenting support were: their child’s health care provider (71%), their child’s grandparents (67%) and their child’s other parent (62%). Whereas for dads, their child’s other parent was the top source of parenting support (74%), followed by their child’s grandparents (73%) and their child’s health care provider (69%).
We also asked parents “How comfortable do you feel asking for parenting support from the following people?” Parents’ comfort asking for support largely aligned with who they felt most supported by. For instance, parents were most likely to say they felt “very comfortable” asking for support from their child’s other parent (70%), their child’s grandparents (68%) and their child’s healthcare provider (67%). Parents felt somewhat less comfortable asking for support from other relatives (52%); their friends (49%); their child’s babysitter, daycare provider or teacher (46%); spiritual leaders (36%) and people on social media platforms
(17%). When we looked at how this differed by parent gender, we found that moms and dads felt most comfortable asking for parenting support from the same people, but in a different order. Moms felt most comfortable asking for support from their child’s healthcare provider (67%), their child’s other parent (66%) and their child’s grandparents (65%). Dads felt most comfortable asking for support from their child’s other parent (75%), their child’s grandparents (72%) and their child’s healthcare provider (66%).
Other research suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of parents in the United States report that they have lost emotional support during the pandemic. This research also showed that parents were significantly less likely to receive emotional support from friends and slightly more likely to receive emotional support from their child’s grandparents compared with before the pandemic.
In this survey, we also explored parents’ perceptions of their work-life balance approximately three to six months into the pandemic. We asked working parents “How difficult is balancing work and family responsibilities for you?” Overall, 55% of parents said this was either somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult; 32% said this was rarely difficult and 13% said this was never difficult (Figure 2). These rates, although collected during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, are similar to rates in a national 2015 Pew Research Poll that found that 56% of all parents said that it was difficult for them to balance job and family, with moms slightly more likely (60%) to say balancing job and family was difficult than dads (52%). In our survey, moms and dads did not differ significantly in how difficult they found balancing family and work.
Parents who reported lower levels of parenting support (i.e., they felt “very supported” as a parent by two or fewer people) were more likely to find it difficult to balance work and family (64%) than parents who reported higher levels of parenting support (i.e., they felt “very supported” as a parent by six or more people; 46%).
Additionally, we asked working parents, “How often when you are at work are you worried or concerned about your child or family issues?” The majority of parents (58%) said that they very often, often or sometimes worry about their child or family issues while at work, 29% said rarely and 13% said never (Figure 3). Because these data were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents may have been working from home with their children at home as well, which might have influenced parents’ feelings of concern about children and family during work.
There are strategies parents can use to help cope with challenges of parenting during the pandemic. Suggestions from mental health experts include acknowledging one’s own emotions, following a routine, sharing responsibilities and practicing self-care if possible.