The Real Deal on Working Parents

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22 Jun 2018

Whether you’re a first-time parent, or adding to the brood, parenting is no easy feat. Between sleepless nights and ever-changing nappies, throwing the return to work in the mix can make it all the more challenging.

The Real Insurance Working Parents Survey is the eleventh instalment in a series of national studies to investigate the shifting values and concerns affecting Australian families. This chapter provides particular insight into the attitudes of Australian working parents, if they feel judged by others for taking parental leave and their feelings upon returning to work.

Returning to work

The decision to return to work is not as easy as one might think, particularly when the judgement of others comes into play.

Parents are facing harsh scrutiny when it comes to their decision to return to work, and it seems it’s a lose-lose situation, with mothers who return to work within three months (88.4%) or don’t return to work within a year (69.6%) of having a child being judged negatively by society.

The engrained traditional view that mothers are the primary carer for children (72.1%) is still prevalent in those who think mothers are more scrutinised than fathers, mainly by society in general (57.1%), employers (41.9%) and family (40.4%).

Facing the harshest judgement of all, however, are single mothers. Aussies agree single mums come under the greatest scrutiny from society in general (61.8%) and to a lesser extent, employers (26.8%).

Stress, guilt and resentment

Judgement aside, the return to work also brings on feelings of stress (44.5%) guilt (42.4%) and resentment (18.4%) in parents. It was found in the survey that mums are more likely to admit they felt guilty (57.1% vs. 23.4%) and stressed (54.8% vs. 31.3%) when they first returned to work compared with dads.

There is also a lot of resentment that occurs as a result of returning to work:

  • More than a quarter (26.8%) of parents who went back to work first felt resentful to some extent that their partner was able to stay at home and spend more time with their children, with mums more likely to admit this (45.5% vs. 24.0%).
  • For parents whose partners returned to work first, close to three in 10 (28.0%) say they feel resentful their partner returned to work while they stayed home, with dads more likely to say this (43.5% vs. 27.2%).

The effect of parental leave

With close to two-thirds (64.1%) of parents saying they returned to work sooner than they would have liked, why are Aussie parents doing so? The most influential factor for returning to work is money, with three-in-five (60.4%) parents citing the need for continuous income and a further 44.5 per cent saying they need to ease the financial burden.

When looking after children, time is also of the essence. As found in the research, over the last year Australian working parents have used

  • 60,998,974 hours of assistance from family members,
  • 58,967,281 hours from day care facilities, and;
  • 9,743,464 hours from nannies or au pairs.

But it’s not just time and money that parental leave effects, it’s also well-being. More than half (51.6%) of parents who took parental leave describe their diet as average while on leave, just over a third (35.7%) say their diet was good, and one-in-eight (12.7%) admit their diet was bad. More than half (52.7%) of those with a bad diet attributed this to boredom and loneliness whilst being on leave.

It is evident that day-to-day parenting is not the only pressure point for Aussie parents. From the decision to return to work and the perceptions of those around parents who do so, to the financial and health effects, there are many stressors affecting working parents. To find out more about modern Australian views, stay tuned for our next chapter of research.

Download full research report