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How HR can support working parents by normalizing caregiving in the workplace

Jessamine Chan’s ‘The School for Good Mothers’ may be fiction, but its protagonist’s story resembles the reality of many working parents.
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· 3 min read

Creedence Clearwater Revival might’ve been “workin’ for the man every night and day,” but for many working parents, workin’ for the man and kids every night and day may sound more like it.


Jessamine Chan’s novel The School for Good Mothers follows a single mom named Frida. After losing primary custody of her daughter, Frida is overcome with emotion, and starts to struggle at work, leading her boss to revoke the flexible schedule that allowed her to care for her child. Frida doesn’t feel comfortable sharing her caregiving woes with her boss, so she ends up feeling like a failure as both a mother and professional.

Even though workforce participation among women with children under 5 hit 70.4% in 2023, according to the Brookings Institute, companies moving away from remote and hybrid schedules could impact a parent’s ability to continue working.

One workplace expert shares how HR can support working parents like Frida.

It’s the norm. Normalizing caregiving in the workplace is the first step HR teams can take toward supporting working parents, said Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder and CEO of Mindful Return, a community for parents returning to work after having kids.

“Adopt a mindset that anyone could have to take leave for any reason or could have to leave early in the day to care for someone,” Mihalich-Levin told HR Brew. “The tone and mindset that you’re setting from HR can come through making sure that managers are trained in the issues that come up for working parents.”

Start by degendering and destigmatizing flexibility, because working parents can belong to any gender identity, she said.

Leaders should also be sensitive when talking about caregiving, Mihalich-Levin said, recalling when, while working from home during the pandemic, a leader at her former company said, “now that we all have more time for work, because we’re not commuting,” whereas, “I was sitting there with a first grader and a third grader, I didn’t even know when I was going to be able to put it in an hour of work…it was very tone deaf.”

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Continuous support. Mihalich-Levin suggested HR collect data about the caregivers in their organization, including the number of caregivers, the resources they use, and their retention and promotion rates. This information, she said, can help inform the support systems people pros put in place.

When parents return to work after being on leave, they aren’t always familiar with the resources available to them, Mihalich-Levin said. HR should communicate what resources are available on an ongoing basis.

HR can also encourage managers to prorate goals for parents who may be on alternative schedules, and implement “ramp up and ramp down periods when people do take a [parental] leave,” Mihalich-Levin said. So, for example, newly returning parents might be expected to complete 60% of their normal workload their first month back, 80% the second, and 100% the third.

Community and connection also go a long way in supporting caregivers, she said, and HR can build these by establishing employee resource groups and matching new and experienced working parents in mentoring programs. Celebrating caregivers and how their unique skills contribute to their jobs can help, too.

“Whether it’s prioritization, empathy, the ability to juggle a million things, all of these skills come with caregiving,” she said. “The more leaders can talk about the fact that caregiving is making them better at their jobs, it instills confidence in people.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.