An office down the hallway
The pandemic introduced many families to the flexibility of working from home, and a lot of them found they liked it
After struggling with infertility for three years, Robert and Alexis Aguero welcomed their son Asaph in May 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Amid the challenges—canceled baby showers and hospital visitors, postponed introductions of Asaph to family and friends—Robert, a forester, began working from home for the first time. Then, Alexis resumed her work as a graphic designer for a medical company from home following a three-month maternity leave.
To their surprise, the Agueros liked it. Robert bonded with Asaph and enjoyed checking in on him during breaks or after a difficult meeting. Alexis was able to nurse Asaph and wear comfortable clothes. She struggled with postpartum depression but said it would have been harder to leave Asaph with a stranger every day. Alexis’ mom, and more recently other caretakers, help care for Asaph while the couple works in separate rooms from home.
“We’ve been able to see all of his little changes every single day,” said Alexis, 30. “Neither of us would change that for anything.”
The pandemic gave many parents their first taste of working from home. Many have highlighted the struggles that come with mixing work, home, and kids. In the Aguero home, Alexis says it is hard to close the door on Asaph, leaving him with a caretaker: “He knows we are right there.” Robert said the house feels crowded at times. He finds it harder to disengage from a work mindset.
Still, more than half of parents with children under 18 now say they prefer working from home––33 percent said most of the time, and 20 percent said half of the time––according to new survey data released by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and the Wheatley Institute.
The majority of parents rated “both parents work flexible hours and share child care” as the best arrangement for families with children up to 4 years old, the survey found, while nearly 30 percent preferred one parent staying home full time.
Indeed, nearly 1.5 million fewer mothers of school-aged children were actively participating in the workforce in March 2021 as compared to February 2020, according to census data collected by the Wall Street Journal, prompting fears of what some have called a “she-cession”
While many in Washington push for universal child-care and preschool, the IFS study found that only 11 percent of parents favored full-time center-based child care for children under age 5, with fathers more likely than mothers to select this option.
President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan, introduced in April, earmarked $200 billion toward universal subsidized preschool for 3 and 4 years olds. It also called for paid parental and medical leave ($225 billion over the next decade) and an additional $225 billion toward child care costs, including limiting the amount low and middle-income families pay for daycare to no more than 7 percent of their income for children under 5, “allowing roughly one million parents, primarily mothers, to enter the labor force.”
Lawmakers and family policy experts have proposed other measures, such as child allowances and tax credits, to bolster a historically low birth rate. One recent study showed that work-based solutions to the fertility crisis do not always equate to more babies.
Wendy Wang, co-author of the IFS study and director of research at the conservative think tank, said lawmakers considering investing significant funds toward working families “need to know what parents actually want before designing and implementing policies.”
The IFS survey, conducted by YouGov, interviewed 2,709 adults aged 18 to 55 between May and June 2021. The survey cited a separate study conducted nearly two decades ago showing 30 percent of mothers identified working for pay from home as their ideal, but only 1 percent were able to do that. “The pandemic afforded many mothers that opportunity, and they liked it,” Wang said.
Alexis said some colleagues were once skeptical of working from home but recently acknowledged she and other co-workers maintained productivity. She hopes that translates into more long-term flexibility. Robert’s job is implementing a hybrid model that takes him back in the office two days a week. “In our parenting we have only known taking it one day at a time,” Alexis said. “We’ve learned to hold things loosely.”