Having a child changes everything. In addition to being responsible for a brand new human being, parents have to adjust their lives to fit in this new order. One of the hardest things to reconcile is work: how can you be successful as a parent and a professional?

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we spoke to 1,000 working parents. We wanted to hear how mothers are balancing career and family; what their biggest challenges are; what the impact is on families; and how employers can both retain moms and set them up for success.

Though most people are sympathetic to the sleepless haze of caring for a newborn, other phases of a child’s life can be challenging for parents, as well. We went past maternity leave and looked at the specific challenges parents face at different stages, and how employers can better support moms at work.

Birth of child changes mothers’ outlook on career

Almost all moms (94%) say the momentous event of having their first child changed the way they viewed their careers. They also say what they needed to maximize their performance was different than before (85%).

Upon finding out they were having a child, moms’ top concern was how much maternity leave they would have (60%). Both moms and dads felt they needed more time off than they got: Moms wanted 22 weeks of maternity leave, compared to the average 10 they actually received. Dads felt they needed 10 weeks of paternity leave: 3 weeks longer than the average 7 they got.

A bar graph showing the amount of desired parental leave versus the amount of actual parental leave offered, based on gender.
This bar graph shows the amount of desired parental leave versus the amount of actual parental leave offered in weeks by gender. According to the data, women want 22 weeks of parental leave but only receive 10 weeks. Men want 10 weeks of parental leave but only receive 7 weeks.

Most moms (64%) went back to work full-time after their first child was born. Among moms who stayed home full-time with their children, most (74%) cite the cost of childcare as a motivating factor.

What would help moms come back to work? The ability to work remotely, according to 80%.

80% of moms say the ability to work remotely would help them come back to work after their first child.

Sending kids to school isn’t a cure-all

Once parents are past the initial sleep-deprivation phase, additional relief comes for many working parents in the form of reduced child care payments as kids start school.

However, for most moms, the young school years are still hard — two-thirds (66%) say their child starting kindergarten was a significant challenge that impacted their view of career and family. And 79% of moms say the specific challenges they experienced took them by surprise, with the top issues being adjusting to a new morning routine (62%) and an increased desire to attend kids’ daytime activities (51%).

So how can employers support moms when their kids start school? Give parents the flexibility they need to care for kids when they’re sick (66%); be home when their kids get home (64%); and show up for their activities (63%).

A bar graph showing the top reasons cited by moms on how employers can support them when their kids start school.
This bar graph shows the top reasons cited by moms on how employers can support them when their kids start school. According to the data, 66% of respondents cite employers can support them by allowing parents to use their sick days for when children are sick. 64% responded they would be best supported if their employer would allow flexibility so parents can be home when children get home from school. Lastly, 62% of mothers say they would be best supported if the company would allow mid-day flexibility for parents to attend children’s activities.

Parents of busy kids need flexibility

Another impactful change is when kids start participating in more activities outside the home: at around age eight, according to our survey. Between things like birthday parties, soccer practices and dance classes, moms report spending five hours per week driving their kids around, which 78% say is a challenge.

Another challenge is the fear of missing out on their kids’ accomplishments, 77% of moms say. In fact, almost 42% reduced their work hours when their children’s activities ramped up.

So how can employers help during this phase? Again, flexibility is key. According to the moms we surveyed, they want to be able to attend kids’ after-school activities and sports (81%); to work from home (66%); and draw from a set amount of hours to attend important activities and events (57%).

A bar graph showing the top reasons cited by moms on how employers can support them when their kids become more involved in outside activities.
This bar graph shows the top reasons cited by moms on how employers can support them when their kids become more involved in outside activities. According to the data, 81% of respondents would like their company to allow parents flexibility to attend after school activities/sports. 66% say they would like to be allowed more flexibility to work from home. 58% of moms say they would be best supported by companies allowing a set amount of flexible hours parents can use to attend after school activities/sports.

When kids go to college, moms focus on careers

Another significant change in a parent’s life is when their child goes off to college, giving moms more time for themselves. This “empty nest” period is when most moms (90%) shift focus toward their careers. Most moms (77%) say that after their kids went to college, they developed new career goals, and (71%) report increasing their number of working hours.

90% of moms shift their focus toward their careers when their kids leave for college.

Because children’s lives change as they grow, so do the duties and needs of parents. Our data shows that employers should avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to best support working moms, and instead have a comprehensive, flexible plan that meets moms where they are.

Not sure where to start? Just ask. Most moms in our survey wish employers would ask them what they need for support, but few actually do.

Employers risk missing out on a significant portion of the workforce if they can’t adapt to the needs of working moms — 70% of mothers with children under age 18 work. And employers can benefit significantly from accommodating their needs by retaining the top-performing moms they already employ, while attracting other working parents. Being as flexible as possible, listening to the needs of working moms and not generalizing moms’ needs are great ways to support and attract talent with children.