An in-depth, just-released Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey (RWJF) finds that American parents from all races and ethnicities are pretty optimistic about their kids’ futures. That’s a surprising finding, especially after this hellish year of pandemic fears, economic instability, and homeschooling.
The report, entitled “Raising the Next Generation: Research with Parents and Caregivers,” spans an 18 month time period. The initial quantitative findings across five racial and ethnic backgrounds finished in April, just as lockdowns began. The researchers then extended some interviews, revisiting them in the Fall of 2020.
Surveying equal groups of Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Indigenous, Latino, and White parents, it addressed feelings about parenting, optimism for the future, experiences with racism (especially systemic), and access to opportunities for their kids.
One thing is for sure: The pandemic laid bare problems in the nation. “The problems got worse, but the challenges were there already,” head researcher Scott Simpson of Resonance Campaigns said in a press webinar. “The amount of hustle and work parents were doing was only exacerbated by COVID.”
Optimism & Realism
Despite the incredible turmoil and disruption caused by COVID-19, overall optimism for their kids’ futures remained high. That was especially true for immigrant parents. Parents generally embraced parenthood, and felt pride in the job they were doing.
But optimism doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the obvious problems of racism and inequity. Simpson found that parents were clear-eyed about bullying, anxiety,and depression. About nine in ten of Black parents surveyed expect that racism will impact education and job opportunities for their kids; many of the parents stated they’d experienced systemic racism themselves, especially in the workplace, justice system and interacting with doctors.
“I think the numbers bear out that the black parents experience racism more than the other groups,” Simpson said.
Researcher Mike Perry from PerryUndem agreed, but thought that these concerns were amplified by gender. “Moms had more concerns about racism, and more intensity.”
Resilient, But Needing Help
Consistently, the survey researchers were struck by the fast pivots parents had to make over the last year, changing routines, incomes, and living situations.
“They are endlessly resourceful and creative,” says Jennifer Ng’andu, managing director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We clearly heard about the financial setbacks they’ve faced. Especially the bad choices: either losing money or working in a dangerous environment during COVID.”
The majority of parents surveyed believed strongly in the need for a government safety net for families, and the pandemic made that need all the more necessary. While they are devoted to parenting and feel they’re doing a good job, they’d like the time and opportunity to really invest in their children, while not worrying that their background will negatively impact success.
The survey’s optimistic results have been replicated (the hallmark of good, successful science, including social science) by a Kindercare Harris poll. This poll’s conclusions echo the RWJF’s survey: “According to the data, parents report that they are learning to appreciate the smaller things in life and have developed stronger relationships with their children and have become closer as a family due to the pandemic. Even amidst all these challenges, the majority of parents are still feeling confident in their parenting skills, showing incredible resiliency.”
Resilience and optimism are good, but parents still need that safety net that virtually all surveyed said was necessary. Ng’andu says there needs to be a commitment to change, and a good start might be making that new child tax credit permanent. That might “help them not have to sell the things that are sitting around their living rooms.”
There might be, as Perry observed, something about children that creates a level of optimism. “It seems like there’s something in the psychology of parents that is optimistic,” he said. “Even homeless parents thought things would be better tomorrow.”
Ng’andu relates the commentary of one of the survey participants, a mother, who stated it very plainly and poignantly: “I just want a chance to breathe.”