Making an informed decision on extending parental leave

One of the most annoyingly cryptic things veteran parents say to first time expecting parents involves the turn of phrase surrounding, “Things will be different after the baby arrives. You’ll see.” This always annoyed the crap out of me because 1). No duh, our family is expanding and we will have new persons (I had twins) to add to our motley crew, and 2). 

Saying this to me when I’m seven months pregnant is about as helpful as giving me a stack of fortune cookies and telling me to just roll with it. Surprise, surprise, after our children entered our lives, things changed dramatically.

During my pregnancy, my husband and I deliberately saved up a lot of money to support my time on parental leave, since my work at the time did not provide any compensation beyond what I was receiving from the government. Each month I would add a portion of this fund to our chequing account and never really thought much else about it. 

What we both failed to realize was that the expenses we had to really worry about hadn’t arrived yet, and childcare fees would soon take up a massive portion of our income. Here’s the thing, couples everywhere with good healthy salaries can’t always afford daycare. When you add in costs like work clothes, transportation, and time value, particularly if there is more than one child requiring paid care, many parents are found asking themselves whether one person should stay home. 

Canadian families with high levels of income can expect to pay about 18 percent of their net income on daycare alone, and these are numbers for people with above average salaries. In the first four years of our twins’ lives, we spent over $90,000 on childcare. 

That’s one heck of a lot of money, and doesn’t include money spent on daycare deposits, fees for the sheer honour of having a child’s name placed on multiple childcare waiting lists, missed time at work and vacation days used to care for a sick child, and what we spent on additional babysitters when a child was ill and we absolutely couldn’t miss work. So was both of us going back to work worth it?

For us, yes, most of the time, but this was something we questioned on a regular basis, particularly during the first six months in daycare where our children were constantly sick with daycare plague. None of us have a crystal ball telling what will be the ultimate best childcare option for our family, today, tomorrow or even next year, but a little reflection can go a long way. 

By asking yourself the right questions, you can explore your options with a little more insight and a lot less emotion. Here are seven questions worth examining and asking yourself and your family before making a decision on whether or not you want to hit pause on a family member’s career for the sake of child care:

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7 What Will Our Family Budget Look Like With Full-time Child Care?

This can be a really intimidating exercise, but well worth it. Calculate all of your expenses and earnings post parental leave. Be sure to include items like lunches, coffees, work appropriate clothes, transportation, daycare, and a small monthly emergency fund to cover costs of sitters when a fever is preventing baby from attending daycare for the fourth day in a row, because it will happen, often at the most inconvenient time.

If you have family members who can help out in cases of illness or emergency, use this fund for wine or small tokens of appreciation for them helping you out. Take a look at what the numbers look like objectively. Is it costing you more money to be going to work than it would for someone to stay at home? Or are you still contributing to the household income, even if it just is a bit of money for date nights or groceries?

Consider Tax Deductions

Another item worth investigation is determining whether or not your childcare expenses will allow your family to receive a break on income taxes year round or a significant tax refund. Look into the impact these types of credits have on your financials and run the numbers again. Some Canadians may qualify for a request to reduce tax deductions at the source for particular years. You can get a letter of authority from your tax services office by filling out a Form T1213 and providing your employer with your letter of approval. This can make a huge difference.

6 How Did You or Your Partner Cope With Your Time at Home?

While to some it may seem like a simple mathematical equation to determine whether or not someone stays home, it’s important to look beyond the simple reality that you either lose one salary, or you pay someone else’s in terms of child care. There are other issues at work here.

Take an honest look at how you felt on a daily basis with childcare as your primary objective. Whether you were home with an infant for a month, three months, or even a year, you need to examine whether or not both you and baby would thrive with you at home. Were you frustrated or endlessly bored? How did you fill your time? Many parents consider it a failure to not be in love with the idea of taking care of an infant 24-7. In reality, wanting some adult time doesn’t mean that you don’t love your kid(s), it means that you’re self-aware of your needs.

If you find yourself still questioning how you or your partner would cope with being a stay at home parent consider talking with family and friends that you trust and get their honest impression of you coped (or are coping).

Minimize Boredom

If there was some minimal boredom, are there cost effective ways that you can get a little more “you” time whilst being the primary caregiver to your children. Is there a gym that offers childcare while you work out? A neighborhood kid who can give you a couple of hours to yourself? All of these factors will become important to your end game decision.

5 What is Your Parenting Philosophy?

Are you a hands on attachment parent, making all of your baby food from scratch or do you really value your alone time? How will your decision to return to work or stay at home play into this? Consider your preferred lifestyle and whether or not additional income, or remaining at home supports this. Do you want your family to participate in costly activities like organized sports or pricier vacations?

Some parents decide that they want to be present for each moment, be it first steps, first teeth or volunteering at the school, and that this is worth any financial sacrifice. Others decide that they’d prefer dedicated quality time over quantity.

It's a Personal Choice

That's right. Whatever decision you make is going to be a personal choice based on your parenting philosophy. Most importantly, whatever decision you make, make sure that you stick to it!  

4 How Much Do You (or Your Partner) Love Your Job?

Maybe you lived for your work pre-baby, maybe you found yourself welcoming the change and the different pace of parental life. Many people start families at a time of a crossroads in their careers hoping that they’ll gain perspective as parents. Did you miss your time at the office, or not so much? Now could be the time to examine some online or night courses to maintain your perspective, while you take a step back from your existing job. Or perhaps you’ve come to recognize how much your work means to you. Either way, work satisfaction is a key component to this decision.

Perhaps the time away from the workforce has provided some much-needed distance and clarity on your career path and now it’s time to make a change. Some people need to feel fulfillment on other levels, which can involve career progress and time away from the home. Again, this is nothing to feel guilty over.

There's a Flip Side Too

Others may feel resentment to coming home at the end of the day to tired, cranky kids, with weekday time focused on baths, laundry, and other household chores. 

3 How Flexible is Your Work?

Some workplaces will allow you to take an unpaid sabbatical for six months, a year or more, all while maintaining your benefits. This may allow you to delay a decision and try out life as a stay at home parent all while keeping the security of your current job in place. 

Other options to try include speaking to your work about potential part-time, telecommuting or job sharing schedules to help ease some of the financial burdens of childcare. This may provide the financial boost your family needs while maintaining a balance of family and work life. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. 

Stop Worrying

If you are leaning towards staying at home, you have nothing to lose by being direct and up front with your workplace. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll decide to find another job, or stay at home.

2 How do I maintain a Good Relationship With My Employer if I Quit?

No matter how understanding your boss is, they’re bound to get upset if you leave them in the lurch. Make sure you provide ample notice if you intend to extend your leave, or not come back at all. A decision may be made late in the game, but you need to be as professional as possible and give as much notice as you can.

 In a few years, this might be a reference or network you’d like to tap. We all want to be remembered as being considerate, so do what you can. You also want to think about your relationships with colleagues and clients as a part of this decision, leaving the best parting impression possible and making sure you stay in touch with your networks. 

An Important Consideration

Just because a particular job isn’t the right fit right now doesn’t mean that you want to close the door completely, plus you may want to come back there, or use them for a reference once little peanut goes to school. 

1 How Will this Pause in My Career Impact My Career Trajectory?

In 2010 a TD Economics study indicated that taking time away from work has a substantial impact on a women’s wages, costing a woman who makes a salary of approximately $60K annually, up to $325K in additive losses for a three-year leave from the workforce.

It has been suggested that men selecting a primary caregiver can create important social change. Men who take advantage of a leave from work help reduce the stigma attached to stay at home dads, increase equality within the workforce, and create more equal relationships within the family.

While there are many strides being made for workplaces supporting parents, there is still a long way to go. Your thoughts and fears surrounding your career may be a good place to start thinking about what is more important to you at this time, upward mobility or time with your young children, and remember there is no right or wrong answer here.

What About the Other Kids?

Some families decide to suck it up and shell out the dough for childcare, particularly after the first child and then re-evaluate their situations after the next child, and additional expenses enter the picture. When there are more than one children in the picture, both work and home schedules become more hectic, and often a parent at home makes more sense.

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