// Adam is a new father living in Alberta, Canada and is in the middle of a nine-month stretch of parental leave. This is his story. //
As I said in my first post, I knew I wanted to be at home with my kid before I knew we were pregnant, and my partner, Lauren, knew she wanted me at home, too. Actually doing it is more complicated.
In our case, when Lauren became pregnant we realized that we were, mostly accidentally, in what would likely be a unique moment in our lives. She would complete her PhD only a couple months before our due date, meaning she wouldn’t be formally employed when our baby was born. Consequently, she wouldn’t qualify for financially-supported maternity or parental leave.
What’s On Offer
In Canada, new (employed) mothers have a guaranteed 15-week maternity leave that is considered medical leave, paid at 55% of pre-baby earnings. Beyond that, there’s a maximum of 61 weeks of parental leave that can be taken by one parent or split between the two (with the caveat that ‘standard’ parental leave of 35 weeks pays at 55% of previous earnings, while ‘extended’ parental leave up to 61 weeks pays only 33% of previous earnings — basically, the government stretches the same amount of compensation over a longer period of time).
Complicating matters slightly, in addition to this federal mandate, each province has its own policy regarding parental leave, and new parents are entitled to whichever is greater.
In our case, a recent and extraordinarily rare change in Alberta’s provincial government produced one extra week of maternity leave and one extra week of extended parental leave beyond the federal offering. Modest hooray!
The Silver Lining
The fact that Lauren didn’t qualify for paid parental leave presented some financial questions for us. But, she was quick to point out that her not being on leave meant I could take as much of the parental leave as I wanted, and we could then both be at home longer than we might otherwise have been able.
Also important to us was the realisation that with me at home, Lauren would have the flexibility to take small independent research contracts when on offer. Those contracts are particularly valuable as a young academic trying to keep a hard-earned foot in the career door. Considerable hooray!
Dollars and Cents
So… time for the money math. With the options laid out, we had to figure out how long we could sustain ourselves on a fraction of my salary and Lauren’s periodic contracts, plus the additional expenses of a baby.
I work mid-level for a land conservation non-profit. The salary will never blow you away, and there wouldn’t be a financial top-up from my employer like a person might get in a government gig or some private enterprises. Plus, we live in a ridiculously expensive town in the Rockies. But we’re thrifty DIY-types with some savings and no debt, so we are certainly among the fiscally fortunate.
At first we settled into the idea of six months of parental leave for me. That’s a nice round number that seems like a long time when you’re accustomed to one-year work contracts based on one-year funding cycles.
A friend of ours, though, whose due date was 10 weeks before ours, said he was planning to take nine months. That sounded better. But could we do it?
Looking at our existing savings, considering my parental leave payments, taking into account basically no change in Lauren’s income, and making a bit of a checklist of baby items we figured we probably couldn’t get for cheap or free (basically, a car seat; thank you, parents!), we figured we could make it work. I just hadn’t reached far enough out of my job-brain to consider the possibility of taking more than half a year.
The fact that my friend inspired me to take more is a big reason I’m writing this; I hope it might inspire somebody else somewhere to take more time than they might have considered otherwise.
I know there’s a harshly classed component to deciding whether or not to take parental leave, and I won’t pretend that our modest family income is the same thing as poverty. The fact that compensation for my leave is a fixed percentage of my pre-child salary means that if my job paid me less I wouldn’t be able to take as much time, if any. That’s unjust, and it needs to change.
At the same time, I know I make less money than many of my peers, and I’m glad I didn’t let my general anxieties about finances stop me from taking a bunch of time with my kid. I certainly wouldn’t take less time if I were to do it again in our same situation.
So, if you’re a soon-to-be-parent and thinking about taking parental leave, I’d encourage you to at least consider taking 50% more time than your first thought. It might not be viable, but just putting it out there it will help you break out of a self-limiting mindset. When you take the time to really look at it, you’ll probably discover you have more flexibility than you realised.
I said it before and it’s worth saying again: if you can be at home with your baby, you won’t regret a day of it.
Editor’s Note: In Canada, new (employed) mothers have a guaranteed 15-week maternity leave that is considered medical leave, paid at 55% of pre-baby earnings.
Beyond that, there’s parental leave that, subject to eligibility, can be taken by one parent or split between the two. There are two options:
1) ‘Standard’ parental leave is up to 35 weeks, paid at 55% of previous earnings up to a max of CAD$547 per week.
2) ‘Extended’ parental leave is up to 61 weeks, paid at 33% of previous earnings up to a max of CAD$328 per week. Basically, the government stretches the same amount of compensation over a longer period of time.
Additionally, parents of a child born or adopted after March 17, 2019 may be eligible for five “use-it-or-lose-it” weeks under the government’s new Parental Sharing Benefits.
Full details of this new Parental Sharing Benefit can be found here. But in short, parents who select ‘standard’ parental leave benefits can receive up to 40 weeks (up from 35), but neither parent can access more than 35 weeks in total. This forces both parents to take SOME (at least five) weeks off if they want to access the full 40 week offering.
Similarly, parents who select ‘extended’ parental benefits can receive up to 69 weeks of parental benefits (up from 61 weeks). Neither parent can access more than 61 weeks in total, so this means both parents will need to take at least 8 weeks of leave.