In my last post about my maternity leave here in the United States, I started to address the length of my leave. I was asked to take five months – when the law only required to safeguard my job for three months.
While I was being lambasted by a Canadian someone for going back to work “so early”, I was also envious that she had a year of paid leave from her work to spend with her child. I feel strongly that if a parent is able to spend an earnest year with his or her child – bonding, reading, exercising, and learning about one another – that society as a whole is better off and both individuals usually fare better later on down the road.
Why did I decide to go back to work when I did? It boiled down to dollars and cents. Like most people, I was carrying a debt load. I had $10,000+ left on my Canadian student loan. I had been paying roughly half of my monthly income for years to whittle down a $40,000 loan. I wanted to see that red line gone and be free to make different financial decisions. Being debt free would also allow me to have more flexibility in my parenting decisions down the line.
I know I’m not alone in making a major parenting choice based on money. It’s what puts the bread and butter on the table, right? A friend of mine has roughly one more week before she returns to work six weeks post-partum because she is the breadwinner in their family. A woman in my pregnancy group returned to duty with the Coast Guard after six weeks leave; this seems to be the standard within the military.
I shutter at the thought, but then what would these women do without adequate income or medical coverage to take care of their children? My extended leave cost me an additional $800 to carry my benefits through the entire term of my departure. I had been banking vacation time for my maternity leave, but I’m sure not all employers would be so accommodating. I had not really prepared mentally for that financial shift – not having funds to spend on things other than food or rent. As a working woman, I had built up a sense of entitlement to treat myself to something new after a job well done. Things had to change, even if I had done the best job ever at delivering my baby.
So there we are as parents – human scales that weigh our financial stability against our children’s happiness. Sure, children can be happy in other people’s care but an infant makes a great sacrifice of time, affection, and proximity to the people he would like to be with the most. It is an impossible dilemma. Add to that the pressures of your partners’ views, your employer’s expectations, and that of extended family and friends and it becomes a vortex of stress.
The extra 2 months of maternity leave with my daughter was worth the $800. Of course the time with her was invaluable, but it was also a chance to set a stable daycare plan that worked for my family. It was two months longer for my identity as a worker to give way to a new identity as a working mother.
Other thoughts on Maternity Leave
- Comic take on the three month maternity leave
- Wikipedia’s entry on Parental Leave
- NPR’s map of international maternity leave policies