How long should your Maternity Leave be?

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


About unapologetictasha

I love the struggles and joys of things; what I learn about parenting, I learn about life. I am a stay-at-home vegan mom who has a strict regimen of daily in-house dance parties. My kids and I love art, nature, and books.
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4 Responses to How long should your Maternity Leave be?

  1. Lauren says:

    I think this varies from woman to woman, although I think six weeks is way too short for anyone! I would have strongly preferred a long maternity leave — I think a full year would have been ideal for my family and children, who just didn’t do well with sitters until they were toddlers. It would have been a weight off my mind to have that extra time. Even six months would have been fantastic. As it was, I returned to part-time teaching after only 4 weeks. It was incredibly stressful.

    • You’re right….this varies for each woman and for each man. So many factors to consider – employment, benefits, savings, housing, and so on. It’s dangerous to put any “should” in the same sentence with he word “parenting” but it got your attention – really only something someone can decide for themselves! (Except perhaps parents on social assistance whom are asked to return to schooling, worker training, or work searches when their child is still so young.)

      Each child seems to have a different set of needs too. I remember asking myself when I was pregnant what I would do if I found out my child had special needs when she was born; I wouldn’t return to work. But then I asked myself why a healthy child deserved any less attention. This is seriously one of the toughest decisions I made as a parent – either way there is a big loss, but also a gain. I know I’m getting into the choice of whether to return to work at all, but it is linked directly to maternity leave.

      • Lauren says:

        I would have loved a “guilt free” leave from my children, an understanding from my workplace/community that I needed and deserved significant time off after birth. Instead I felt the anxiety and need to come back and “contribute” and fake it before I was fully ready, and certainly before my girls were.

  2. Has that premature return to life outside of home impacted your parenting now?

    I find this all so interesting. My mom stayed home until I was six, but then went back to work with a vengeance. I loved having her at home all that time, but it was hard when she started to leave the house more and more. I think she was starved for adult conversation and interaction at that point. *The subject of mother’s post-partum psychology is an issue of its own.*

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