There are a lot of unknowns in pregnancy and parenthood. As a family lawyer, I can attest to the fact that no parent can ever really be certain that they’re doing everything correctly – even when everyone is doing their best. When it comes to preparing for a maternity leave, there are some right ways and some wrong ways to make the transition from working person to working parent.
Talk It Out
First, talk with your partner about your expectations for parental leave before you start trying to have a baby. Depending on your age and stage, one of you may have more or less flexibility around parental leave or you may be at a critical point in your career where taking a substantial amount of time off just is not feasible. Obviously, if you’re the person who is planning to have the baby, you’ll need to take some amount of time off to make sure your body has time to heal and recover following the birth, but taking a full year of parental leave (as you’re able to do in Canada) is not a foregone conclusion. Also, allow for the fact that your partner may want to spend some alone time with the baby. As the birthing parent, you are an important part of the child’s life, but you do not want to become the gatekeeper of all things baby. In Canada, parents can (and I think should) share the parental leave benefits to the extent that it’s possible. Starting early on will ensure that you’re able to develop a healthy co-parenting relationship with your partner. However, for some people, taking a full year off may spell financial/career disaster, which leads me to my next point.
Show Me the Money
If you’re a lawyer, the parental leave benefits available from the government are NOT going to cover your lost income. To those fortunate souls who work for a firm that pays a top-up, I say enjoy it while it lasts. But, my nonscientific data suggests that those don’t last very long (in general, about 4 months). That still leaves about 8 months of the year where you have to cover all of your bills, and some new ones, on a significantly reduced salary.
In practical terms, this means that you need to save money – potentially a lot of it. If you’re already living beyond your means, you have to cut back. If you have not done a great job of saving, check whether it’s realistic to take a full year off work. If you’re considering returning to work early, you’ll also need to consider whether your salary will be able to cover the cost of daycare and all your other bills. If not, maybe you need to think about asking for a raise or finding a new position. It’s obvious that there is a huge moral and social responsibility on parents to make decisions that are in the best interests of their children, but your financial responsibility to your children should not be overlooked. This does not mean that babies need to have everything handed to them on a silver platter (and it’s likely in their best interests to not get everything that they want), but their financial interests should be considered, in most cases, above yours (and if you ever find yourself in my office, the government has mandated this result through legislation like the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act).
Build a Support Network
It doesn’t really matter whether you get support from your friends, your family or a combination of the two. When there are so many changes happening in your life, you need to surround yourself with people who will not judge you, who are excited for you and who are available when you just need a shoulder to freak out on. You will have to make a lot of decisions for your family and your baby. Not everyone will agree with the choices you’ve made, but they should be able to put aside their personal preferences and understand that, as long as there is no danger to the choice you’re making, reasonable people can disagree. Of course, that’s easier said than done and sometimes there are people in the inner circle that you can’t exclude, but who insist on being a bit toxic. If they are related to your partner – speak with him/her about it and ask that they quarterback that situation before it gets out of control. If they’re related to you, you should have a frank discussion with them about boundaries. If they are not related to either of you, well maybe you don’t really need them in your life right now.
Everyone’s pregnancy is different so it’s impossible to say how much or how little support you may need, but you will need it eventually. You’ll also want to find people who are roughly in the same boat as you. Sometimes you just don’t know whether that thing you felt or that change in your skin is normal or something you should be concerned about. There are plenty of online forums that group expectant parents by due date so that you can easily find other people who are going through things at roughly the same time as you.
Obviously, there are many more things to think about when you’re planning a parental leave, but these are some of the highlights that I think should be front and center when you’re thinking about getting pregnant or have just found out that you are pregnant. In the next post, we’ll discuss how to prepare your career for a parental leave. Stay tuned!