Why I hired my husband to be my wife

I wrote two simple words on a lined index card and stuck it to my fridge: Wanted: Wife. I was too tired to print neatly inside the lines and I wasn’t about to define the job with an actual description, ’cause that would be stupid.

But one task was certain — I needed parenting help. As a new mom with a month-old baby at home, I was struggling to keep my freelance career afloat. The introduction of my newborn daughter into the mix turned my home-based business into many things, but profitable wasn’t one of them.

wanted wife

The long nights, endless feedings, laundry, dishes, hallway walking, mushy snuggling, and awkward baby staring left me with nothing left in the tank to work. This was a problem since working earns money and money pays the bills. Money is a housekeeping item after all, and without it you can’t keep your house.

Oh, I needed help with the housekeeping too.

Two weeks drifted by in a blur of babymooning and a desperate last-ditch attempt towards successful self-employment when I got serious about filling my vacant wifey role. Given the sensitivity of the work, the piss-poor pay, and the round-the-clock attention to detail required, there was only one man who was woman enough to land the gig — my husband.

wanted daddy

With a newborn draped over my left shoulder and a red sharpie positioned in my right hand, I edited my original job description to read: Wanted: Daddy Wife, and circled my ‘cry for help’ in ink.

Carl got the message. Within weeks he gave notice at work (he’s a software developer) and did what few dads do — he took full paternity leave.

Here’s why we bendered gender roles and decided that daddy was the best mommy to take parental leave.

P.S. This is a handy real-life study for those struggling with the parental leave equation and trying to decide who takes the time off.

Who’s winning the bread?

Filing taxes together as a couple highlights a big financial fact of life — one spouse often earns more money than the other. In the house of Squawk, the breadwinner crown flips from year to year, but for the 365 days leading up to Carl taking parental leave, I made more money.

Carl is OK with me sharing this fact. Growing up on a cattle ranch cowboying a sizeable herd through rivers and over mountains didn’t slant his ego. He may be covered in deep barbed-wire scars from head to toe (I know, I’ve seen them) but an inflated sense of masculinity isn’t his mark.

Women winning the bread isn’t an uncommon occurrence. A 2009 study, called the Shriver Report), said that wives earned more than their husbands in around 40 per cent of households. In these cases it can make good financial sense for daddy to stay at home.

Bottom Line: My earning a greater income than hubby simply means we have more money as a family. Sending me back to work to keep earning was a financial decision based on simple math, and we both checked our egos at the door.

Qualifying for EI pays.

If you’re an employee, chances are you contribute to the Employment Insurance (EI) program and qualify for maternity, parental, and sickness benefits.

If you’re self-employed like me, you have to buy into EI and pay the premiums. At the outset, joining EI in 2013 sounds like a great plan — pay the govvies 1.88 per cent of your insurable earnings up to a maximum of $891.12 (same as employees pay) and collect up to to 55 per cent of your earnings to a maximum of $501 per week for 35 weeks. Phew. Deal, right?

There are a few gotchas. You need to pay into the system for a year, if you draw the benefit you can never opt out — you’re stuck paying premiums for as long as you’re self-employed — and you can earn a little bit of income while collecting EI, but not much at all.

To see the self-employed maternity math in its full glory, check out Gail Vaz-Oxlade in MoneySense Magazine, The facts on self-employed maternity leave.

Bottom Line: Since daddy Carl is an employee, he qualified for the full 35 weeks of parental leave. Mommy Kerry did not. The kicker for most self-employed people (like me) is you can’t work while on EI, and stepping away from your business for nearly a year is a surefire way to kill your customer base. Encouraging my clients to find another writer was not something I could afford to do.

Returning to work is easier for some.

Some jobs can be put on hold for up to a year, other jobs cannot. I’m not saying that some careers are more important than others, but if you have a gig that can handle your absence while you’re on parental leave then you’re lucky.

Another consideration is your employer’s view on maternity or parental leave. Let’s face it, while not legal, the cultural landscape in some office spaces makes it challenging for either a guy or a gal to take leave. See The dark side of maternity leave via Canadian Business for the dreary details.

The issue with my vocation is no one else can be Kerry K. Taylor quite like I can be Kerry K. Taylor. As a freelance writer, that’s my byline and customers expect me to write under it. Carl tried once to write like me for fun — the results were mostly horrible. It’s a good thing he’s a software developer with an employer who supported his choice to stay home with baby.

Bottom Line: If you qualify for parental leave then you’re legally allowed to take it. Splitting the leave between mom and dad is great option too, especially if both careers allow for flexibility.

Daddy was into it.

Some men have a fear of taking paternity leave (via The New York Times). Others do not.

After the math was done and our egos checked, Carl was excited to take time off work to be a daddy. Our friends and family were supportive too. A slew of daddy gifts celebrating Carl’s father status arrived at our door, with the most hilarious (and needed) one being a pair of Lululemon yoga pants (called Kung Fu Pants) from his brother Max and sister-in-law Kate (The Great).

I’m happy to report those pants stayed spit-up free for exactly 20 minutes, or the amount of time it took for Carl to realize the volume of laundry he just signed up for.

So where am I going with this?

I’m the first to admit my family is an unusual case — I’m an adoptive parent, I sometimes out-earn my husband, and daddy took parental leave. The hubs is also unusual in that he’s a computer scientist (a scary bunch) and he’s OK with me publicly calling him a “Daddy Wife” on a widely read blog. His skin is thick and his cowboy hat is well worn.

Our situation may not fully apply to you and that’s OK. I share my story only to give you guys a different real world example, and suggest you work your own scenario from there.

Deciding who takes parental leave should not be an emotional decision. I get slagged a lot in life for thinking too much like a scientist and not enough like a mushy mush. The slaggers have me wrong. I am a total mush head, I just choose to use my brain (and a calculator) to make the majority of my money decisions.

New parents debating parental leave should do the math too.

Love,
Kerry

Your two cents:

  1. Steve August 23rd, 2013

    Awesome! I took 6 months parental leave when our second (now 5) was born. It was a super busy but extremely gratifying time. I got to see both our kids grow and change for 6 months. And yes I did an enormous amount of laundry, vacuuming, diaper changing, and bathroom cleanup. When I got back to work, my female (no kids) boss said, well I hope you enjoyed your extended vacation. I told her my only regret was not taking 9 months.

  2. Shelley Maher August 23rd, 2013

    I love that you are a parent because the topics are near and dear to my heart as I have 3 kids and am self-employed too, and I always have a smile in my heart after reading your experiences, thanks for your stuff I love it.

  3. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction August 24th, 2013

    I am not a parent (yet) but when it does come to that point, it is very likely to follow your lead. We already know I earn more, and have done the math ourselves to see that me going back to work would be better for the finances – heck I didn’t spend 9 years in post-secondary to not earn a good salary.

  4. Sandi August 25th, 2013

    The dilemma of trying to make sure the bills are paid AND the house is clean AND the laundry is done (and done, and done, and done), AND the kids are taken care of (and all that the phrase implies) is a particularly difficult puzzle for every parent, but I’m feeling the specific difficulty of trying to make your living at home while all that other stuff is happening (or not).

    The mushy-mush part of me says “isn’t this family stuff the REASON I’m building my business around my family instead of the other way around?” when I start to feel overwhelmed, but the money nerd part of me hired someone to clean every other week, and is looking to hire someone to come to the house and take care of the kids for at least one morning a week.

    So now – on a budget – I’m paying for housekeeping and childcare. Guilt. It’s everywhere.

  5. Hollie Pollard August 26th, 2013

    One of my friends, Ammar, leads Social for Ford Canada, and with the birth of each of his children he has taken paternity leave for 6 months, I think it is awesome, practical and smart.

  6. Patricia August 26th, 2013

    We made the decision in 1983 that Dad would be a permanent stay at home parent with the arrival of our first daughter. It was predicated on looking at earning power and costs. My job involved shift work and we looked at income earning power and the costs of daycare. We made some conscious decisions to sacrifice some things that others might find unacceptable such as not having a car for 10 years. The solution was to have transit passes ( we live in a large city) and to rent a car for holidays as required. I took 6 months maternity leave on the arrival of each of our children which again took some planning budget wise. Over the years as the children got older my husband had a variety of part time jobs that were chosen so that he could still be available for the girls. We eventually bought a house and now are both retired with the girls being 27 & 30 at this point. Some might see us as having made sacrifices, I prefer to look at it as conscious choices which were somewhat unconventional for the times. I think it all comes down to making the best decision for you, your husband and your family at the time.

  7. Ruth Cooke August 26th, 2013

    @ Sandi: Don’t feel guilty for doing what you have to do to give your kids the best. One morning a week of child care won’t hurt your kids, in fact it will be good for them to learn from another adult. You’ve still opted to spend the majority of time parenting them, and that’s what’s important. As far as housework is concerned, if I could afford it, I’d hire someone to do that too, and I live alone! Cleaning the house is important, but unless you enjoy doing it yourself, it isn’t really important WHO does it.

    My husband was the primary stay-at-home parent when my kids were small, for the simple reason that I was in school or working. When we separated, the kids stayed with him, though I live close by and remained as involved as any at-home parent. Now they’re aged 23 to 27, and have turned into fine, well-adjusted young adults. Children truly benefit when their fathers are highly involved in their care and upbringing!

  8. Ajka August 26th, 2013

    Wow, 35 weeks of parental leave?
    I know nothing about how this works but I am employed by a large corporation in Ontario and I know men qualify for 5 weeks of paternity leave.

  9. Sandi August 26th, 2013

    @Ajka – The 35 weeks of parental leave is available to every Canadian (but 35 weeks per child…meaning you and your partner can split it however you want to, but can’t double up on it) through Employment Insurance, at 55% of your current salary to a maximum of $501 per week.

    Probably you’re referring to a paternity leave top-up; lots of big companies offer it, meaning they pay the difference between what EI pays you and what your normal salary is for a few weeks.

  10. Bil August 26th, 2013

    Back ~way back!~ in the 1980′s in our growing household we made this decision and I raised our littlies whilst teacher wife taught and raised a bigger piecrust. With hindsight those first 12 years or so with our two were the happiest of my life, great learning and often great joy. They were so much an education, and enriched my life through to my soul. Always meaningful and sometimes massive effort involved ~ unconditional love has to be so, does it not?! Essentially do the sums yes. but! If this is something you can consider doing, dear men out there, I encourage you!!!

  11. JDee Sunshine August 26th, 2013

    My kids had the benefit of Dad being the homemaker. He will apply for CPP parental leave accommodations once we get to retirement. One thing that would really help would be income splitting. I am at my max wages but he his now building his career and income.

  12. Curly-T August 27th, 2013

    One – I’m totally jealous. 35 weeks paternal leave is unheard of here in the US.
    Two – LOVE that you guys did this! When our first two were born, my husband was working from home. So after my 6 weeks recovery time, I bundled myself back off to the office, and Daddy handled baby bottles, baby spit, baby diapers….
    It was wonderful!
    When #3 was born, he went off to work (with a more lucrative job) and I get to stay home!
    Both Mommies and Daddies are PARENTS. Sharing the job just makes sense. :)

  13. Marcia August 27th, 2013

    Ah, such a hard decision fraught with guilt.

    With our first, I had 13.5 weeks off, husband had 6 weeks.

    With our second, I had 11 weeks off, husband only took 1 week. He was traveling 25% of the first 6 weeks with #2. That was really tough.

    I encourage new dads in California to take the full paid family leave (6 weeks partial pay). Very few actually do.

  14. Lynn August 27th, 2013

    The original plan for us was 2 months for daddy.. but with a layoff mid pregnancy and then complications it was perfect because he became the ” free babysitter” and he will take parental until we are all cleared.

  15. Kyle @ Young and Thrifty August 29th, 2013

    Great job dad, it makes a lot of sense, yet so few men have the courage to take on such an important role in the face of weird outdated stereotypes. I’d expect nothing less from a cowboy with barbedwire scars. In fact, that sounds so masculine (the opposite of a barbed wire tattoo) that I’m thinking of just calling any future scars I get “barbed wire scars… from that one time…”

  16. Gerard September 3rd, 2013

    @Sandi: Is a kid-trade an option for you, instead of paying someone? You take their kid on Mondays, they take yours on Thursdays?

  17. Sandi September 3rd, 2013

    Now that’s a very good question, and I’ll have to look into it. Thanks, Gerard!

  18. Tess @ Tips on Life and Love September 5th, 2013

    I think this is great. More daddy’s should take paternity leave– especially if makes sense financially.

  19. getrichwithme September 9th, 2013

    Great post.
    Of course it makes sense that the highest earner in a partnership should be the one and go out to work – its a no brainer. Your very lucky that your partner sees things the same way you do.
    One of my friends is also a stay at home daddy – he thinks its one of the best things thats ever happened to him
    Love your blog

  20. Tahnya Kristina September 12th, 2013

    I love role reversals. My boyfriend works but sometimes he helps me with the technical side of my communications business. Writing is my thing and computers are his thing so it works out perfectly!

    Great post. Can’t wait to meet you in Toronto at CPFC13.

  21. Hunain @ HowToSaveMoney.ca September 12th, 2013

    When we become parents our life becomes much too busy because now we have to deal with both work as well as a baby and increased family responsibilities. I think you guys made a smart choice here as you have to do what makes the most sense after crunching the numbers and considering what works for you both.

  22. Tracy September 12th, 2013

    My dad had a business out of our house for the first 10 years of my life, so I grew up with him cooking dinner and being the one around, etc. We had a great relationship and got to go to the park all the time! I think I turned out pretty normal (I’m 29 now).

  23. dojo September 21st, 2013

    Kudos to your husband for really stepping up. There’s no room for egos in this. What makes most sense for your family should be done, not whatever strokes one’s ego.

  24. Big Cajun Man September 23rd, 2013

    I regret that I missed out a lot of things with all four of my kids growing up, and if I had a chance to do it again, I think I would have taken parental leave for my kids, but at the time, I was “working hard being a Dad” (yes, I know that sounds like chauvinist drivel). If I had taken that time off, I don’t know if it would have changed a lot for my kids, but it would have been better for me (as a Dad).

    Good on “the big guy” for taking the step (as for dealing with bodily fluids, he has my sympathies, Mrs. C8j does not do bodily fluids).

  25. Donny @ Personal Income October 19th, 2013

    I feel like it is important for any husband to know how to replace the duties of their wife when it comes to have kids or sickness. This is critical to the success of any long lasting relationship

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