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.
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.
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.