Taking parental leave with my third child was one of the best decisions of my life.
It was not an automatic decision, I did talk it over with my wife at the time. Obviously, when it comes to having babies, women do all of the work. So, if she had insisted on staying home with our baby boy, I would not have argued. But, she’d already done two rounds of maternity leave in recent years, and felt like getting back to work sooner rather than later. So, I became “Mr. Mom” for a year.
Fortunately, things were not as bad for me as they were for Michael Keaton’s character in the 1983 classic comedy. That being said, staying at home with the kids was a challenge. At the time, I had a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn. I used to get comments from old ladies at Superstore when I’d load all three up in a shopping cart: “look at the daddy out with the kids!” like it was a completely out of place occurrence.
But I do absolutely recommend that both parents take a turn at parental leave if at all possible. Caring for a baby is an experience like no other, and it’s not quite the same if you’re at work 9-5. Keep in mind that parental leave pay works much the same as Employment Insurance – you will only receive up to 55% of your regular paycheque. It’s always a good idea to have some savings squared away ahead of time to help soften the financial blow.
Any new parent can take parental leave, including those who adopt a child. I should note here that there is a difference between parental leave and maternity leave. Maternity is only available to the mother giving birth, and it is intended to give them time to recover physically from having a child. As any mom can tell you, extended labour can mess up a human body, and if any surgery is involved, the recovery can be even longer.
So the mom can take up to 15 weeks total, starting before the baby is born if necessary. Then the parental leave kicks in, which either parent can take. I actually went on leave a few weeks before my son was born, and that meant that I had to go back to work earlier so I didn’t quite get a full year. But that’s ok. Moms go through a lot in the birthing process, and she absolutely deserved every minute of that leave.
So, what advice do I have for any fathers out there planning to be Mr. Mom? Well, I already told you to save up some money ahead of time (consult a financial advisor for more on that!) But you should also plan ahead for daily and weekly activities. Routine is your friend when it comes to babies, but keep in mind that it’s often them baby who dictates that routine. If they’re up at 5:00 a.m., so are you.
Don’t forget about your older children, if you have them. One of the biggest benefits to taking parental leave is that you save on daycare costs. So you may be like me, carting three children under 5 around the grocery store to the delight of senior citizens. Plan low-cost activities with all the kids. Playgrounds are your friends. Take them to the zoo, that’s always a big hit with the kids. Public wading pools or even simple backyard activities can occupy them for hours. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the Children’s Museum is a good option.
Honestly, treasure this time with your baby. You’re never going to have it again. I look back on that year fondly, I wouldn’t change a thing. With a little bit of planning, your parental leave will be one of the best years of your life.