I Only Became A SAHM Because Of Maternity Leave Laws

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Have you ever thought about how the duration of and financial compensation during your maternity leave affects your long term career and your family life? 

I’ve had the benefit of working in both the US and Canada where parental leaves could not be further apart in both time off and financial support. 

I, unfortunately, chose to have kids in the country with the least family friendly policies where the majority of benefits (pay, or additional time off) are left to the discretion of an individual’s employer. 

U.S. Parental Leave

In the U.S., there is no required paid maternity or paternity leave (parental leave).  In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed that required employers to provide a job-protected unpaid leave to employees for 12 weeks to care for family members; maternity leave falls into this category.  Any extension of this, whether it is paid or longer than 12 weeks is at the discretion of the employer.  

In my experience, 12 weeks was only an option if I had an issue with the birth of my child that required a longer leave.  My leave coordinator started calling me at 6 weeks asking when I was going back and requiring documentation from my doctor to extend it to 12 weeks (I live in Illinois).  Because I was fairly new in the company, my time off was unpaid.

Canada Parental Leave

Canada offers 55% of an individual’s pay up to $485/week for 50 weeks, 15 weeks of that is maternity leave + 35 weeks of parental leave which can be shared with the father.  The payment comes from an individual’s contribution to Employment Insurance (EI), the U.S. equivalent of Unemployment Insurance.  There is an additional two weeks of unpaid maternity leave which totals one year of job-protected leave for a new mom or dad.  It is then at the discretion of the employer to ‘top up’ an individual’s pay as an added benefit. 

Image Source: thinkprogress.org

There are only four countries in the world that have no national law mandating paid time off for new parents: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.  There are a couple of states in the U.S. that offer a portion of your pay (55%/66%) for a period of time (generally 6 weeks or less), California and New Jersey.  In Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island, pregnancy is treated as a disability and so a portion of your pay covered for a period of time.

But how does all of this affect you personally?  

For me, it meant becoming a stay-at-home mom, which is counter-intuitive.  Don’t get me wrong, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and I’m fortunate to have had a choice.  But up until the birth of my first child, I really didn’t know what I would decide to do, it wasn’t until I got the call from my leave coordinator at 6 weeks post-partum that I thought there was absolutely no way I could commute for 3 hours a day when I wasn’t even sleeping through the night.  I felt like crap! 

So, I passed up my job and didn’t look back and was all the happier for it.  However, I couldn’t help but think, what if I was a single parent?  What if I was the bread winner? What if I didn’t have the choice?  Six, even twelve weeks is an extraordinarily short amount of time for maternity leave and depending on who you work for, a very long time to go without compensation.  

Aside from the obvious benefits that the Canadian standard 50 weeks of paid parental leave affords a new family, a very common way for a person just starting out was to take over for someone on maternity leave (a one year contract).  You could start with a company, prove yourself for that year and then move to a new role within the company.  Many of my friends have said their careers advanced faster because they were able to take advantage of opportunities while others were out on maternity leave.  

The flip side of that of course, is the impact to your career while being out for a year, not to mention the impact to a company.  Multiply that by 2 or 3 children, and it adds up to a significant amount of time.  However, you still have the benefit of coming back to your job, or one like it. 

I’m not sure what the ideal situation is; both seem to have their flaws.  But for the average American family, having no financial support at all after having a baby seems outdated.  According to Amanda Peterson Beadle on Thinkprogress.org  this does not reflect the current state of American families where 50% are dual income and 26% are single parent families, suggesting that couples or women must forgo a substantial portion of their income to start a family. 

How do you feel about all of this and how has it affected you personally? 

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