Every time I think we’ve made some progress on the equal rights front, I run into a wall that gives me a really bad headache. Recently I was chatting with a couple that’s pregnant. With four months left to their due date, they’re struggling with how they’ll cope with the change in their financial circumstances. She’s the primary breadwinner in the family; he makes only about half of what she makes. So I asked what seemed like an obvious question to me: Why doesn’t daddy take the majority of the time off with baby and let mommy go back to work early?
I was met with horrified looks. Mommy give up her year off with baby? Daddy stay home and do mommy’s job? What would people say?
It’s a sad reality that moms who return to work early are perceived to be uncaring and disconnected from their babies, while dads who chose to be primary caregivers are unambitious, whipped losers. Really? Give a guy a break. And why does making a smart financial decision for your family make you a bad mother?
Employment Insurance maternity benefits are paid for a maximum of 15 weeks, at which point parental benefits kick in for up to an additional 35 weeks, allowing daddy to step into the primary caregiver’s role so mommy can get her butt back to work and balance the budget.
Deciding how to split maternity/parental benefits is, of course, a personal choice. But it shouldn’t be made emotionally. If you haven’t saved a stash of cash to see you through baby’s first year, if you’re likely to rack up credit card or line of credit debt trying to close the gap between your much-reduced income and your expenses, then it’s time to get the calculator out.
Math? Ugh! Oh grow up. You’re about to become parents and if your first decision is to go into debt so you can meet some ridiculous social stereotype, you need to give your head a shake.
Here’s a list of things to consider:
1. Figure out what mommy’s maternity benefits will be. Remember that those benefits are fully taxable. Work out the taxes mommy will owe so there’s no surprise tax bill come tax-filing time.
2. Figure out what daddy’s parental benefits will be. If daddy is in a lower tax bracket, he’s less likely to have those benefits grabbed back at tax time.
3. Go over the budget. Figure out how far back you can trim cut. Remember, you’re going to have to live like this for a whole year. If you can’t make it on mommy’s maternity leave benefits, back to work mommy goes.