Why one new mom de­cided not to re­turn to work.

The cost of child care pre­vents many par­ents from re­turn­ing to work af­ter hav­ing a baby. Here’s how one woman man­aged her own dif­fi­cult choice.

Elle (Canada) - - Insider - By Alan­nah O’Neill

be­fore I got preg­nant, I didn’t think much about whether I would re­turn to work af­ter a ma­ter­nity leave. In fact, it wasn’t un­til my son, Jack, was six months old that it oc­curred to me that I might not re­turn to my full-time po­si­tion. Pre-baby, I had landed my dream job as an as­so­ciate editor at this fash­ion mag­a­zine— a post I in­tended to keep un­til I died or was for­cibly re­moved from the build­ing. Sure, the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try doesn’t pay a ton, but I was re­warded with perks like travel and enough makeup to stock a Sephora.

A few months be­fore I was to re­turn to work, I crunched the num­bers. Turns out that af­ter I paid for a transit pass and day­care, I would barely break even. I re­ally like hang­ing out with my kid, and spend­ing so much time away from him, with­out a com­pelling fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive, would be hard for me to jus­tify.

My first step was to talk with my boss to see if a part-time op­por­tu­nity might be avail­able. When I found out this wasn’t a pos­si­bil­ity, I did some online re­search to see if any kind of job made sense for me. One of the first ar­ti­cles I came across, in MoneySense, con­cluded that if you earn less than $50,000 a year, it doesn’t make fi­nan­cial sense to re­turn to full-time work af­ter hav­ing a baby. This was my sit­u­a­tion, and it seemed crazy—CRAZY!— to see it laid out so clearly.

“It’s in­sane,” agrees Reva Seth, a Toron­to­based exec­utive coach and au­thor of The Mom Shift. “They’re hav­ing this prob­lem in the U.K. too. Day­care is so ex­pen­sive.” Ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives, women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the labour force is closely tied to the avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity of child care—so maybe it’s no sur­prise that, af­ter a pe­riod of de­cline, the

num­ber of stay-at-home moms is on the rise. Ac­cord­ing to data from the U.S. Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 29 per­cent of women with kids un­der the age of 18 left the work­force last year to take care of their fam­i­lies. (There hasn’t been a com­pa­ra­ble study here, but Souha Ezzedeen, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of hu­man-re­source man­age­ment at York Univer­sity in Toronto, says that “there are in­di­ca­tors that this is also the case in Canada.”)

The cost of child care, re­gard­less of where you live in Canada, is stag­ger­ing. In Toronto, it’s the prici­est: Par­ents can ex­pect to shell out $1,676 a month for kids two and un­der. But even if you live in St. John’s, N.L., monthly fees will run you around $1,394 per child. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 sur­vey by Sta­tis­tics Canada, 49 per­cent of women in Al­berta who work part-time said they opted to do so be­cause they couldn’t af­ford a full-time nurs­ery.

“I de­cided to go back to work for 15 to 20 hours a week,” says Lara Mead­ows, a cus­tomer-ser­vice man­ager in Cal­gary whose son, Holden, is al­most a year old. “That way I can stay rel­e­vant in the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try and off­set the cost of child care.” Que­bec is the only province that sub­si­dizes day­care costs—par­ents pay $7 a day, but that sys­tem also has prob­lems. “Yes, there are [day­care] avail­abil­i­ties in Que­bec,” says Ezzedeen. “But there are ex­tremely long wait­ing lists.”

In fact, even par­ents who are will­ing to pay higher prices to get their kid into day­care face bar­ri­ers. In On­tario, there are only enough li­censed spots for around 35 per­cent of kids un­der the age of four. One day, af­ter my son and I at­tended a mu­sic class, a neigh­bour­hood mother who was re­turn­ing to her job at an ad agency told me about her strug­gle to find day­care. “I started call­ing around, and I got laughed off the phone—the wait­ing lists are over a year long!” she said. Which means, in most cases, you have to sign up for day­care months be­fore you even con­ceive—or look for al­ter­na­tive op­tions. A full-time nanny, if paid min­i­mum wage for a 40-hour work­week in On­tario, costs $1,909 a month—a rel­a­tive bar­gain if you have more than one child. (My neigh­bour ended up hir­ing a full-time nanny.)

Or, you need to con­sider un­reg­u­lated home day­cares, which are cheaper be­cause they can be op­er­ated by any­one as long as the fa­cil­ity has no more than five chil­dren un­der the age of 10. But home day­care faced an on­slaught of bad press last year af­ter four kids died in sep­a­rate Toronto fa­cil­i­ties over a span of seven months. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion ad­mits it gets “hun­dreds of com­plaints” about un­reg­u­lated day­cares each year and is work­ing on a ded­i­cated en­force­ment unit to in­ves­ti­gate is­sues.

In some cases—re­gard­less of the fi­nan­cial pic­ture—it isn’t pos­si­ble for a woman to stay at home, and that’s where she has to be cre­ative. “I re­mem­ber read­ing about a group of women who had is­sues with child care who found a way to share the work—like an ex­panded ver­sion of car­pool­ing or peo­ple tak­ing turns cook­ing for ev­ery­one,” says Ezzedeen. “There are women who rely on ex­tended fam­ily, in par­tic­u­lar the im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, where it’s part of the so­cial fab­ric for Grandma and Grandpa to look af­ter the kids.”

Even when it doesn’t make im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial sense to re­turn to work, says Seth, you may want to con­sider it an in­vest­ment in your fu­ture. If you fully with­draw, there are stud­ies that show how it im­pacts your in­come and your pos­si­bil­i­ties down the road. Ex­perts call this “the mommy tax” and es­ti­mate that a cou­ple who earns a to­tal house­hold in­come of $81,500 could for­feit as much as $1.4 mil­lion in life­time earn­ings if they have a child—just from los­ing one part­ner in the labour force. Seth also notes that child care gets less ex­pen­sive the older your kid gets. (In Toronto, it costs about $998 a month for a preschooler, whereas once the child is four and at­tend­ing kin­der­garten, par­ents only have to pay for the cost of a babysit­ter af­ter class lets out.) Ezzedeen agrees that it’s very dif­fi­cult for women to pick up where they left off when re­turn­ing to work. “Es­pe­cially,” she says, “if what they did was look af­ter a child, be­cause, un­for­tu­nately, it’s still not re­garded as work. In many ways, it’s the most im­por­tant job in our so­ci­ety, but it’s the least val­ued and re­garded.”

It’s not an easy bal­ance—es­pe­cially when many com­pa­nies are not very flex­i­ble about when you can start and end work or take a longer lunch to run an er­rand, says Ezzedeen. Add to that the grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tion that

em­ploy­ees should an­swer their emails at all hours and the prospect of bal­anc­ing a re­turn to work with rais­ing a tod­dler is not all that ap­peal­ing.

On the flip side of that, “there’s also this trend of ‘in­ten­sive moth­er­ing,’” says Ezzedeen. “The idea that if you’re not al­ways there for your chil­dren, shut­tling them from one ac­tiv­ity to the other, breast­feed­ing all the time, you’re not a good mom. Fem­i­nist so­ci­ol­o­gist scholars say that, for women, this is just as dam­ag­ing as be­ing in an in­tense work en­vi­ron­ment.”

But leav­ing your job af­ter hav­ing a baby doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you have to leave the work­force. In fact, be­tween Jan­uary 2014 and Jan­uary 2015, the num­ber of self-em­ployed work­ers in Canada rose four times faster than the num­ber of paid em­ploy­ees. “A lot of work­ing moms I’ve in­ter­viewed used free­lance work as part of their jour­ney to post-baby suc­cess,” says Seth. Take Kat Armstrong, a for­mer online pro­duc­tion man­ager for the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety, who left her full-time job af­ter the birth of her sec­ond child. “I opened a small busi­ness—a pre­na­tal and post­par­tum concierge and sup­port ser­vice called Sweet Child of Mine,” she says. “But I also work within my other area of ex­per­tise as a free­lancer—mostly in so­cial-media man­age­ment and sales.”

In the end, I chose a sim­i­lar route and de­cided to be­come a free­lance writer and con­sul­tant for my hus­band’s vir­tual-re­al­ity start-up. This path gives me the flex­i­bil­ity to work on my own sched­ule—when my son is sleep­ing, when grand­par­ents can baby­sit or when I can hire ex­tra child­care help. It’s cer­tainly not as glam­orous as sip­ping cham­pagne in Mi­lan dur­ing Fash­ion Week, but I en­joy the free­dom of be­ing self-em­ployed and rep­re­sent­ing women in the male­dom­i­nated tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try. It’s a chal­leng­ing and ex­cit­ing field and likely one I wouldn’t have con­sid­ered with­out a lit­tle push. (Plus, the higher tech-in­dus­try salary makes it eas­ier to jus­tify be­ing away from my son more—as in, I can af­ford it.)

“For a lot of women in my net­work, their ca­reers ac­tu­ally im­proved af­ter hav­ing kids,” says Seth. “My own ca­reer co­a­lesced af­ter my son was born. I sold my first book to Si­mon & Schuster and went to the U.K., where my le­gal back­ground let me get good fi­nan­cial clients. It came to­gether, and I thought, ‘This is some­thing you never hear—that kids can have a pos­i­tive im­pact.’” n

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