The Hamilton Spectator

Preparing to succeed at pandemic motherhood

Social inequaliti­es, accentuate­d by COVID-19, have financial and mental implicatio­ns

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JASMINE MARRA

“Bringing Up Baby” is not just the name of the iconic 1938 classic with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It’s the challengin­g reality for the parents of the more than 400,000 babies born in Canada since the start of the pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, the prospect of motherhood can be overwhelmi­ng. Expectant parents are inundated with informatio­n on medical terminolog­y (epidurals and episiotomy); how to build your birth plan (home birth or hospital, midwife or doctor, meds or natural); and what to eat and not to eat (bye-bye sushi night).

The pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity to life. Isolation, vaccinatio­n considerat­ions, the juggling of remote learning and the social upheaval are all the new normal; add in the financial side of parenthood, and life is difficult to manage. As I reach the middle of my pregnancy, with two kids already in tow, I reflect on what this all means for parents-to-be everywhere.

Starting with the elephant in the room — COVID-19 has accentuate­d social inequaliti­es. Women’s participat­ion in the Canadian labour force fell from an all-time high to its lowest level in over three decades. At the same time, women have taken on a greater division of labour in the home.

These factors have financial implicatio­ns as well as mental and social ones. A recent study in The Lancet Psychiatry found that the levels of depression and anxiety in mothers almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019.

Those with a lower annual household income are more likely to report depression and anxiety symptoms compared to those with a higher income.

The New York Times opened the “Primal Scream Line” as an outlet for mothers to vent. While teetering on humorous, it’s also devastatin­g that women are so frustrated, strained and burned-out by their pandemic lives.

More support for women is needed, for them to recover from the “she-cession’ This includes greater flexibilit­y and support for child care, social supports, training and re-skilling to help women re-enter the workforce in new areas.

Childcare is a bedrock commitment in the 2021 budget. The budget is set to allow parents, and especially women, to fully participat­e in the economy. This includes a new investment totalling up to $30 billion, over five years, and $8.3 billion for early learning and child care. The government has set a goal of $10 a day for child care within the next five years.

There are many financial learnings for families who are expecting a baby in 2021. The pandemic has altered some of the things to consider in terms of maternity leave, wills, insurance and even RESPs.

First up, it’s critical to create a financial plan for maternity leave. In Canada, we are afforded the privilege of time off to bond with our little ones. Maternity leave in Canada lasts up to 15 weeks, and after that, you can take standard parental leave for an additional 40 weeks. Extended parental leave, if you choose it, lasts 69 weeks after maternity leave.

Make sure you know the eligibilit­y around maternity leave and changes to EI during COVID-19, as well as the usual ongoing costs of diapers, bottles, clothing, etc.

It’s important to look at the longterm costs of parenthood. Once maternity leave is over, there are decisions to be made about returning to work and the cost of child care. Look at income and projected expenses so you can build a sustainabl­e budget.

Another thing to consider is how has COVID-19 impacted RESPs in Canada. The average cost of postsecond­ary education in 2021 is between $14,000 — $16,000 per year. And this number will inevitably rise. The earlier parents start saving, the better, and opening an RESP is the proper place to start.

To protect your family and assets, it’s critical to put a will in place. Nobody likes to think about this one, but creating a will is essential, and has different implicatio­ns during COVID-19. Many provinces have recognized the limitation­s of current in-person, paper-based estate planning processes. As a result of COVID-19, several regions are allowing virtual witnessing of wills under while emergency orders are in place.

Getting a handle on household finances and putting little things into action will help alleviate some of the anxiety that so many Canadians are feeling. Entering parenthood can be stressful at the best of times. Right now, more than ever, it’s critical to build a stable foundation. Jasmine Marra is vice-president of sales and marketing at Bromwich and Smith and was recently nominated as Top 10 Most Inspiring Leaders of 2021 by Industry Era Magazine.

The pandemic has altered some of the things to consider in terms of maternity leave, wills, insurance and even RESPs

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