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Maternity/paternity/parental leave - how much and why?

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I don't ask a lot of questions on here, but here's one that has been discussed a bit but I want to know more.

I'm trying to decide how much leave my husband and I should each tentatively plan to take.

Background on me: I had a rough pregnancy and haven't been able to work for most of it, and will likely have a rough delivery and slow recovery. I think I had post-partum depression before and I am at high risk for it now. I have other kids. I have help now and will after the birth from a paid child-care provider, my mother and others, besides of course my husband. I work in a small firm and my partners have been managing my practice for me and are willing to do so for as long as I need them to, but I don't want to prevail on them longer than necessary because I know it is a lot for them. I still have to pay firm expenses even when I am not there, and I still have to pay my child-care provider even when I am not at work.

My husband is the bigger earner and we have a lot of expenses related to the upcoming expansion of our family for housing, child-care provider salaries, etc. 

I am tentatively thinking of taking 6 months after the birth, but I am sure that I can extend it a bit more if I need to. The real question is how much time my husband should take. He's willing to take whatever is reasonable, but most guys in his firm just take a few days, a week at the most. I was thinking a month would be good, but some people have expressed surprise to me that that is not enough time.

Part of the issue is that I am really not sure what he would do on leave if I am also on leave. For the first few days, I may need physical assistance and emotional support from him, but once I am on my feet, then what does he do? I plan to nurse so I will have to do the feeding anyway. Is there a point to us both being at home, with help? Is the argument for guys to do this just for bonding, or is there something else I'm missing? (I know bonding is important. But does it make that much difference if he sits at home and watches me feed non-stop all day or if he just does that in the evening, lol?) And if it does make a difference, what is a good length of time for a guy to take, in a perfect world? 

Another issue that came up is me just not going back to work for the foreseeable future. Anyone have any stories of women lawyers who did that? Were they happy staying at home or did they miss work terribly?  I am just so confused on this issue and would appreciate any rational ideas and any help you can give me!

 

 

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I can't really answer your question - although as a Dad I did it the right way and wrong way (for me - see below)- so maybe my experience would be helpful.

This first munchkin, I tried to be the good lawyer and took two weeks off.  Of course, I thought I could plan everything and took the wrong two weeks.  Our first was born two weeks premature.  It was hell, I sucked at work, I sucked at Dad and I sucked as husband during a very stressful time for my wife.

The second time, I took what I felt we needed.  I told my clients and my firm that I may be away for 6 months (helps that I work for myself).  I only dealt with work issues that needed dealt with, I had others in my firm - and actually others in other firms as well- help out.  I was "off" for five months.  I did no legal work the first three weeks and then slowly did a few hours, then more and more until I was full time again.  I was a better lawyer, better dad and better husband.

As for what I did at home while my wife was on leave:

1) all cooking;

2) all cleaning;

3) spent many hours making sure our then three year old felt part of the whole thing and we spent many, many quality hours just the two of us;

4) foot rubs 

5) back rubs

6) I spent hours staring at my kids wondering how a guy like me could get so lucky (I think that is called bonding?) while my wife napped

7) I enjoyed the hell out of my family

I know, I am lucky - supportive work environment, great clients and not a ton of overhead financially speaking- so I don't mean to be prescriptive or say one must do it my way (although I did call it the "right" way above- but again "right for my family in my circumstances) - all I am saying is that I would not trade that time for anything.  Financially speaking it was 6 months where I didn't make much more than overhead for my family.  I may in the fullness of time need to work until I am 65.5 years old instead of retiring at 65.  But for me it was worth it.

Hope it helps, and good luck with the new little one.

 

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The one thing about criminal defence is you can dip in and out of it. It’s one of the rare areas where an indefinite leave isn’t a death knell to the career. 

Of course you eventually have to rebuild your practise, but you have experience doing that already so none of it will be a surprise to you. And you will still have experience and some connections to give you a head start if you decide to come back. 

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I'm off on mat leave right now for a year and my partner's also off, full-time; we have a toddler and the new baby, but we don't have any additional child care, paid or otherwise, so there's no question that we both have plenty to do. Even though you have other resources I'd still say at least a month for him, if you can swing it financially, for a couple reasons: first, the PPD thing -- the more support systems you have around you in those early days, the better - even just more people to keep a close eye on you, and someone who knows you really well to know when you seem *off* from your usual self; and, second (and this is a systemic issue, not something particular to you), I would like to see men in general taking more parental leave when they can, because the more that do, the easier it becomes for the next one to do so, and so on. That idea that "the men at his firm take a day or two, a week at most" is something that becomes a mental barrier to men taking the time to be at home with their families and places the burden on women, who often take a year (or sometimes stop out of the workforce for a while). 

I've seen something similar at my firm but lately there have been some male associates and partners who have taken up to two months of leave after the birth of a child and I think that example will have a trickle-down effect. Just my two cents and of course if you decide for financial reasons or whatever that it's not doable, that's a whole different thing.

As for you and the future, what's the longest you've taken off before with the kids? Did you enjoy it or did you want to go back to work? I think it varies from person to person whether they'll miss work or if taking a longer time out makes sense. Would part-time be a possibility on your return to your firm? I know lots of women who did 60-80% for a number of years when their kids were younger and that seems to have been a good balance. 

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My partner had a challenging last few weeks followed by some significant birth complications and post-partum depression. We also had nobody other than each other or alternately parental help but that was a bit of a tradeoff because they had to stay with us if they came to help.

You may have forgotten what sleep deprivation can do to you, and if your previous children were easier it might be the case that sleep deprivation combined with post-partum depression (if that's the case) will be challenging in a way you haven't experienced.. I saw my primary job as caring for my partner and making sure she was not going beyond her limits. Generally speaking this involved doing the things that @Rumpy listed while also insisting that she go sleep. Unfortunately/Fortunately breast feeding wasn't a long-term option because that meant I was able to step in an do a lot of the feeding.

By luck our son was born near Christmas so my two weeks added to the time when our office shut down, plus a little vacation, came out to a month of paid leave. In my view that was still a month too short.

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I'm surprised that if your husband works at a large firm that they don't have a parental leave policy. That is unusual these days. A few days off? That's insane.

Both my firm and my husband's offer a full year, and his encourages their lawyer dads to take it. We are actually sharing the time off, six months each, with an addition six weeks of overlap, from accumulated vacation time. I should also say that both firms top up E.I. benefits so that we are living on fairly close to our usual full salary. I agree with the comment that more men should take advantage of this opportunity so that it becomes the norm, rather than the exception. Initially, because of the timing of the baby's arrival, my husband took a month over a holiday period, paid vacation time that he had saved.

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If you are outsourcing childcare, cooking, and cleaning, then yes, there isn't as much for him to do, but there are still lots of little things that come up around that house that need doing that he could be very helpful with.  I also think that you might underestimate bonding a little bit when you talk about him sitting around watching you feed.  Yes, as you well know since you've done it before, babies eat lots, but they also just get held lots and whatever else and he might want to be involved with that.  And even if he is just watching you feed, there is some bonding there.  Most people that I know are now having the mom do the first stretch of mat leave and then the dad taking over for several months, which you aren't contemplating here, but I don't think that some concurrent parental leave is a bad thing for help around the house and bonding.  I wouldn't do less than the month that you propose.  I'm not sure how rigid his firm is, but maybe he could work something where he takes every single Friday (or whatever day) for an additional 3 or 4 (or more) months.  That could be his day to help with some things around the house and to bond, while you got a chance to get out of the house for a few hours, which will be invaluable.  

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Everyone at every firm is entitled 

1 hour ago, erinl2 said:

I'm surprised that if your husband works at a large firm that they don't have a parental leave policy. That is unusual these days. A few days off? That's insane.

Everyone at every firm is entitled to 63 weeks. It's the law. You can start it any time before the baby hits 18 months (but you can't divide it).

*not legal advice.

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If and when I ever have a baby, I'd probably do something like take the first three months off to help out with the most stressful period, then maybe another three a bit later.

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I want to respond to everyone in a bit but just to address @erinl2 ‘s point: my husband’s firm will compensate him for up to 4 weeks. That’s their policy. But they don’t force you to use it and he says “no one takes that.” (I think it is a relatively new policy.) He is willing to, so that’s why I said one month. But my medical team and some of my friends reacted as if that wasn’t enough, which is why we were contemplating more. He thinks he could approach his firm to get a reasonable amount more, since @Jaggers says, there is federal policy on that, but it probably would not be paid. We can afford another month or two, but would prefer not to have him unpaid for a very lengthy period of time, since that doesn’t really make sense for us with the choices we’ve made thus far. 

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For law firms, the leave is provincial policy. The $500 a week you get from EI is federal policy :)

Between 4-8 weeks is fairly typical for a salary top-up. Add on a few weeks of your vacation and you're getting into the 2-3 month range.

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OK. Thank you everyone for your responses - they are really helpful!

@Rumpy  that's so sweet! You sound a lot like my guy. A lot of your list wouldn't apply to us - no toddlers, cooking and cleaning are covered, etc. He gives great foot and back and head rubs, but I get lots of those already. But the bonding time does sound nice. 

@hefeweizen we did have that conversation - that if he took the full month of top-up and maybe more time, he might pave the way for more guys to do it in the future. I think he's on board with that. He has had to rearrange his schedule, use some vacation time, leave earlier, come home at lunch etc to take care of me, go to appointments etc during the pregnancy and he says most people have been very supportive/concerned/impressed with him. But I know he is a bit worried about not being seen to pull his weight too. 

I have never taken any length of mat leave. With the other kids, I was a single mother and there was never a dad with a decent income so I had to work. As soon as I could, I was back working, within a month or two of birth, and/or I was in school. So I really don't know what mat leave is like. I know that when I used to see moms in the day time walking around with their kids I would feel really, really angry and upset. (I think now that that was part of having post-partum depression and I wasn't aware of it.) I always felt like if I ever got pregnant again, I would want to try having maternity leave if I was in a position to do it. But I have been at home sick a lot during the pregnancy and even though I really wasn't in any shape to work, I have really missed it. So I am torn. I feel like if it were just about me, I'd go to work in a heartbeat as soon as I can.  But when I factor in my family, existing and to come, I think it might be better to have some time at home. I don't want to regret later that I didn't take time I could have. 

Re: working part time (and to @Hegdis 's point): I thought about this and discussed it with one of my partners. I think we could try it. It's just hard to do criminal law part-time. A one or two week trial or longer is what it is. We might be able to arrange the firm calendar so that I only do short matters for a few months and do a lot of the writing etc for everyone from home. That's kind of what I'm doing now as I am able. 

@benjuryon: sadly I have not forgotten about the sleep deprivation. I am chronically sleep-deprived in any event. And I have trouble sleeping now. But I know it gets worse. My previous kids were bad sleepers and constant eaters so no, I didn't get easy babies, unfortunately. I really want to nurse. I did it with my others for a decent amount of time, but not as long and exclusively as I would have liked because it was just so hard to work/study/pump/be a single mom. And I hear nursing helps with post-partum depression. That's another argument in favour of a longer leave for me. That's helpful that you think a month is too short and two would be better. I'm thinking two is a good number based on what I'm hearing.

@erinl2 - that's a really great policy. Sadly nothing like that is an option here - as above, the top-up is for one month. The issue is more him worrying about the perception of it than what they will give him. 

This is kind of the issue for us: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/new-parents-in-canada-will-soon-get-more-paid-leave-but-for-fathers-time-is-just-one-of-theobstacles-parenting/article36992989/

@ProfReader  I probably am underestimating the power of bonding. It is new to me to do this with a fully-present and willing partner and I am kind of scared because I don't know what that looks like. The Fridays are a good idea - I will pitch that to him. His firm is not that rigid - as I said he's been pretty flexible with things the last few months and it was fine as far as I know. I think he's valuable to them.

@Jaggers I am pretty ignorant as to what the entitlements are since it has never applied to me before - thanks for the clarification. I don't think there is much vacation time to play with, but I think he could add an unpaid month or so without it being too much of an issue, or maybe work part-time from home, so that is probably what we will end up doing. 

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