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To stay, or not to stay

in Mum's the Word by

To stay at home with the kids, or not to stay home?

For many of us, it’s not a simple question. It’s not simply based on desire or want. It’s not like we can just say, “Hey, I’m going to become a stay-at-home parent because I really want to.” Or vice-versa, “I’m going to go back to work because I love working.”

For many of us the decision is a complicated one, based on our family’s needs as opposed to what is actually best for our children. Many families, in order to make ends meet, don’t have the luxury of having a parent stay home with the children. Options like daycare and work are based on the financial needs of the family, with most two-parent families relying on both parents working to make ends meet. And more than likely, with the high cost of daycare in this province, the majority of one income may be going directly to daycare, leaving the family in a not much better position than before.

When our tiny person was born, I was delighted and relieved to have maternity leave to be able to stay home with him. And not just any length of maternity leave, but a full year to take time off from my job. The amount paid to me by the government was the rate of unemployment income — not a generous amount but enough to help our family out with the year’s loss of full income. And the time I was able to spend at home with tiny person is something that felt like a gift to both of us, and our relationship. Time at home to heal from pregnancy and a difficult birth, time to learn how to breastfeed and establish our breastfeeding relationship, time to bond, time to learn how to be his parent, time to heal emotionally while postpartum. If we had chosen to, my partner would have been able to take up to 35 weeks of parental leave as well (switching with me, if I had decided to go back to work).

Contrast this with the United States, which provides up to 12 weeks unpaid parental leave. I cannot imagine having had to return to work after only 12 weeks post-baby. After only 12 weeks, my emotions were still delicate, I was only just getting the hang of breastfeeding, and I had only just healed enough from a difficult birth that I was finally getting out of the house a few weeks prior. If I had been required to go back to work then, our family would have suffered. My breastfeeding relationship would likely have suffered (if it had even continued). And finding daycare would have been a challenge, if not impossible.

But, I had these options available to me. And then, as my tiny person approached his first birthday, we had the decision to make. To go back to work or not to go back to work? We weighed the costs and benefits. For as much as I wanted to stay home with my tiny person, it wasn’t an easy decision. My choices were to go back to work and dish out most of my income to daycare, slow our breastfeeding relationship, and put tiny person in full-time care with someone he did not have a relationship with; or stay home, without any more maternity benefits, or unemployment benefits, and become a one-income family.

It wasn’t an easy decision

We decided that I would stay home. Because, yes, I wanted to. And because, yes, we felt as a family that the benefit to our child was greater than putting him in daycare. That’s not to undervalue the tremendous role that early childcare educators play with our children. Absolutely, there are numerous benefits to increased socialization and activities, and early childcare educators are given the daily task of raising our children when we’re unable to do it ourselves. That’s no easy job — it has enormous societal responsibility. Likewise, many children benefit enormously from daycare, and many parents prefer to be working parents. To make those choices, however, are not easy, as there are so many factors involved.

But for our little family, we felt that the value of our little person being at home with a parent, regardless of the financial impact to our family, was worth it. Whether it was myself or my partner, the benefit would have been the same either way. But we are lucky in that we live on a farm, and tiny person has the added benefit of being raised in the same place where one of his parents works everyday.

 When we considered the amount we’d be paying towards childcare, we weren’t going to come out much better, and our family dynamics would have been drastically different from how they are now.

That’s not to say our decision has been easy. Being a one-income family is no easy task these days. I am amazed at how most families do it. There’s very little opportunity for savings, and everything is done at a minimum. But when we considered the amount we’d be paying towards childcare, we weren’t going to come out much better, and our family dynamics would have been drastically different from how they are now.

Infant care (for children under age two) in a licensed daycare in St. John’s averages $1394/month full-time. How does a single parent afford this? Pre-schooler care in a licensed daycare averages $868, and goes as high as $970/month. It’s a bit better, but not a whole lot. When you factor in high housing costs, high food costs associated with living on an island, high transportation costs, and possibly medical or dental costs (not to mention extracurricular activities), it’s a wonder that families are getting by at all.

And so here we are. I’m hanging out with our little guy, and as a family we’re learning day by day how to get by, and to enjoy our extraordinarily special time together. Our tiny person doesn’t care if his clothes are brand new, or if I register him for a gazillion expensive activities. He doesn’t care if he gets a new toy every week from Toys R Us (he’s happy playing with an empty box turned into a house or car, or taking a walk in the woods, or snowshoeing with his mama). We spend time outside, digging in the greenhouse, or watching the bees wake up from their winter hibernation. We play and we craft and we create and we tickle and we laugh. And I know that his life would be different, oh so different, if he were sent to daycare full-time. And so would mine. All these beautiful moments, missed and gone. And we wouldn’t be that much more ahead than we are now.

So yes, we’re getting by. And sometimes it’s hard, but the moments we have are oh so worth it.

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