Leah Myers
The Navigator

Leah_head_webI’ve always had a particular scene in mind when I envision my future maternity leave (and when I say always, I mean  in the last year or so—it’s only recently that I’ve been able to even think of such topics without hightailing into panic mode). Let me paint the picture: something along the lines of dubious pre-baby research books, decaf coffee outings with my mom, and finally getting around to making all those delicious recipes I posted to my food board on Pinterest.

And, of course, after carrying the baby for nine months, I’d then want to actually spend some time with the little creature that stole all my nutrients and kicked me in the gut while I tried to sleep. Something I hadn’t always factored in was the financial reality of this imagined motherhood scenario. I guess I just figured by the time I was ready to have kids, I’d have been working long enough in my well-paying, glorious career to have saved enough money to support myself during this time.

A lot of young women in their early 20s think the same thing—only to hit 30, realize they haven’t managed to save enough to take all that time off work, have kids anyway, but then spend (according to a study in the Globe and Mail by Erin Anderssen) anywhere, depending on their income, between 18-48 per cent of their net income on child care.

The piece by Anderssen, which was part of a Globe six-part series about “building a better daycare system in Canada,” explores the idea of publicly funded child care—AKA using a percentage of taxpayer dollars.

I’ll fully admit that any opinion I’d be able to give on this topic will be coming straight out of my childless and unexperienced ovaries—but as a  taxpayer and a woman who one day in the very distant future may have children, the proposal of this kind of child care system fascinates me.

For many, this sort of system might sound like a dream come true, especially single mothers or lower-middle income families who might not qualify for subsidized child care but are still paying closer to the 48 per cent than the 18 per cent for child care.

Anderssen notes: “Critics of a taxpayer-financed program may prefer to see mothers stay home with the kids, but it’s too late—she has already left for the office. More than two-thirds of Canadian women with children under the age of five are in the workforce. And Canada needs them to be there—the country expects to have a million job vacancies in the near future. Since women now account for 61 per cent of post-secondary graduates, filling those gaps in skilled labour will depend on finding a way to keep those women working.”

I laughed at this, because I read the paragraph more like: “Hey, newsflash to anyone who might not know—women are now integral members of the workforce who may love their jobs and be interested in returning to their positions after having a baby.” I guess I thought that was common knowledge, but what I did find interesting was the statistic that two-thirds of women with children under the age of five are in the workforce.

Okay, under the age of five—but exactly how young? Children start kindergarten around four years old, but what about before that age? Are women returning to work after six months, a year, or two years after their baby is born? Are they returning to work after a week? Is the purpose of this program to provide the best quality of care to children? Is it to bring workers back to the office quicker after maternity leave? Or is it a warm combination of both?

I’m personally not sure if I’d want to get back to the office that quick. If the Canadian government introduces publicly funded childcare, does that mean that eventually a woman’s maternity leave will be chopped shorter as a result? Will employers be less empathetic to women who want to take a full parental leave?

Who knows. Although, if I wait long enough to have children, maybe I’ll just be able to leave my young babies with their (I can only assume) overly ecstatic, then-retired grandparents when I want to return to my job as a way to appease this whole dilemma. Thanks in advance, future grandparents!