By Jennifer Farrell
Although I am a Canadian working mom, I have a lot of working mom friends in the USA and in England. Recently we had an online discussion about whether working motherhood differs in Canada compared to the rest of the world. It was an interesting topic and one that was complicated by our own interpretations of the term ‘working’. It was universally agreed among us that all moms are working moms and we all work hard for our families. Some of us work hard for ‘the man’ outside the house, while all of us work hard for the men and women inside our houses.
Women in both the USA and England agreed that we spend copious amounts of time at the office considering the following topics:
- Finances and how to afford daycare;
- Guilty feelings while being at work and not at home with our kids;
- Worry about our child(ren) getting into an accident and how we could afford doctor or hospital bills;
- Dreaming up ways to claw our way up the corporate ladder;
- Thinking about how we will spend vacation time with our children; and,
- Wondering when we can afford to get pregnant again and calculating how much time we can afford to take off if we are.
As a Canadian working mom I do consider these topics with some notable exceptions. I never consider how I will afford doctor care or hospital bills. Health Canada takes care of all that for me. Our universal health care system is for everyone and everyone is treated the same. The only things we pay for out of pocket are ‘optional’ services not covered by our employer provided Health Insurance such as private hospital rooms or drugs not deemed “mandatory” to our care (like marijuana pills for cancer patients). That’s it.
I also never spend a second thinking about when I can get pregnant again because I know that I am legally entitled to a full year of paid parental leave after my child is born and up to three full years of unpaid job protection if I decide to stay at home and raise my child through toddlerhood. I only spend 11 months of the year thinking about how I will spend vacation time with my son because in February, everyone in Canada receives a statutory “Family Day”, which is a vacation day designed to allow families to spend time together.
My USA and England mommy friends think this is a huge advantage for Canadian working moms. As my friend Neah, who had her baby Ellen in the states, then moved to England for work said “I was physically at work 3 months after Ellen was born… but my brain really didn’t start functioning until at least 6 months and more fully at 8.” She goes on to say “England gets nine months, and it makes a huge difference. Moms are more prepared when they go back to work.”
My other friend Tulip agreed, confirming “…the fact that we get anywhere from 6-12 weeks off as opposed to 12 months is a huge difference in terms of bonding, paying childcare, establishing breastfeeding, no paternity leave… physical recovery.” This makes perfect sense to me. Personally I was able to breastfeed my son for 8.5 months, but would that have been the same if I’d been forced back to work after 12 weeks? Probably not.
It quickly became apparent that a lot of moms from the USA felt that they were forced back into working much too soon for their own liking because of maternity leave restrictions. Then there were those who felt forced back into working for financial reasons.
Leighsah was open about her experience explaining “I actually quit my job even though we can't really afford it because there was no way I was leaving Phillip in his first year. I had worked too hard on BFing [breastfeeding] those first 3 months, plus I wanted to see his milestones and just RAISE him myself.”
Katie had a different take on things, she said “There is no standard for mat leave here, and I feel like moms are forced back into the workforce for financial or job security reasons long before they are ready to leave their baby.”
Neah chimed in stating “... if I had had 9 months off to be with Ellen, I would not have had to pay the $8000 that I had to pay for 5 months of nursery from 4 months to 9 months. We do get tax-free childcare vouchers. DH takes them because if I do, it lowers my salary so my maternity pay for future leave would be based on that lower rate...”
This was upsetting to me because I don’t spend time worrying about how to afford daycare. In Canada, parents with children under the age of 7 qualify to receive up to $7,000 annually on their income tax return for daycare expenses. We also receive $100 a month per child from the time the child is born until they are 18 years old – all of this from our government. In addition, parents with children between the ages of 7 and 16 qualify for up to $4,000 annually and parents with disabled children can claim upwards of $10,000 for their out of pocket expenses. Fortunately what constitutes child care expenses are a grey area within our Canada Revenue Agency. If you can prove that the programs (such as summer and day camps) are mainly day-care based you will increase your chances of getting money back on your claim.
Overall the differences between working motherhood in Canada, England and the USA were summarized by Fern who honestly observed “… since Canada gives such a long maternity leave, my guess would be that being a mother is valued more highly. I wish people encouraged/supported WAHM's [work at home mom’s] more. I'm figuring how to balance the best of both the working and the at home worlds …It is much more possible than anyone lets on.”
It is indeed possible to be both a mom and a working mom, but for Canadian moms it’s a whole lot easier. We have the support of our government and the support of our employers. We are very, very lucky.
Jennifer Farrell lives in Ottawa, Canada and is mom to a one year old boy. She is a freelance writer and a business development specialist in the information technology industry. She is an avid blogger on Tales from Our Crib , a Mom Logic Network Affiliate. She is the editor for Mommy Matter, a writer for Type-A Mom and contributes to Mommy Track’d.