I like to write blog posts on frequently asked questions and today I thought I’d do a bit of a write up on what it was like taking maternity leave in Alberta from a full time job, since I’ve done it three times! I had my babies fairly close together so each time, I was back at work less than a year before taking my next leave. PLEASE know this is not official advice, I am merely writing an opinion piece from my perspective and unique situation to add a voice out there.
How can you tell it’s an opinion piece? Well, my first opinion is that I think it is silly how hard it is to get answers and an idea of maternity leave payments, etc. It’s all very mysterious at first, and the first child is like an accelerated certificate program in figuring out your employer’s HR and the Government of Canada website!
First off, please check the Government of Canada website for a full rundown of this stuff. Second off, please check your employer’s parental leave policy. You’re going to get to know your HR Rep 🙂
Make a Maternity Leave Binder or Google Doc
As you begin research, I’d recommend printing everything off and putting it in a binder or google doc / dropbox for your first maternity leave because you’re still trying to figure everything out! When you do your EI application through the Service Canada website you get a login code through the mail (old school I know!) When you officially go on Mat leave, there is an EI waiting period (short) and all of that stuff, so I always say get started on the admin a good three months out from your last day of work. Add everything to the calendar including notes, phone numbers, DEADLINES and website links.
The absolute most basic explanation is that you will receive benefits through the Government of Canada if you are eligible. PLUS, depending on your employer, they may give you a “topup” on your Government benefit to get you closer to your full-time paycheque.
My employer topped me up to my full time salary for the first few weeks, and then it gradually decreased each week, until I was just on just the Government of Canada payments for my 12 month maternity leave in Canada.
If you take the one year maternity leave in Canada, The Government of Canada will calculate your benefit based on 55% of your average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum.
On my full time salary I easily reached the maximum which is $562 per week.
This was direct deposited into my account biweekly on a Tuesday, for a total of $1124.
We now have the 1.5 year maternity leave in Canada, and the maximum per week drops to $337 per week if you choose that option.
For my first two maternity leaves I *did* save up for them, putting money away into a TFSA account. My goal each mat leave was to be able to continue receiving the same income as I would at work because travel is an important lifestyle component and I wanted to go to the UK to see family and take one warm holiday with each baby. I am such an advocate of getting clear on your values and goals for each mat leave so that you can plan. It is SUCH a massive shift in your life that to have some things to look forward to is a real motivator in those hard days of mat leave, when you are staring out the window feeling a bit…well… isolated.
So, when my employer top-up benefits ended at the 6 month mark, I wound up transferring about $2k into my bank account each month to cover the difference between the Government of Canada and what I’d usually make at work.
I was getting $1124 biweekly and I’d top that up to about $1900.
The TFSA is nice because then you aren’t taxed on that income.
*However* definitely chat with your accountant and be prepared for possibly getting hit with a tax bill at the end of your mat leave. It totally depends on when you take mat leave, so chat with them to get a ‘preview.’ It sucks getting a tax bill at the end of mat leave when you are definitely feeling the pinch.
Everyone’s numbers are different based on their lifestyle and budget and what their work income is. At the time of my maternity leaves I was making about $3500 a month (after taxes and deductions) – so with $2200 coming in a month from the Government, I wound up putting an extra $1300 into my account from my TFSA.
The first two maternity leaves, I used about $10,000 savings – both to top up my income and take a holiday during maternity leave with the family.
My third maternity leave I wound up using my line of credit and incurring some debt (!)
Not only because I drained my savings and had relatively short gaps between babies, but also because after 2 kids we found our expenditures growing on activities, preschool and groceries!
A big reason I wanted to save for the first two and boost my income back up to full time levels, is that travelling is something important to us and I have to say, some of the best memories of each baby have been sitting on a beach with them somewhere in the world and just pure family bonding time – and also the chance to fly to the UK and see my family, who I desparately missed when I had each baby. I am so, so glad I did that.
Everyone has different priorities in their lifestyle, some for example, some may be outdoorsy people. So perhaps they may use some money for outdoor sports equipment they can use with their baby.
No matter your priorities or lifestyle, if it is available to you, definitely consider saving some money to continue your lifestyle with your baby and don’t feel guilty if you keep your income topped up. Some budget and cut back, yes but some want to continue as they were.
Personally, I found it eases the transition into parenthood , creates some wonderful memories and I really think it helps fight off postpartum depression to retain some elements of my lifestyle and passions. If you are budgeting and clawing back everything, and staying home or not doing anything fun, *AND* you are sleep deprived and on a huge learning curve, it’s not an awesome time for mental health. I did that my first 6 months with my first baby and it was, to be frank, a shitty time. I definitely write this paragraph from experience!
I’d also recommend sitting down with your outlook calendar at work, or whatever you use at work, and actually putting into your calendar what you need to do in the 3 months leading up to your due date. I had deadlines to submit my HR documents, sign beneficiary forms, deadlines for my doctor’s note to be in, deadlines to check that my Record of Employment had been submitted by my HR department to the government, and so on.
After childbirth there’s a ton of documents to do as well, and first kid it’s a bit overwhelming so MAKE SURE you keep a super simple checklist and notifications in your calendar for this as well. Some of the things you wind up doing are:
-Notifying your HR department you’ve had the baby (and depending on your HR department, keeping up on them and making sure they’ve done due dilligence on their end. My HR was fantastic.)
-Submitting your official parental leave documents to your em ployer (they’ll have their own procedures and set of forms.)
-Social insurance / government paperwork – APPLYING for parental leave is a biggie! Nothing happens automatically, you have to take ownership of doing the work.
-Getting a birth certificate for your baby at the registry
-Adding your child to your life insurance, health coverage, etc etc
When you are in the total fog of new Mom you honestly drive around to these appointments in such a weird disembodied state. I can tell you as I tried to remember what to put in this list above I was like, shit, I can barely remember doing any of those things LOL. So put them in the calendar with the documents attached and SUPER simple procedural notes, you’ll thank me later. If I had appointments I’d always put in the time 15 minutes before it actually started – I’m rarely on time for anything but doing this, I was on time for everything with my baby!
You’ll have a bunch of follow ups, appointments, nurse visits and vaccinations. I had NO idea the first month would actually be so busy with that stuff. Maternity leave in Canada is not luxuriating with a baby at home the first month – you’re constantly out and about doing appointments or paperwork, and if it’s your first, you’re also reading a ton of pamphlets, googling, and keeping a feed/pee/poo diary for your baby 🙂 It’s actually pretty funny considering how TOTALLY spaced out you are in the fourth trimester.
Unless you have a coworker who you’re close to, and who has had a baby, I found information about maternity leave, how much I’d get in my bank account, when it would get deposited, etc. quite confusing to understand and sometimes hard to find. When I was thinking about running my Etsy store and not sure if I was allowed to make an income from it whilst on benefits, it was SO hard getting information. I wound up having to treck in person to a Government of Canada office and sitting in a line with my baby, after trying to phone in and having no luck being bounced around between departments. Oh man. Building a side business or having a side income on mat leave is one massive headache, so I’ll write another blog about that sometime, but tbh I’m a fan of just enjoying your year and taking it to build the foundations of your business or do housekeeping on your business and switching out of income producing for that leave. You’ve got your whole life to work, why not enjoy this time and if you need to work, make it just improving all elements of your side business.
(Note: Maternity leave in Canada if you are self-employed is a whole other kettle of fish which I have NO experience or knowledge in, so please go see your accountant and call the Government, ok? I literally know NOTHING about that.)
I think this is so silly for us women. I also couldn’t find blogs on what it was actually like, so I am putting this out there in the hope that I can demystify some of it. Congratulations, for the first time you’re probably going to actually become an expert in your company’s HR policies, which you never really worried about before unless it had something to do with your pay or health benefits LOL!
Good luck xo
AND REMEMBER: PUT EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO DO BEFORE MAT LEAVE AND DURING THE FIRST FEW WEEKS OF MAT LEAVE IN YOUR CALENDAR