Money Matters: Financial Advice for Parents
When it comes to parenting there's one thing everyone agrees on: it's expensive. Here, columnist, author and founder of The Fifth Trimester, Lauren Smith Brody, answers the questions weighing most heavily on your wallets—from getting your partner to recognize the true value of childcare to taking maternity leave as a freelancer without going broke.
- Written By
- Lauren Smith Brody
- Maria-Ines Gul
How do I convince my partner of the true value of the childcare I do as a contribution to the household?
This is an enormous question, but I’m going to keep my answer very simple: Convince yourself, first. The only way that you will feel truly comfortable asking for the level of partnership you need is if you believe in your own value. So, how do you adjust your mindset to recognize that in a culture that too often takes childcare for granted? I have three suggestions:
1) Try this invisible labor calculator from my friends at The Double Shift. It places a dollar value on the tasks of home and childcare, and every single person I’ve given it to has had their mind blown (also, while I’ve got you, consider listening to and supporting the independent journalism of this brilliant podcast).
2) Together with your partner, define your family’s three most important values, the things you’re trying to teach your children (for example: hard work, kindness, self-respect). Then, start a little Google doc for yourself, and every time you do something that helps instill these values in your kids, make a note of it. This is called pastoral labor, and while it’s intense, its high-level value is perhaps more easily understood than, say, diaper changes, since it’s more specialized.
3) Treat childcare like the work it is, and be an excellent boss to yourself. Would you expect vacation time, and the ability to delegate beneath-your-paygrade tasks from a corporate gig? You should have those things as a caregiver too. That might mean sending out the sheets and towels to a laundromat, and scheduling a girls’ weekend away this summer.
And PS: Remember, just like in a traditional workplace, you can love your work and it can still count as work! Wanting credit for your invisible labor doesn’t mean hating the tasks of motherhood (so many of which I personally treasure); it’s about modeling satisfaction and self-confidence for your kids.
We don’t have a kid yet, but what financial conversations should my partner and I try to have before we do?
Here’s what I probably should tell you: Talk about your career goals, and research the cost of childcare in your area. But I have to be honest that the former can change (my career goal when my husband and I got married is literally a job that doesn’t exist anymore!); and the latter, while prudent, too often pushes couples to put off parenthood until they think they’re financially ready...and by then it can be harder (and more expensive) to create the family you want. So instead I’ll tell you to look at #2 in the question above. Together, define the values you most hope to instill in your future children, and let those be a guiding light for the financial decisions you make (and arguments you have, and compromises you face) along the way.
Any tips on taking maternity leave when you are self-employed/freelance?
Yes! So many. As I was writing my book The Fifth Trimester, I uncovered several blind spots I didn’t even know I had, and the need you’re describing was a huge one. My initial proposal for the book didn’t even include a chapter on how to deal with a return to work when you’re self-employed, ironic since I had left corporate America to write it and found myself faced with a whole new set of problems that comes from being your own boss. Also, the drum I’d been beating as I researched the book (“everyone deserves six months of paid leave”), while true, was comically unrealistic (and potentially even shaming) for anyone I interviewed who worked for herself. Several of the small business owners and freelancers I talked to were working the day after giving birth. Some because they had to, some because they wanted to. Here’s what they taught me, and what I’ve learned in these last five years of working for myself (AKA working for 20 clients/bosses at a time!):
First, check your local family leave laws: Currently, seven U.S. states plus Washington DC mandate paid family leave. To check if freelancers qualify in your state, I recommend A Better Balance’s workplace rights hub. If you don’t qualify, you can also buy short-term disability insurance that can cover some of your lost income.
You can’t replicate yourself, but you can delegate: If you have a team at all, this is the time to assign each of them one piece of what you do overall. If you’re operating solo, consider outsourcing things that you’re not uniquely good at (your taxes/accounting, your social media) to others. It’s an investment, but this timing might also be just the push you need to turf some of these things to people with specific expertise long term so that when you come back, you’re able to think bigger picture and get out of the weeds on the daily to-dos.
Line up seasonal work on the other side of leave: Many freelancers are able to predict their busy periods. As you tell your clients you’re taking a leave (and yes, you should tell them), simultaneously plant seeds for the work you’re going to be wanting to take on six months from now and go ahead and schedule a call to check in way in advance. Knowing that work is there waiting for you on the other side of leave is both motivating and anxiety-reducing.
If you have a partner, insist that they take some leave: I know first-hand how tricky this feels if your partner is the one with steady income and benefits, but if one of those benefits is paid leave, think of it as part of their compensation. Don’t leave it on the table. Delaying some of their leave until you’re ready to take on more work again is also a great model, letting you on-ramp while knowing your baby is in great, capable hands. It will benefit your income, too. One study showed that for every month of paternity leave a dad takes, mom’s earnings were 7% higher a few years later.
Leave your thermostat on at 58 degrees: We have a little cabin, and when we close it up in the winter, we leave the heat on just enough to ensure that the pipes don’t burst. Same idea here. If you’re not able to step away from work completely, identify the handful of crucial clients or tasks whom you can keep on 58 by emailing once every two weeks, or by taking on a smaller but longer-term project. Remember they probably value your expertise/relationship as much as your actual work, so consider scheduling a couple of check-in calls in a consulting capacity.
Consider a work wife: Yes, even freelancers can have them. Some of the happiest freelancers I know have a semi-partner. That’s someone they occasionally take on bigger projects with as a team, or refer work to when they’re overloaded in a mutually beneficial reciprocal relationship. You can trade off everything from an afternoon at the doctor to a several-month maternity leave.
The through line, of course, is planning ahead as best you can. Pregnancy is a great time to learn that taking care of your needs really IS the same thing as taking care of your baby’s. But that’s a lesson you can learn, as so many of us have, later, too. So, ask for what you need. For the future but also right this minute. Whatever support it is, you deserve it.
Lauren Smith Brody is the author and founder of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity and Big Success After Baby. You can follow her on instagram @thefifthtrimester.