When I was about six months pregnant with my son, I made an ambitious to-do list: Decorate the nursery. Cook meals to pack away in the freezer. Declutter the house. Organize my extremely chaotic spice drawer.
If I was going to bring a new human into the world, I wanted damn near perfect conditions.
But being the unrealistic perfectionist I am, my version of nesting involved more than I could magically fix or address in the span of a mat leave. The most anxiety-ridden task of all on that list? Fixing my finances. After all, I wasn’t just carrying a baby — I was carrying debt. With such a massive life change on the horizon, this was weighing on my mind. I still had credit card debt and a balance on my line of credit from my life as a student, and from building an independent life and career in an increasingly expensive city.
Plus, having a baby in modern day Canada is pricey as hell, and the idea of a paltry parental leave benefits deposit landing in my account every couple weeks instead of an actual paycheque kind of spooked me (I will say, however, that I’m one of the lucky ones. Not everyone qualifies for this benefit, and compared to other countries, Canadians are fortunate to have it at all). Still, it meant that I’d no longer be able to contribute to the mortgage in a meaningful way and I felt nervous about paying the bills, never mind trying to chip away at my debt. I didn’t even want to think about the hefty cost of daycare on the horizon.
As I was waiting for my son to arrive, I carried a lot of shame about being less than perfect on the financial responsibility front
I wanted to be as responsible a parent as I could be, but as I was waiting for my son to arrive, I carried a lot of shame about being less than perfect on the financial responsibility front. He was the wake-up call I needed.
I grew up in a middle-income household in a rural area with parents who each had a good job with a pension. My dad was a high school teacher and my mom, a library technician for the federal government. If money felt tight, it was because there were five mouths to feed. My folks stretched their salaries in order to stay home with me and my two sisters when we were very young (my dad would take a semester off to be home, and my mom would take an unpaid leave of absence). Sure, this meant that they didn’t pay for daycare, but it was a sacrifice just the same.
Still clear in my mind is the day my dad opened a personal bank account for me and my sisters (I’m pretty sure my mom, who keeps everything, still has my very first Leo the Lion RBC bank statement booklet). We were taught early on about the importance of being careful with cash. If we wanted a new bike, we had to save for it. We got an allowance for doing chores and we had to work after-school jobs in high school to pay for things like gas and Blink 182 CDs.
When I got to university, my parents let me make my own mistakes — another smart parenting move. My dad was still the undersigned on my credit card, but he trusted me not to blow it all at the mall near school. Both my parents had saved enough money to cover three years of my tuition, leaving the fourth up to me. Despite working part-time during school and summers, I still needed a line of credit to get me through.
I don’t ever remember learning how to budget. For a long time, I didn’t know the difference between a line of credit interest rate and a credit card interest rate. A credit score… what’s that? The first time I learned about a mortgage was about four years ago when my partner and I were thinking about buying a house.
After all, I wasn’t just carrying a baby — I was carrying debt
Was it my parents’ responsibility to teach me these things? How do you raise a child to navigate a capitalistic culture with even a smidge of restraint? And how do you do it when nobody wants to talk about money in a realistic, compassionate way?
These are the kinds of questions I’m grappling with now as a new mom. I want to do better by my son, who is now a year old — and here’s where I’ll start: By cutting the self-inflicted shame game and taking control of my own finances first. I’m coming up with a debt repayment plan. I’m budgeting. I’m being more judicious about how I spend my money. When he’s a little older, I want to role model smart choices — show him how to judge what’s worth holding back for and what’s worth a treat sometimes. I want to talk openly with him about money instead of treating it like a shameful taboo.
I remember the day my parents proudly announced that they were going to forgive my debt to them for the money they’d given me for my last year of school. Thinking of that moment now, I feel a sense of shame. I hadn’t been paying attention to how lucky I was. My parents worked so hard to give me and my sisters a financial head start, and I want to do the same for my son.
I’m going to be saving for his education starting now. Our appointment with the bank to open his Registered Education Savings Plan is in my calendar — another thing ticked off my ambitious to-do list.
Illustration by Janice Wu.