I joined the Army in 1993 and spent the next 11 years in the military. I have been called every name you can imagine in my military career. I have also accomplished things I never thought possible such as scaling a 3 story building, training in hand-to-hand combat and shooting a rocket launcher (my G.I. Joe moment). Later, I became an instructor helping people navigate through simulated grenade attacks. I did this with no tears, just a determination to finish anything I started.
With all I have experienced, you would think that there is nothing that could bring me to tears. I thought so too until I had to drop my newborn daughter off at her daycare for the first time. I cried so hard the day care director had to give me a hug. What made this easier was the wealth of benefits I took advantage of through my employer. If you are about to have a baby or recently had a baby, consider researching the following benefits:
Affinity Groups For Mothers. For all of you that are parents, you learned that there were things you did not even think to ask because you just did not know they might be a problem. I was lucky. My employer offered affinity groups for mothers and even classes for expectant mothers. I learned invaluable lessons such as when and how to tell your employer you are expecting and how to develop a transition maternity plan and a post-maternity plan for when you return.
Employee Assistance Programs. Personally, I think employee assistance programs (EAPs) are one of the most underused employer benefits. My EAP provided information on what to expect after my daughter was born and guidance on deciding what type of childcare works best for my needs. The right childcare is different for everyone. For some, a daycare center eliminates the uncertainty of finding last minute daycare if your nanny or in-home provider is sick or on vacation. For others, a nanny eliminates the uncertainty of your kid getting sick because of another child.
My EAP offered a daycare referral service that saved me hours of research. I filled out a form with the details of the type of daycare I wanted and they sent me a list of the daycare centers that met my criteria. This made the process so much easier.
Daycare Discount Programs. Some employers have partnerships with daycare centers. This could translate into substantial savings. Other employers offer “emergency daycare” programs where you get a discount if you need daycare for a day.
My employer partnered with a daycare center that discounted one day services to $25 – much cheaper than the normal drop in cost for that particular daycare. Some even offer daycare discounts for children who may be too sick for daycare (temperature over 100.5 in some cases) but not sick enough to be bedridden or go into a hospital. Contact your employer to get a list of possible daycare discounts. The list can literally save you hundreds of dollars per month.
Dependent Care Tax Breaks. For those of you that have children under the age of 13, consider using a dependent care FSA to pay for daycare expenses pre-tax. If you are going to pay for daycare anyway, you might as well do it in a way that can help you save money on taxes. You can even use the dependent care FSA for summer camp. A good rule of thumb is the dependent care FSA may be the most beneficial for taxpayers in the 15% or higher tax bracket. If you are in the 15% or below tax bracket then paying the costs with after-tax money and taking the dependent care tax credit may be more beneficial.
Being a new mom can be tough, but you don’t have to be alone. Talk to co-workers who recently had children and contact your HR benefits department and your EAP to explore every benefit you have available to you. This will help make the transition to motherhood a lot easier.