The original Parenting Playbook, published in 2018, was developed from a series of conversations the year after launching ‘The Expecting Playbook’, a guide and pledge program by software developer and designer duo Anna Mackenzie and Ella Gorevalov. The original Expecting Playbook focused on helping companies in Canada’s tech community create and share meaningful parental leave policies, enabling founders and expecting parents to navigate the challenges of balancing work and new babies. In 2021, it was updated and republished by Bright + Early

Beyond parental leave, it’s important to ask: how were these parents adjusting after returning? Parenting is an 18+ year gig, and the juggle certainly doesn’t end when one returns to work. So, in 2018, a new team consisting of Anna Mackenzie, Workaround owner Amanda Munday, and Bright + Early founder Nora Jenkins Townson put together the first version of the Parenting Playbook. Since then, much has changed; the COVID-19 pandemic blew the work-from-home debate wide open, and most tech companies now support at least a hybrid model. Some of these changes have been helpful for parents who have long been calling for more flexibility at work. But these newer working models come with their own challenges. For 2023, we’ve updated the Parenting Playbook to reflect the new world of work and help companies support parents in navigating it.

Who is this playbook written for?

Generally, the playbook is aimed at owners, founders, executives and champions at small to medium-sized tech companies. Many legal considerations and data are local to Toronto, Ontario, or Canada. That being said, plenty of ideas can be applied to any type of company in any location. We wrote this playbook for leaders of all kinds who want to leverage the power of parents and earn a reputation as a great place for parents to work.

It’s also a great resource for parents or expecting parents who want to be ready with options and ideas to bring to their employer.

Why should we design the workplace for families?

  • You’re likely already employing parents. Good policies will enable you to retain top performers through this life phase.
  • You can’t recruit in 2023 and ignore parents. Why wouldn’t you cater to such a significant portion of your potential talent pipeline? It is impossible to tell (and illegal to ask) who is and is not a parent during your interviewing process, but mentioning your applicable benefits can only be a net positive.
  • Parents know how to be efficient. The challenges of parenthood can make a good performer a great one!
  • If your company values include supporting diversity and inclusion, visibly supporting parents is a great way to “walk the walk.”

“Tell me about the parental leave and return plan the same way you tell me about gym benefits or vision coverage. You don’t know if I work out
or need glasses. Tell someone about parental benefits
even if they are 80. You have no idea what someone’s circumstances are, so don’t assume.” -
Melissa Nightingale, Founder

"We'll get to it when someone here becomes a parent."

Though it can be tempting to put off writing parental policies, consider that parents may be evaluating joining your organization and may not want to bring up accommodations during the interview process. Another concern is creating policies around the first parent in the office, which can be an awkward negotiation for everyone involved. Best to have a firm stance in advance.

“I'm proud to talk about being a parent, and especially as a leader, set an example that it's cool to have a family and to prioritize them.” - Margaret Leibovic, SVP Engineering

Becoming parent friendly: A workplace checklist

  • First, ensure you have a parental leave policy in place. Don’t have one? We know a great resource! 
  • Ensure you are familiar with need-to-know human rights policies such as the need to provide chestfeeding accommodations (more on that later), the duty to prevent harassment and discrimination and have a policy concerning it, and the duty to ensure parents return to the same, or an equal position.
  • Review the suggested parenting policies in the sections below. Consider which policies could work for your team. Don’t worry if you don’t have (or don’t think you have) parents in your company yet. If you build it, they will come.
  • Think about your budget. In this playbook, there are many options you can put into place tomorrow with little to no monetary investment. However, consider the impact of supporting parents when deciding where to budget. Given that employee recruitment and retention are most likely to be impacted, can parenting perks share their budget.
  • Ensure the policies and accommodations you provide are available in writing both internally, in a spot that is easily found (like an employee handbook or intranet) and available to access without asking. When a benefit or policy is not written down, Consider sharing it externally as well, potentially on your careers page. Most candidates don't want to ask about this in the initial interview phase, and you can increase their comfort level (and chances of applying) by having this information readily available.
  • Celebrate your new perks and policies! Be sure to announce them to your team (and on social media) and talk about why they’re a net positive for your company.
  • If you or your senior team have kids, walk the walk. Leave work at a reasonable time, talk about your kids, and take advantage of leave and other programs and policies you’ve built for parents. It gives others permission to do the same.

Returning to work

Before an employee returns to work, collaborate with them on making their transition back to the office as easy as possible. Not all parents want the same thing; the key is to communicate. A returning parent is not returning to the same context they left, especially at a fast-paced startup. Therefore, the onus is on the company to keep employees informed about the strategic shifts that have happened.

Many companies offer flexible returns to ease the transition back to the office. Options include:

Part-time work: The employee returns to the office on a part-time basis. This can be paid at a part-time rate, or as an extra retention tool, at full pay. At our original publish date, one tech company we consulted offered a program for new parents with an 80% workload at 100% pay for the first month back to help new parents transition.

Working from home: If the company is not already hybrid or fully remote, this is an option where the employee works temporarily from home while transitioning back to the office. This is a good way to ease back into Slack, projects and more.

Parent-friendly coworking spaces: Coworking spaces in some cities are beginning to offer onsite childcare. Partnering with such coworking spaces or having your employee expense the cost of one is a great way to help them ease back into a professional environment.

Checklist: Returning to work

  • Does the returning parent have an assigned return-to-work buddy?
  • Are they returning to the same role, title and level of responsibility? 
  • Have they been assigned to relevant projects?
  • Is the office able to support chestfeeding parents?
  • Have they been included in regularly scheduled performance or compensation reviews during their time off? If not, ensure they haven’t missed out on any adjustments.
  • Have you scheduled a re-onboarding meeting? These should cover changes to the team, introductions to key new team members or clients, briefings on projects or invitations to related meetings, and a meeting with HR to update their benefits or learn of any new policies.

Have you discussed or considered:

  • How they’d like to structure their return (full-time, part-time, remote, etc.)?
  • Childcare and any flexibility they’ll need for pickups and dropoffs?
  • The significant mental health shift becoming a parent demands, and whether this employee could use additional mental health support and paid benefits during the transition?
  • Welcoming them with a special lunch or shoutout, taking care to call out their role and achievements in the company. This can be especially helpful to introduce them to folks who have joined your team during their leave.

“It felt like I had to catch up on one year of missed context, social or otherwise. I asked the management team (at a former place of employment) to do a recap on all the major projects that had happened while I was away, which they did: but I had to ask.”- Ria Lupton, Marketing Director

“So much changed while I was on leave. My team was absorbed into another department, so when I returned, I had an entirely new boss. Before maternity leave, I felt I had some real momentum with my career— I was being mentored by the CEO, and had earned the opportunity to design a strategy for my team. When I came back, it was like starting over. My new boss said, “I don’t know you or how you work, so let’s see how this goes over the next while before we talked career planning.” It took 6 more months before we talked seriously about my career again.”- Anonymous

“Talk to your manager about what ‘balance’ looks like to you. Do you want to be doing daycare drop off and come into the office later? Do you want to be offline after a certain time?"- Larissa Holmes, Founder

The Big C: Childcare

Between parental leave and public school age, there is a gap where parents must provide (or pay for) childcare. In Canada, childcare fees are rising; the national average cost is approximately $10,000 CAD a year, and in the USA, parents can expect to pay $14,760 USD annually. Many families do not qualify for any government subsidies, and waitlists can be years long. In addition, childcare costs do not stop once a child starts school. Before and after-school care is often a necessity for a number of years, especially for parents with less flexible work schedules, This care can cost an average of $700 per month per child.

“When I started my career I was advised to regularly contribute to my RRSP. When I started a family, the advice was to regularly contribute to my child’s RESP. At no point did anyone tell me I should have been saving for childcare, where the costs exceed university and happen a whole lot sooner.”- Amanda Munday, Founder

Without a doubt, childcare fees are far too costly for many North American families. Thus, talented employees may make the difficult decision to leave the workforce. How can companies prevent this kind of attrition? Here are some options.

Employer Subsidized Childcare: One of the most impactful things you can do for parents is offer a monthly or annual childcare subsidy or stipend. This can have an incredible impact on retaining employees with young families, or those planning to have them. The most prohibitive factor can be the cost, but companies can share the budgeting from other areas of HR, such as recruiting and retention. Check with your benefits provider; some lifestyle spending accounts can be used for childcare expenses.

Guaranteed Placement: Some daycare centers, particularly larger ones with multiple locations, can provide partnerships with employers that offer their staff’s children a guaranteed spot in one of their centers. This can be a huge relief, as childcare waitlists can be months or even years long.

Parent-friendly coworking spaces: Coworking spaces in some cities are beginning to offer onsite childcare. Partnering with such coworking spaces or having your employee expense the cost of one is a great way to help them ease back into a professional environment.

“Having reliable childcare is the most important part. This isn't as easy as it sounds - you basically have to get on the lists for daycares as soon as you get a positive pregnancy test.”- Kristen Spencer, Director of Engineering

Care for evening events

If you ask a parent to stay for an after-hours event, consider the burden of finding and paying for childcare. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Cover the cost of care. Companies like We Need a Date Night and CareGuide can connect you to caregivers for your employees during your evening event.
  • Ensure employees are given ample notice about events outside of regular business hours, if possible, so they can have time to arrange for childcare and/or give a spouse notice. Last-minute Friday night drinks can cause undue stress.
  • You could also consider hosting occasional morning or early afternoon team-building events that allow your parent employees to get home to their families earlier.
  • Consider hiring licensed, mobile childcare specialists for conferences, meetups and other large community events.

Care for illnesses and emergencies

Emergency child care is one of the toughest parts of working parenthood. The average school-age child gets sick 9 days per year, and schools require sick children to be home for 48 hours if they have a fever. Since COVID-19, many childcare centers and schools are much stricter about kids staying home when any symptoms are present and for longer periods of time. Does your company have a policy to support these unplanned absences? Here are some ways you can assist parents while ensuring they stay productive:

  • If you are not fully remote, be easily set up to accommodate employees working from home occasionally. However, note that some jobs or tasks are difficult to complete with a sick kid at home, and not all parents have partners or additional help. Your team members may need extra support with flexible hours or coverage from their team. 
  • Provide “dependent sick days”, which employees can use to care for children or other dependents.
  • For emergency childcare situations that aren’t an illness, partner with a childcare company that offers corporate programs. These partnerships allow you to offer employees a handful of occasional emergency childcare days at their care centers, so that parents can still attend the office. However, just like school, they cannot attend the centers while sick.

“What do I want to be different? The difficulty of having to use all your sick days because your kids are sick.”- Anonymous

Milking it: Supporting chestfeeding parents

Chestfeeding is a term that can be used by cisgender and transgender parents alike — it's a way to describe feeding your baby. Because breastfeeding isn't exclusive to cisgender women, it's important to have terminology that feels inclusive to all parents, regardless of gender.

Chestfeeding parents returning to work in an in-person setting may be pumping milk to be stored as food for infants. Parents who are chestfeeding, especially those spending the day away from the baby, must pump at regular intervals to avoid discomfort, maintain supply and collect the amount of milk their child needs. Even with remote work, a chestfeeding employee may need pumping/feeding breaks or the ability to be off-camera for some meetings.

“I had weaned myself off the daytime feeding but was still nursing at night. My boss decided the project was going to run into the evening. I was leaking right through my beautiful silk shirt and jacket, so that was a pretty traumatic return to work. I think I got home at midnight my first day.”- Anonymous

Checklist: Creating a pumping room

Ideally, your in-person workplace will have a dedicated pumping room. Even if you do not have chestfeeding employees today, having it ready for when you do and ready for any visitors, candidates or event attendees is good practice.

If you cannot have a dedicated pumping room,

you may designate another multipurpose room for pumping as long as it meets the following standards:

  • Is a standalone room with no windows and a lock.
  • Is not a bathroom.
  • Has a fridge and freezer for expressed milk.
  • Comfortable seating.
  • A desk or table (parents can work while pumping if they choose to).
  • Outlets, for the same reason.
  • Is bookable on the office calendar.
  • Has flexibility: pumping can sometimes take longer than anticipated, and having to clear the room for another meeting can be awkward.

“My office had a makeshift pumping room, which was a bit of a pain to try to schedule with other people, but everyone was more accommodating after I complained to my boss about it.” - Anonymous

If you cannot have a dedicated pumping room, make rules and have a conversation with non-parent employees about how to be respectful.

“When I returned from maternity leave, I asked for a room with a lock on the door to pump twice a day. I was told a lock on the door is overkill, and a post-it note on the outside of the door should be sufficient for keeping other employees from walking in on me topless. I felt like my needs, and legal rights to nursing, were not a priority at this company. I hated having to ask in the first place.”- Anonymous


School and childcare drop-offs and pickups can happen at hours that are at odds with most core working hours - think 7:00 a.m. drop-offs, and 4:00 p.m.pick ups. Parents are still able to do it all, but they may need some flexibility in their schedule. Making flexible work days, core hours, or asynchronous work practices part of your workflow reduces confusion and guilt and is an integral part of making your employees feel supported through parenthood. Each parent’s need for flexibility is different, so be sure to communicate often and stay open minded.

Example: Dave’s partner handles before school care drop-off, but pick-up at 4:00 p.m. is his responsibility. Dave makes an arrangement with his employer to begin his day at 8:00 a.m. instead of 9.

“Try to still keep work at work, and not slip into the habit of "making up" hours in the late evening.”- Margaret Leibovic

“Focus on performance. It shouldn’t be about when someone is in the office or how long they appear to be working, it should be about impact and value delivered.”- Larissa Holmes

“Flexibility is key– the ability to support your family and be at home during key times like dinner, kids events is important. Having the flexibility to do this and be emotionally and physically present for [your children] and yourself is important and necessary.”- Alisha Patel, Director of People and Finance

Don’t assume

Families come in all forms. You may have single moms, single dads, non-binary parents, and LGBTQ+ parents on your team. In addition, over 69% of families in Canada are dual income, meaning both parents share earning and childcare responsibilities.


  • Assuming, based on someone’s identity, whether they are the birthing parent or chestfeeding. Ideally, if you have your policies and pumping room properly set up, these should not factor into a professional discussion.
  • Assuming, based on someone’s gender presentation, what amount of childcare responsibility they take on at home.

“My wife and I are two women who are expecting. She is carrying, and I am not, but I still have the option of breastfeeding. Although it
is something I have wanted to do, I have so far decided against it, largely because I am not comfortable asking for accommodations at work and having to explain why I, someone who is not pregnant, would need these kinds of accommodations.”- 

“My partner’s job involves her being away 2-5 nights a week, and most people give me a “how do you do it?” reaction, which I don’t think I’d get if I were a mom. I drop off and pick up my daughter from school and make most of the meals.”- Anonymous

Fitting kids into work life

Having work socials and events that allow employees to bring their children makes them feel that their whole self is welcome in the workplace.

  • For office parties or socials, have pre-events or separate events where children are welcome.
  • Make sure that deals and major decisions aren’t happening over Friday night drinks.
  • Consider making corporate retreats family-friendly so that spouses and children can attend.
  • Don’t hold all your fun events after work. Celebrate milestones during office hours or plan an event on the weekend and invite families. What about a waffle breakfast bonanza for your next sales celebration?

“I’ve taken it upon myself to organize lunch hangs at work since not being available for the majority of after-work social time has probably set me back.” - Anonymous

Work travel

Positions that require regular travel are tough but doable for parents. Here is how to make it easy:

  • Give lots of advance notice for business trips.
  • Encourage employees to book travel and accommodations during times that work for childcare drop-off and pick-up, even if the cost of the plane ticket is higher. Provide lieu time for travel days to give employees more time with their families after a business trip.
  • Consider covering childcare costs or the travel costs for the child to accompany the parent if appropriate for the trip, or, even better, the cost of a spouse or second caregiver to join.
  • Don’t rule parents out of opportunities to travel before even asking them. It may come from a place of kindness, but let them decide what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

Kids in the office

There are going to be certain circumstances where an employee might have to bring their child to the workplace. Encouraging a safe space for them to do so is going to alleviate their guilt and allow them to do their best work.

Consider providing a space for children to enjoy the day during planned and unplanned “kids on site” days like PA days, March Break or a city-wide snow day. Each parent employee could rotate sharing the planning of a bimonthly activity that welcomes children at work. Generally speaking children in the office are not an insurance liability as long as the visits are occasional and supervised by a parent.

“We invite children into the office on PA days (or any other day!) – we even have a little scavenger hunt for them to do, in addition to the ping pong and video games we have onsite.” - Kristy Peeters, People and Planning Manager

Kids on screen

For everyday virtual meetings, especially ones with only internal folks in attendance, have an expressly outlined policy that having babies, kids or pets wander on screen is totally fine. Of course, if someone is always distracted on Zoom by little ones, it may be worth checking in to see if they have the support they need during the work day.

The extras: Small things that matter

 “The corporate onesie is cute, the sleep coach is life changing.” - Melissa Nightingale

There are many low cost things a company can do to provide a more supportive environment to their parent employees.

  •  Consider giving parents a week of work from home or half day schedules when their child is going through a significant transition, like starting at a new childcare centre or beginning kindergarten or changing schools. It smoothes the transitionfor child and parent. This might also be a deeply meaningful offer to an employee whose child is struggling at school, facing bullying or dealing with a difficult teacher.
  • Consider sending brand new parents prepared meals instead of flowers to welcome baby - they’ll appreciate not having to cook!
  • Consider a “baby bonus” that employees can use for post-baby expenses of their choosing, no expense receipts required. All babies are different and can require different forms of help. Some ways it can be used include sleep coaching, lactation consulting, postpartum depression support, extra gear, meal kits or food delivery, or home cleaning services.
  • Create a parent Slack channel and/or committee. Bonus points if a non-parent senior leader is on the committee to hear directly from parent employees and their needs. Giving parents a space to share experiences and ask for support creates psychological safety for your employees and helps you direct resources to how parents will use them best.
  • Celebrate milestones and holidays. Giving parents a paid day off for graduations, school performances or their child’s birthday is an easy kindness that goes a long way.
  • Ask your parent employees how they prefer to recognize Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in their home. For some LGBTQ+ families, these binary holidays are problematic and re-enforce heterosexual family definitions. Before throwing a Mother’s Day brunch or sending around Father’s Day heartfelt messages, ask your parent employees how they approach these emotional days. Better yet, try a more inclusive parent celebration at a different time.

With the gaps between work and home life getting closer than ever, a supportive workplace remains a key factor in attracting, retaining and getting the best work possible out of the parents on your team. Being a family-friendly workplace isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s a key investment in your team’s success. 

Special thanks to Anna Rosen (Mackenzie), Amanda Munday, Ella Gorevalov, and all the parents who shared their experiences.