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Lunch & Learn Recap: What to Expect When You’re Expecting in Animation

Alexandra Drosu / April 22, 2019

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On Apr. 9th, the Family and Personal Leave Subcommittee hosted a panel discussion on what you need to know if you are considering starting a family. The subcommittee’s co-chair Kristin Donner (who successfully advocated for TAG’s first-ever Parental Leave Policy), storyboard artist and father of three Neil Graf, mother and background artist Teri Hendrich Cusumano, and Silvana Toledo, founder of Collab&Play, were on hand to share their personal experiences and answer questions.

What are your rights?

In the animation industry, you may have access to family leave from four different sources: 1) Your employer’s individual family leave policies; 2) The Animation Guild Master Agreement; 3) State law, and; 4) Federal law. Learn more about each categoryon the Family & Personal Leave page of the Animation Guild website.

Where should I start?

No baby is exactly alike. Some sleep for long stretches the week after they come home, while others may be colicky and awake all night. Expect the unpredictable but the panelists shared a list of important questions that you can ask yourself and your spouse to start planning for your future arrival. Just be prepared for plan B or plan C!

How long will your place of work allow you to take off? You may want to take more time off than what is protected under the law and the Animation Guild contract. Speak with your HR department and learn if the studio offers any specific benefits or guidelines. Talk to your producers and give them advanced warning. “They’ll appreciate it,” says Cusumano.

How long can you afford financially to take off on your own savings? If your studio doesn’t offer any paid benefits and you’d like to take a longer leave, you may want to start saving. Parents and caregivers may qualify for up to six weeks of partial income replacement through California Paid Family Leave (PFL) and birth mothers may qualify for six to eight weeks through State Disability Insurance (SDI). Many family advocates recommend at least three months at home with your child. “You can take your Paid Family Leave (PFL) anytime during the first year of the child,” says Donner. So some working parents advise staggering your PFL with your spouse so you can extend your time home with your child and postpone full-time childcare.

What resources or scheduling opportunities are available to me? Don’t be afraid to ask questions ahead of time. Can you work from home one day a week? Is there flexibility in your schedule to coordinate with daycare hours? What kind of lactation accommodations are available? A private room or office? “We have to think outside the box and not be afraid to speak up and request accommodations,” says Toledo. “It can be uncomfortable to ask your boss but it’s an important discussion.”

Supporting your spouse after childbirth

The recovery process after childbirth can take at least several weeks so spouses may want to consider taking a longer period of time off to support their spouse and bond with their child. Graf said he only took two weeks off when he had his first child and regretted the decision. “It’s a valuable bonding time, so if you are able to take six weeks off do it,” he says. “You can’t put a price tag on that time.”

How to find childcare?

There are several types of childcare options for working parents, including:

  • Larger, licensed daycare centers
  • Smaller, family-run licensed daycare centers
  • Private Nanny
  • Nanny Share

Start touring places well ahead of time, at least six months in advance. Because childcare centers get full so quickly there may be a waiting list. Visit at least three or four daycare centers even if you’ve fallen in love with the first one you toured. It’s important to get a sense of what options are available to you.

A good place to start your search is the Childcare Resource Center or Childcare Alliance Los Angeles, both resources to find licensed childcare providers in your area.

Those interested in hiring a nanny may want to employ an agency to aid you in the search. Some reputable options include The Nanny League and Educated Nannies. Also, many families have opted to hire nannies through personal recommendations. Parent support groups can be a great resource. Some to check out include:

If you choose to hire a nanny, remember you are now someone’s employer. Talk to your CPA ahead of time about taxes. Are you offering the nanny paid vacation? Paid sick leave? Consider these questions ahead of time.

Other considerations:

The panelists recognize that writers may have a more difficult time qualifying for family leave especially since they often are hired for shorter term contracts. “Our hope moving forward is that we will be able to improve the terms,” says Donner, referring to TAG’s Parental Leave Policy.

Additionally, the panelists discussed a broader need to address the issue of retaining female talent. Women often start having children right when they are reaching a peak in their careers. How can we support these women so they can return back to the industry and can continue to thrive in their careers?

Click here for additional resources shared at the event or visit the Animation is Family blog. If you are interested in getting involved in the Family & Personal Leave Subcommittee email here or at


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