How Can I Talk About the Motherhood Tax With My Husband?

There’s a larger conversation to be had here about the unequal financial burden of parental leave and how parenthood exacerbates the gender pay gap, but let’s stick to your situation: Yes, your husband should be helping you recoup these costs. And yes, that means reconfiguring your budget to account for the motherhood tax, or the financial penalty faced by women who have children.

It sounds like your husband is currently a bit oblivious to the unfairness of your current arrangement. To make him understand that, you’re going to have to lay out the evidence. I recommend using this baby cost calculator, which breaks down some of the more common expenses of parenthood, including health care, hospital stays, and the financial impact of taking time off work. Calculating your actual “baby cost” number can be sobering: You’ll see how many new expenses you have, how much they add up, and the gap between what you pay and what he pays to raise your child.

The most straightforward solution here is to merge your finances, either partly or entirely. I know you probably landed on your current system for a reason, and if you’re used to keeping your money separate, it can seem daunting to reconfigure everything — but as your kid grows, it’s going to become increasingly more difficult to not have at least one joint account. Some couples do both: They have a shared account for shared expenses, but also keep separate accounts for their own individual spending and savings goals, like retirement. It sounds like you and your husband may be more comfortable going this route.

As a new mom, it’s probably safe to say your hands are full right now, so a budget overhaul might feel overwhelming. If you can swing it, consider hiring a certified financial planner, or CFP, who will comb through your finances and walk you and your husband through the process of creating a more equitable system. It’s a good idea to talk to a financial planner when you hit any major milestone, and having a kid is a big one. (If you do hire a planner, make sure they’re registered with the CFP board. That means they’ve taken a fiduciary oath to act in your best interest.) You can start your search on the CFP board website.

If hiring a pro to help you isn’t feasible, you and your husband should still carve out time to figure out how to jointly shoulder the costs of childcare, including finding solutions for all the discrepancies you’ve outlined. List all of your new and existing shared expenses, using that baby cost calculator (or any number of other childcare cost calculators) to guide you. From there, you’ll come up with a percentage you each feel comfortable contributing from your existing income. To make things equitable, factor in the total loss of retirement savings and reduced income from time off work into these percentages. Of course, if your husband took a leave, you want to consider that, too. When you go back to work, you can revisit the budget and adjust your percentages as you see fit.

You also mentioned that you don’t agree on certain childcare expenses, and that’s normal. Maybe your husband prefers an expensive, top-notch childcare facility while you’re okay with a more affordable option, or vice versa. Or one of you wants to spring for a tricked-out stroller, and the other is okay with a hand-me-down from a friend. Coming to a compromise with these expenses is an entirely different conversation (we’ve discussed some methods here). But whatever you agree on, the fact remains: These expenses should be shared. Even if you end up deciding to go with one person’s preference, that doesn’t mean that person should shoulder the cost alone.

If you get stuck, you might consider seeing a financial therapist. You mentioned that your relationship is otherwise equal, however, so it seems there’s a good chance your husband will be receptive to giving you the support you need. And that mutual support — both financial and emotional — will be important as you raise your child together.