It’s expensive for women to have children.

Most women go on maternity leave, and then they return to the same or a similar job.

But because they have been absent, their careers lag behind those of their male counterparts.

Some women even take a pay cut to go part-time so they have more time for the children.

A woman in the US only makes 81 cents for every dollar a man makes (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).

In my country (Denmark), women experience a 10 percent decrease in income after one child, a 20 percent decrease after two children, and a 30 percent decrease after three children.

But does it have to be that way?

Not at all.

Here are five things you can do to avoid being punished financially because you have become a mother.

1. Share the Leave (and Other Duties) With Your Partner

The rules are different from country to country.

In my country of origin, you can take up to one year of maternity leave.

Sounds wonderful, right?

The problem is that women take most of it. In fact, in many cases, they take all of it.

Dropping out of a career for 9-12 months several times (if you have more than one child) can cripple your career and make your life income decline – if you are not careful.

If you live in a country where it’s possible to get a long leave, it’s really important to share that leave.

Not just because of the career opportunities after childbirth, but because of the patterns that are formed in the family.

It’s important that the parents share the tasks, and that the mother doesn’t settle into the role of the family project manager (unless she consciously wants to carry the biggest part of the child rearing duties).

If you live in a country, like the US, where you only get three months of maternity leave, then obviously it’s more difficult to share that if the mother is breastfeeding.

2. Delegate and Outsource Daily Tasks

Not only is it important to get the partner to share the work and leave 50/50, it’s also important to delegate to others.

Hire a cleaning lady, hire a nanny, get meal boxes delivered. If grandparents sign up for a weekly playdate, let them.

Make sure to outsource everything that a person earning less than you can perform so that you can focus on what you’re good at, and when it comes to your children, focus on quality time with the kids.

Children don’t care who does the dishes, who cooks and washes the floor. They don’t even care if the food is home-cooked.

But it does matter to them who reads the bedtime story, and who is there for them when they wake up scared in the night.

You need to prioritize the important quality time and outsource the household chores.

3. Keep Contributing to Your Retirement and Savings Accounts

Many women take an involuntary break from contributions to their life savings and retirement, like the 401k and Roth IRA, during maternity leave.

You need to avoid this because the long-term consequences go beyond the payment.

Continue to prioritize your retirement and life savings.

Maybe your partner can chip in if part of your maternity leave is unpaid and without benefits?

Talk it through before the baby arrives.

4. Invest in Stocks

You need to be committed to doing the opposite of lagging behind financially.

You should take some action to raise your finances to the next level instead of letting them slide.

Investing in stocks is an obvious way to compensate for the wage gap.

Women own far fewer shares than men, and fewer women are investors. It’s part of the pattern that creates economic inequality.

The time has come to change that.

You can’t always control how much you are paid and which promotions you get, but investing in stocks is entirely up to you.

5. Educate Yourself

You must continue to improve your skills, seek new knowledge, and educate yourself.

Take online (or offline) courses, read books, and upgrade yourself to an even better version of you.

Knowledge is like money – there is a compound effect. Don’t neglect it.

The Last Thing: Escape

I know I said five things, but there is one more which you only need in case of an emergency.

If you find that your boss curbs your career when you return from maternity leave, then you need to resign.

You can, of course, search for another job for a short period of time, but don’t wait around for too long.

It’s demotivating to work in an environment that tells your subconscious that you are worth less because you became a mother – or father (this also happens to men).

I was assigned to a less prestigious position when I came back from maternity leave, and was told I had to “start over”. On the second maternity leave, I was let go.

I had a male colleague who was moved from his old position to shifts at the copy desk when he returned from paternity leave. Instead of researching and writing stories, he had to edit other people’s work until 9 pm every evening.

“It’s better for your family,” they said.

He did the right thing and resigned before they could stick him at the editing desk.

If you experience something similar, remember that there are many other ways to make money.

If your corner of the job market doesn’t appreciate new parents, there’s only one thing to do: find a place in the job market where they still value you, and where they treat you well.

Maybe the time has come for a career change. Maybe you need to start your own business.

Maybe you just need to switch to the competitor.

Whatever happens, you stand stronger mentally and financially if you know how to make money work for you through stock investing.

It’s easier to make bold decisions if you’re financially independent.

What career would you choose if you didn’t have to work to pay your bills?

One way to upgrade your knowledge is to check out my e-book Free Yourself. You can download it here.