Welcome back to How I Parent, where we get a glimpse into how the nation is raising their kids.
This week, Sarah Colville-Clarke, 29 and based in Bedford, shares her story of returning to work six weeks after the birth of her son, Noah, who is now three, after she received an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Sarah will be returning two weeks after the birth of her second child in October, as her husband takes full responsibility of child-rearing.
Sarah, a trading manager in fashion, accessories and jewellery, says she and husband Dominic, 29, chose to flip the script on so-called traditional gender roles in their household.
When a company headhunted her while she was eight months pregnant with a lucrative offer, she immediately accepted to support her growing brood.
‘I gave a start date as if I had a three-month notice period, leaving just under six weeks for me to be at home with our baby,’ she shares.
‘I’m the breadwinner financially, but previously I was working for an awful company,’ she says. ‘When I got the job offer from another company, we realised we couldn’t afford to turn such an opportunity down.’
Her husband immediately stepped up to become the primary caregiver of their child. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
‘Because it was Covid I worked in a small outbuilding we had built in the garden and pumped when I could,’ says Sarah.
‘Although this really only lasted a few weeks, it was absolutely draining at the time. Dom really connected with our little man through the feeds. which was great to watch, but it was a pretty difficult experience. There was definitely an element of wishing I could do it instead.’
‘I don’t regret it for one minute, but it made it really hard to connect with Noah in those early months, and probably the first year of his life. It was equal measures of the best and worst thing I did.’
Though she’s planning an even shorter maternity leave this time around, Sarah says there were downsides to having just six weeks off.
‘It opened up a whole host of other issues, the guilt of leaving my son, the guilt of leaving my husband, the expectations of those around me and the judgement I sometimes felt,’ she shares.
‘While this was mostly from people who I didn’t know very well, or didn’t know me, it really affected me.’
But Sarah, who experienced post natal depression after birth, says getting back to her working routine really helped her.
‘Getting back to work early really helped boost my mental health and get me back on track,’ she says.
When her daughter is born in October, she’ll be back to work in two weeks.
‘This time it’s purely financial as the world we live in for our family means that we can’t afford for me to take as much time as I’d like with baby,’ she says.
‘Having done it before, whilst difficult, it ultimately ended up saving me mentally, and my husband is completely on board.’
How will it work practically? Sarah says she doesn’t have all the answers yet and is keen to keep things flexible, but she largely works from home and plans to feed her newborn on breaks while Dominic manages the rest of the care throughout the day.
On days she needs to go to the office, she’ll pump like she did with Noah. She hopes to breastfeed for at least three months, but is open to a formula feed combination if needed.
In the UK, fewer than 10% of fathers opt for paternity leave lasting more than two weeks, with 40% of fathers choosing not to take any paternity leave at all.
In contrast, approximately 70% of women take a complete nine months of leave, highlighting the prevailing trend where women continue to hold the majority of leave and caregiving responsibilities.
For Sarah, the decision to take the new job after Noah was born was driven by a sense of equality and the desire for both parents to be equally involved in their children’s upbringing.
‘When we told people I think it was a bit of a shock to them. The most common reaction I had was sympathy and the expectation that I was either heartbroken by my decision or forced into it against my will,’ she explains.
‘Of course, I was sad and upset to not spend as much time with my baby but it was our choice as a family.
‘Before meeting my husband 10 years ago I always felt there was an expectation on me to be able to do everything, to be everything a ‘woman’ should be, and feel completely content in it. I thought I was going to have a career up to a point, and then give it all up to have a child.’
Since then her husband has taken on most of the domestic load and child-rearing while Sarah works full-time for the household income.
‘A pretty standard day-to-day in the Colville-Clarke household means I’ll get up with our toddler, get him ready for nursery and drop him off as I currently do,’ she explains.
‘When my daughter is born, hopefully, I can take her with me on the nursery run too to give my husband time to get showered, dressed and have a little peace and quiet before the chaos starts.
‘He tends to take on the majority of the household duties with the children. I’ll cook dinner and get lunches prepared and he’ll do the general household bits during the day.
‘As our families live far away in North Wales and Kent, support for childcare is minimal, so he’s the main caregiver.’
Sarah points out that societal expectations often place women in the role of primary caregivers, and this traditional setup is sometimes exacerbated by the gender pay gap and male-dominated job sectors.
‘With the cost of living, that has to be a consideration,’ she says. ‘From experience, whilst I feel we’re moving in the right direction, I’ve also found that men tend to feel emasculated if they’re seen to be taking on the ‘mother’ role – and I don’t always think this is intentional.’
Although none of their friends have directly followed suit, Sarah has observed similar role reversals among acquaintances in other professions.
‘I think there’s a massive space for men to be sharing the load more, although I think a lot are already trying to do better,’ she says.
‘Our male friends and colleagues tend to be pretty good at taking on their share of the load and some actually end up being cleaner and tidier than a lot of the women I know!’
While society is shifting, Sarah believes if women find they want their partners to do more, the key is to start having those conversations, pronto.
‘Men, at least of my age, don’t always understand these things if they’re not told – they haven’t experienced it themselves,’ she says.
‘If your partner isn’t getting involved, in my opinion, you have to talk it through. I know it’s cliché, but how can they change, if they’re unaware?’
‘I’ve learnt from previous relationships that you can’t ‘change’ people and you shouldn’t want to but you can help them see things from your perspective. Arguing, manipulation and passive-aggressiveness get you nowhere!’
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