I took time out for our kids. Now I envy his career

 

TV’s Steph and Dom Parker, 51 and 54, draw on their 20 years of marriage to solve your relationship problems . . .



I met my husband at work nine years ago and we now have two young daughters.

When we met, we were at a similar level in the company. But I am more ambitious. In fact, I had just been promoted when I found out I was pregnant.

I took two maternity leaves of a year each, returning to work part-time between them, over five years. I’ve now come back to the same job I had when I left, while my husband has been promoted twice and is doing really well.

It makes financial sense that I do the school run, but I just feel so stagnant. I’m not where I thought I’d be at 44!

I know this sounds bad, but I feel envious of him. It’s like our roles have been reversed. I don’t know how to talk about it with him without sounding horribly jealous and resentful (which I am!). What can I do?

This is sadly an all-too-common issue, one I can relate to possibly more than Dom because I, too, stopped working when I settled down and had children.

For me, it was a delightful choice and one I enjoyed every step of the way, though I can see that women who train for years to become a doctor, say, or an architect, feel that letting go of a career is a big price to pay.

Your letter rings some alarm bells, though. Your husband is doing well at work and earning money — resenting him implies bitterness, and I wonder whether it’s a vehicle for some other problem in the marriage.

Or perhaps it’s not him you resent, but the sacrifices motherhood has forced you to make in terms of your career. It feels unfair, and you’re projecting that unfairness on to him.

I’d counter this argument by pointing out the sacrifices he’s also made. Children often displace husbands in a woman’s affections, and he’s almost certainly gone down the pecking order in terms of your priorities. He might have been promoted at work but he’s been demoted at home, and I bet he’s felt it keenly.

It’s a cliché, but no doubt he’s also missed your babies’ first steps and first words, and few parents have wished they were in the office rather than at home for those precious moments.

Forgive me for saying this, but I think it’s naive to expect to jump back into a career and immediately zip up the ladder after taking a relatively big chunk of time out. However, it’s clear you want to scratch that career itch, which I respect. This will mean shaking up your family life — with potentially big implications for your husband.

So, how to tell him how you’re feeling? Show him your vulnerability and share your concerns with him. Tell him how hurt and frustrated you are and how you’re starting to take those emotions out on him.

When we have these conversations about the inequality of domestic burden, and work-life balance, it’s all too easy to lock horns. Your lives become a competition. Who’s the most tired? Who has more to do?

You don’t want this conversation to take place on those terms. Petty squabbles diminish the importance of the issue. So please ask for his help. He’s your favourite person in the world and your biggest ally, after all.

Finally, a word of warning: you may well have to pay for childcare — do not feel guilty about the effect on your children. This will be an opportunity for them to learn independence and to trust others, skills they will thank you for later.

I’m sorry you find yourself in this predicament, but the fact you recognise your emotions for the ugly things they are — envy, jealousy, resentment — means the battle is half-way won.

Marriage is never easy, but it’s harder when you work in the same office. It’s tough enough working collaboratively, let alone in an environment where you might find yourselves competing for the same promotion.

However, you did choose to step out of the race. I can see how your husband’s success might make you envious, but your resentment is a different matter. It’s not his fault you took time out with the children and lost your footing on the greasy pole.

We men are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, if you like) not to go through all the wonderful and hideous things that women endure in pregnancy and childbirth. Most of us have the utmost respect for the sacrifices you make to have a baby. But we can’t do it for you.

It’s wrong to begrudge your husband’s success when, presumably, his work has facilitated your time out. Remember, you’re a partnership.

But that also means he could step up with the childcare now and let you focus on your career more than you have been. In this day and age, companies are more open to requests for flexibility — from women and men.

The problem you have is talking to him about all of this without sounding like you hate his success. I feel that if you sit down and tell him you’re jealous of a colleague’s career progression without, at first, revealing that colleague is him, you can take the heat out of it. Approach it as a neutral problem you want to share, and I’m sure he’ll understand. At which point you come clean and name the ‘colleague’! Hopefully, the conversation you really want to have now becomes easier.

If he’s less ambitious than you, suggest swapping places. Perhaps he can take up the slack at home while you go hell-for-leather at work? Maybe you could ask for a job share at a senior level? Or, if you both want a full-on career, how can you make that work for the children? Take the feelings out of it and think in terms of practicalities and responsibilities.

Don’t confuse ambition for ability. To keep the family afloat it’s important to be honest about how you maximise your earning power. If he’s got two promotions in quick succession, he’s likely to be pretty good at what he does. If that’s the case, don’t ditch his career just to make a point.

 If you have a question you’d like Steph and Dom to tackle, write to: stephanddom@dailymail.co.uk


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