Lysa Hardy, 52, is a Chief Marketing Officer for a luxury retail brand and is married to Chris, 53. They have four children aged 24, 18, 14 and 11, and the couple live together with their three younger children in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Hardy is the main breadwinner, earning over £200K a year, while Chris spends his time looking after the family.
"It was my husband’s idea to give up his job six years ago, making me the breadwinner in the family. When Chris suggested it one evening, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me. He’s a very family-centric man, but it was also a logical decision as I’d been earning more than him for the past nine years.
I take home £200k+ annually. Earning enough to support our family lifestyle such as a beautiful home, luxury holidays and opportunities for the kids, is empowering to me (although I’m not denying a gender pay gap still exists.) But it was also important to me to be fulfilled throughout my career. This means the time I do spend with my children is quality time with my children, even if that time is less.
Chris has given up a lot to allow me to be the breadwinner. I would never have asked him to do it in case he’d then resent me. I believe my high salary played a part in the breakdown of my first marriage (to the father of my eldest two children). My ex-husband would never admit that, it was never talked about. There’s lots of research into how a high-earning woman can be emasculating for some men. Fortunately this isn’t the case with Chris.
However, he doesn’t call himself a house husband and nor do I. The label feels very out of date. The same goes for the term ‘stay-at-home mum’. Running the home and family is one of the hardest jobs.
We’d got to a point in our lives when we were both working full-time and life felt stressful. Despite having a nanny, we both were commuting to work and had commitments and weren’t always there to see the nativity play, the music concert or the swimming gala at the four different schools they attended.
My husband’s salary was effectively drained by the cost of the nanny, clubs, a second car and so on, it was just crazy. Our life just became about logistics and we had little time for the two of us.
Something had to give in our lives. Because we both came from marriages that hadn't worked out, we knew for it to work you need to prioritise. You can’t take things for granted.
I don’t think friends or colleagues were shocked at our decision. Some were initially surprised, but then get it when they see I can do my job well knowing Chris is looking after the kids. Some friends suggested we send our children to boarding school so we could both work, but I think, ‘What’s the point in having a family if you’re going to do that?’
My husband is more of an extrovert so it would be fair to say he found the transition to being at home very hard in the beginning when he wasn't plugged into a local network. Home alone with no intellectual stimulation – he’s much brighter than me – he’d go stir crazy but he adapted.
Interestingly, there's a number of families at school who have a female breadwinner in the family, so there are other dads on the school run. I’m not sure Chris would have felt entirely comfortable with being the only dad at the school gate.
Challenging gender roles
Chris doesn’t bother with coffee mornings, but he’ll occasionally get together with the dads, especially for rugby practice at the weekend. He’s on the WhatsApp groups with the mums. Despite me changing the family contacts with the school and other parents, they still call me about pick-ups or playdates. I guess some gender roles stick. Frankly, they're going to get a far more sensible answer from Chris than me!
Just because I’m the breadwinner, I’m not completely detached from family life. I still do most of the cooking, prepping at the weekend or using the slow cooker in the week. We always sit for meals together in the evening once I’m home. I’m very present.
We have a cleaner, but the washing is all done by Chris. I think us women could benefit from letting go of some of the family admin, it’s amazing what can happen when you take off your superwoman cape.
My salary has always been paid into our joint account. I call it our ‘joint salary’ that pays for everything, it just so happens that I go out of the house to earn it. It took a while for him to get used to it – in the early days he’d feel weird asking for new trainers, but that was nonsense although I totally got it. We had to reset how we saw our earnings.
Our set-up affords me peace of mind at work knowing the kids are all taken care of by their dad. It's no coincidence that my career has accelerated in recent years. Chris has enabled that to happen. Now the kids are getting older and taking themselves to and from school, it’s freed up my husband to launch a start-up business, beautyandvitality.co.uk
I don’t agree with some studies that say women are the better parent to stay at home. Chris does a far better job than I would ever do. I think we're wired differently – he’s more laid-back whereas I'm structured. I think that’s why I struggled on maternity leave, as the day never went to plan with a baby.
I know I’ve got lucky with my husband. Every working mother carries guilt, but your choices are deeply personal. Whatever you choose, there is compromise. I realise that not every woman wants what I’ve got but I feel like we have the best of both worlds.
My advice to other working mothers would be that if you want a career – although I appreciate not everyone does – go for every opportunity and then figure out the logistics afterwards."