‘I felt jealous of my husband being a stay-at-home Dad’
Donna and Tony O’Driscoll moved from London to Cork three years ago for a better family life
Director of marketing and communications at UCC Donna O’Driscoll with her husband Tony and children Caitlín and Conor. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Donna O’Driscoll and her husband Tony moved from London to Cork city three years ago in pursuit of a life that was more conducive to raising young children.
Tony took on the role of stay-at-home Dad while Donna became the director of marketing and communications at University College Cork.
“Everything that a woman goes through, in having to give up those options and to stay at home full time and to make that commitment, that’s something that he has had to do and I’m the one that goes out to work,” says Donna.
Tony originally came from Co Cork, moving to London 27 years ago to set up his own business in beauty and sports massage, while Donna worked in marketing.
It was not until their children, Caitlín (6) and Conor (4), were born that Donna began to think a change might be good.
“London is a rat-race, you are on auto-pilot going in and out to work, nobody talks on the tube, you become invisible.
“I never thought I would leave London, it was in my DNA, but now I’m actually at a place in my life where I appreciate more the diversity and quality of life that a place like Cork has to offer.”
How did people here react to their domestic set-up – was it seen as unusual or perhaps more common than they had imagined?
“When we first came back there was definitely was a lot of ‘Oh isn’t that great, isn’t he brave, good on Tony,’ but then I think people just accepted it and didn’t really question it.
“Although he would probably be more unusual being a guy picking the kids up from school and doing the childcare, I think there is actually more of it than we thought, which is a pleasant surprise,” says Donna.
“For us, the decision for him to stay at home was definitely an economic decision. I had a great opportunity in a role that was really well paid and afforded us one parent being able to stay at home.
“A similar role in the UK would not have allowed us to do that.”
That said, Donna says she has at times struggled with the guilt of leaving her children with their father and going back to work.
“I found it very hard to go back to work after having my first child, Caitlín. There is the emotional element of it, you’re the mother, you’ve carried this child and you’ve bonded with them and then suddenly you have to drop all of that and go back to work.
“Also because Tony was going to be the main carer, I found that very very hard and I did get a little jealous I suppose.
“I don’t know whether some of that guilt comes from the stereotype of ‘well, you are the mother, you should be the one doing all of this’ or if it is your hormones or is it just that you feel that is what is expected of you.
“In the end it is about realising that this is a partnership and you have to acknowledge what strengths you bring to the table and work within that.”
Donna’s family history is punctuated with immigration. Her parents and grandparents moved from India to east London in 1962 as one of the first waves of Asian immigrants to arrive London.
They were mixed Indian and had been part of the Anglicised community established during British rule. This meant they were surprised to find out that they were not all that welcome in England at first.
“They thought they’d be welcomed with open arms because they are mixed Anglo-Indians, the British were in India, they saw that as being part of their community.
“But when they decided to move to England they actually found that well, they weren’t welcome there either.
“I remember them all saying when they first came over and were looking for somewhere to rent there would be signs saying ‘No dogs, no children, no blacks’. It was a hostile environment.
“I think they lost a bit of their own community in that, it was a bit of a culture shock for them.”
There wasn’t exactly an Indian aisle in Asda to fall back on either when they needed a comforting reminder of home.
“They couldn’t get any of the spices or curry powders which were such a huge cultural thing for them. Now, the UK has become this massive melting pot – curry is a national dish there now.
“When they came over they never thought they’d never come back or see their family again, they thought they would be cut off forever,” says Donna.
Just like all immigrants, they came to the UK in search of a better life and better opportunities – which did eventually manifest itself, says Donna, but not without a difficult transition.
“They had to fight really hard and they really did pay their way in terms of how much work they put into the UK economy.”
Donna says this drive to be accepted in England rubbed off on her and her siblings.
“When I grew up in east London, it was one of the poorest boroughs in the London network.
“One of the things that set us apart was ambition, which was fuelled by my parents.
“They instilled in us the need to work hard, to get a really good education. To them education was everything, they came from a country where they had to pay a huge price to be educated.”
Donna went on to get a BA (Hons) in Humanities, an MA in Marketing Communications and an MBA – an achievement no doubt fuelled by her parents’ ambition.
“Just like so many immigrants, they were very hard-working. They hadn’t earned the right to be there, they weren’t naturally born there, so they had to work hard to achieve things,” says Donna, who is hopeful now of passing on those teachings to her own children here in Ireland.
Sorcha Pollak is on leave