Calling all SAHMs: would you swap roles with your other half? Do you think you could cope with going out to work? Do you think HE could cope with looking after the kids and running the household? Before my wife and I swapped roles, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britain’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. This is what she wrote when our roles were reversed…
This week’s theme: When Dad became Mum
I listened to the voice on the other end of the telephone and then I said: ‘Yes thank you, I’d love to.’
I turned to The Husband and said: ‘I’ve got some good news.’
‘About time!’ he replied.
Seven months ago, The Husband was made redundant. Since then he had tried, without success, to get another job. Now I had been offered some extra work.
But there was a catch.
I said: ‘I have to go into the office. So you’ll have to look after the kids and do all the things I normally do.’
‘No problem,’ he said. ‘How hard can it be?’
I wondered. It had been seven years since I last went out to work. In that time, I’d run the home and done all the childcare. The Husband’s responsibilities began and ended with taking out the bins.
I said: ‘I think you need lessons.’
We began right away. First, we tackled the laundry basket.
‘Easy,’ said The Husband. ‘Just grab a handful of clothes, shove them in the washing machine and switch it on.’
‘Er no,’ I said. ‘First you separate out the whites from the darks. Then check the labels to see if there are any clothes that might shrink in a hot wash….’
‘Yes, yes,’ said The Husband, sighing and rolling his eyes. ‘I’m not daft. Next.’
We moved on to the ironing. I showed how to alter the dial to reset the temperature and how to smooth the clothes so that ironing was quick and easy. Then I gave him a guided tour of the freezer. I told him what the kids would eat and what they wouldn’t – ‘don’t even try fish’ – and how to make one packet of mince stretch to six portions. After that we moved on to the shopping.
‘Make a list and stick to it,’ I said. ‘No impulse buys.’
He sighed again and folded his arms.
‘Honestly, love,’ he said. ‘I can cope. It’s not rocket science.’
I pressed on. I showed him which cleaning products to use where, how to empty the vacuum cleaner, how to prepare a Spaghetti Bolognese that the kids would actually eat, which brand of cornflakes to buy and how to tame the tangles in the nine-year-old’s hair.
‘If you leave it to her,’ I said, ‘she’ll look like a haystack on legs. And baby birds will start nesting in there.’
Finally, I opened my diary and began to go through The Husband’s jobs for the week.
I said: ‘On Monday, there’s the school run, then you’ll have the washing, the cleaning and some ironing to do. After that, take the duvet to the dry cleaners, pick up a prescription, do the shopping, unpack it, get to school in time to pick up the kids. Don’t forget one’s having a friend over for tea and another one’s got a dancing lesson that finishes at six so you can drop the friend off on your way to that pick up. Then, on Tuesday…’
I looked up at The Husband. His mouth was wide open like a gate in a gale.
‘What’s the matter?’ I said.
‘I can’t manage all that on my own,’ he said. ‘I thought I’d drop the kids at school and just potter about till home time.’
‘Potter about?’ I said. ‘Is that what you think I’ve been doing all these years?’
He didn’t reply. He didn’t have to. I could tell that’s exactly what he thought I’d been up to.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’ve shown you what to do. Now it’s up to you.’
On Monday, I pulled on my coat, kissed the family goodbye and set off for work. But before I’d even got to the bus stop, my mobile phone went beep.
Where is the hairbrush? Where are the kids’ PE bags? Where are their reading books? How much is dinner money? What time do they have to be in school? How do I drop off three kids at two different schools at the same time? And who is Gee-Gee?
I tapped out a reply: In the bathroom. On their pegs. In their bags. £9.50 a week. Now. Just get on with it. A toy deer.
I began to wonder if a role reversal was such a good idea. All morning I fretted about what was happening at home. I kept glancing at my phone and wondering if I should call in.
But then lunchtime arrived. And something happened. Over a sandwich and a coffee, I got chatting to my colleagues and FORGOT ALL ABOUT MY FAMILY.
Back at my desk, I got stuck into my work. It was interesting. My brain cranked up a gear. I talked to my colleagues. I had a laugh. I drank a cup of tea. For the first time in seven years it wasn’t stone cold.
It felt like a breath of fresh air after seven years of bringing up kids.
No one threw a tantrum. No one screamed: ‘You’ve ruined my life!’ No one tipped the contents of my bag on the floor and drew pictures of aliens on the wall in lipstick.
I hadn’t enjoyed myself as much in ages. Before I knew it, it was six o’clock. And then I remembered.
I fished out my phone from my bag. Six missed calls. Ten messages. I hurried home. The group that greeted me at the door was not a happy one.
‘Dad cancelled my playdate,’ said my six-year-old son.
‘And he was late picking me up,’ said my nine-year-old daughter.
‘And I had to wear wellies at school because we could only find one of my shoes,’ the six-year-old continued.
‘And we had fish dipped in egg for tea,’ said the nine-year-old. ‘Fish! Dipped in egg!’
The Husband was slumped at the kitchen table.
‘The vacuum cleaner’s broken,’ he said. ‘Your favourite dress shrunk in the wash and I forgot to buy any food for the kids. All there was in the fridge was some fish and an egg. They wouldn’t eat it. I had to give them jam sandwiches instead.’
He looked up at me. ‘Why didn’t you answer your phone?’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I was busy. You’ll get the hang of things.’
And he did. On Tuesday, his Spaghetti Bolognese was declared ‘Better than mum’s’. On Wednesday, he hosted the ‘best ever’ playdate with facepainting, popcorn and dvds. And on Thursday, he solved the riddle of How To Keep a Toddler From Running Amok While You Do The Supermarket Shopping.
‘I gave him my phone to play with,’ he said. ‘He was good as gold. I don’t know why you didn’t think of it yourself.’
In fact, by the end of the week The Husband had thought of lots of new ways to improve our lives from organising a housework rota to colour-coding the kids’ homework to getting them to eat – and love – fish.
I started to feel a bit redundant.
‘You can always swap back,’ said The Husband. ‘I’d love to go out to work and leave you here at home. To be honest, I’d be glad of the rest.’
I thought about it. And I shook my head.
I said: ‘You’re better at this than I am. I thought you wouldn’t cope but you have. You are a good mum.’
It was true. But what I didn’t tell him was that I had really enjoyed going out to work – the comradeships, the gossip, the brain workout. Did I want to trade all that for another seven years of cooking, cleaning and homework tantrums? Did I heck!