I've been made redundant and my wife has just found a new job. We really need her to work so we can keep the house. So the idea is that she goes to work and I look after the children. But I am no good with kids. I love them, but I couldn't look after them like she does. They're eight, six and five. She says just give it a go, but I'm frightened that I'll do something by mistake and there'll be an accident. I know some men like being househusbands, but I've been brought up to be the breadwinner. Do you think I can do it? Yours sincerely, Eric
Virginia says... Of course you're worried! Who wouldn't be? I only had to look after my two grandchildren for a week, a couple of years ago, and that was full-on, 24 hours a day. But despite all my misgivings, I did it. Your wife manages to do it. Millions of people around the world manage it – men and women. And you, too, will manage it, I promise you.
Of course the whole idea is daunting. It is not just the responsibility – and looking after young children is a responsible job. It's also an entirely new career. If a friend said that from now on, having been, say, an artist all his life, he was suddenly obliged to run a huge building company, he'd be having kittens, wouldn't he – with no experience, and, in his view, completely emotionally unsuited to the job. But somehow, with help, he'd stagger through. And who knows, at the end of the day he might find he was pretty good at it.
I think you'd both be mad to start, one day, to swap roles just like that. If it's possible you should have a couple of weeks in which you stay at home and shadow your wife, as though doing work experience. See exactly how she organises her time, and make copious notes about what needs to be done and when on what days. Have a list of emergency numbers pinned up
Later, as the months go by, you can devise your own way of doing things, but to start with, it's easier to follow someone else's pattern. It'll be good for the children, too, to know that the rules they've always learned to respect still apply, so don't start off by being lenient. Indeed, my view is that you should always start off far sterner than you mean to go on. It's easy to relax the rules later; much more difficult to tighten then.
Then for the first week I'd enlist some help. As someone who likes being the breadwinner, I shouldn't think you're very keen on this idea, but rope in your mother-in-law or even a fellow dad just a few days a week for the first month, so you don't get too fraught. In a few weeks you'll be doing the job as if you've been doing it all your life.
You've been so busy breadwinning, you don't really know how good you are at this new job, or what hidden enjoyments you might discover – and there will be many. A lot of women are so busy complaining about their lot that they fail to mention the sheer fun and fulfilment of looking after small children. Fun and fulfilment that, I hope, you will soon come to cherish and enjoy yourself.
See it as a job
I, too, worried before giving birth to my first child that I wouldn't be able to look after him correctly. However, after the most important thing of all – love and hugs – make lists! Sort out a menu and shopping list, timetables for homework and school kit, and a housekeeping routine. Schedule some time out for you while they're at school. If you look upon it as a job, it will be much more manageable. And you'll have the gift of being there for your children – what a blessing!
Janet Long By email
You'll learn fast
Speaking from experience (I went from full-time work to at-home mum) you will soon work out your own way of doing things, what you can tolerate, and how to care for your children. The difficulty is fitting in the housework, and some "me" time. Please remember how you used to feel when you returned from work, tired, and don't just hand over to your wife and expect her to do everything that is left at the end of the day. Being a stay-at-home parent is not a 9-5 job!
Liz White By email
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, I am friends with a couple and I get on with each of them very well individually. The problem is that they are always bickering. I know it doesn't really mean anything, but I feel most uncomfortable when they do it. They've been married for more than ten years, and it seems to be a way of life for them, but I hate the way he puts her down, and her spiteful responses. I don't know where to look, and I don't like to take sides. Should I say something? I'm an old friend of theirs and see them often. Yours sincerely, Sally
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