Who works hardest - a full-time worker or a full-time mother? One couple swaps roles to find out
Steve Duncan is a sales operations director at Channel 5. His wife, Dawn, looks after their three sons Ross, eight, Matthew, four, and Callum, 16 months. For three days they exchanged lives and kept diaries describing how they coped.


DAWN: I'm really looking forward to getting away from the children for more than five minutes. They're very noisy. I'm going to enjoy going for lunches, being in the company of adults and dressing smartly. At home I inevitably end up with baby-sick on my shoulder. Once Callum is a little bit older, I'll go back to work - I used to be a flight attendant.

I wonder how Steve will cope. Usually he does nothing round the house. The last time he did the dishes was six months ago.

STEVE: I'm planning to be more organised than Dawn - I'm convinced she does the housework when I'm about to walk through the door. Well, that's what the boys tell me anyway. I've promised I'll have a hot meal waiting and that the kids will be on their best behaviour. But if there's been an accident in the toilet it'll have to wait for her.


DAWN: Ross wished me luck when I got up at 6.30, which was sweet, but went straight back to his PlayStation. I enjoyed the hour-long train journey - Steve always complains about it.

Gilly, Steve's right-hand woman, greeted me and took me to my first job - a scheduling meeting. Everyone was speaking very quietly. I thought I must have gone deaf from three boys shouting at me all the time, but Gilly said she couldn't hear properly either.

The office felt very calm. There were no hands tugging at my skirt, nobody demanding things. At first I was nervous but everyone was friendly. I didn't do much of Steve's work, just answered a few phone calls.

Gilly and I went out to a restaurant for lunch and in the afternoon Steve phoned. Callum was trying to climb the stairs while Steve was in the kitchen, so I said, "Put him in the playpen." He hadn't thought of that.

It's a relief not to have to give the boys my undivided attention but I have missed them. When I spoke to Steve he said, "If you've been out for lunch today, you won't need any dinner." Charming.

STEVE: This morning was a nightmare. I'd laid out clothes for the kids the night before but I didn't know how to use our new buggy. When we eventually got to the nursery, I couldn't find Matthew's plimsolls. I thought I saw another boy putting them on, so I got one of the nursery nurses to ask all the kids to take off their shoes. Then another helper said, "Did you think to look in Matthew's bag?" I felt really stupid.

After Ross had gone to school, I put a wash on, cleared all the breakfast dishes away, then ran around with the carpet sweeper. I admit I did the minimum, but housework really is quite dull, isn't it?

I picked up Matthew at 11.30 and went swimming, then to Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is normally reserved for treats. I couldn't face making lunch on top of everything else. After that, Matthew slept all afternoon. It's up to Dawn to cope with him when she gets home - I'm going out to circuit training at half seven, and no one's going to stop me.

Matthew got his hands on a bag of gummy sweets and I had to stop Callum from stuffing his face with them - he'd have choked. I was staring at him waiting to see if his face would go purple. I had to do a major tidy up before Dawn came back.

By the end, I felt absolutely drained. It's a different sensation to work. You end up with a sore head, sore shoulders, stressed out. The boys always want something. There's never any respite.


DAWN: It was quite peaceful when I got home last night and downstairs was fairly tidy. Upstairs, though, looked like a bomb had hit it. Steve shot straight off to go to his circuit training - I don't know how he had the energy.

It was different at the office today - there wasn't much talking because they had tight deadlines. At lunch time, Gilly and I grabbed a sandwich. It's a different kind of hard work to looking after three boys. Travelling can be exhausting, and when you're at work you've got to give 100 per cent - it's a real eye-opener. But I am still keen to go back to work, part-time, when Callum's ready to go to nursery.

STEVE: Matthew threw a wobbler as we were leaving for school and I ended up slapping him on the back of the legs - he had three warnings. Then he started crying for his mummy, but a packet of crisps cheered him up. Later I took him and Callum to Tesco's for two things: baby milk and nappies. I came back with the milk, forgot the nappies, and managed to spend pounds 80. Good work, huh?

I thought I'd make an effort and cook Dawn a meal. I bought prawn toasts, salmon and chicken in wine sauce for dinner, but I forgot the rice so I'll have to cook some potatoes or something.

In the afternoon we all went to the park. Ross threw his ball into the road when a car was coming so he got a smack too. We all got covered in mud at the park and tramped it into the carpet at home. I'm going to blame it on the boys.


DAWN: I phoned Steve last night to say I was going to be a bit late and he had a strop about the dinner getting burnt. I have to say that he'd exceeded all expectations. It wasn't 100 per cent tidy, but he had a lovely meal waiting. I wondered if it had come from M&S and he did slip up later when he said something about it being low-fat, but he made a real effort. He actually apologised for being grumpy on the phone. It was a complete role reversal.

Today passed very quickly. I've been invited to go for a drink but I better not risk Steve being upset again. I'm a bit soft like that.

STEVE: Callum and I went to the tea-room in John Lewis. We shared a Danish pastry and he sat in his high chair being a really good boy. I chickened out of cooking and ended up going to the Chinese takeaway instead. Matthew and I loved it, and Callum had chicken chow mein for the first time.

I've really enjoyed today, it's been nice and calm. Except at one point when I was on the phone and Matthew shouted from the downstairs toilet, "Dad, come and wipe my bottom!" I said, "Matthew, hold on a minute," but he shouted, "I need my bottom wiped - now!" The solicitor who I was calling said "Do you want me to hold on here for a minute?"

Because I didn't have loads of other things to do I gave the kids a lot of attention. If I was going to continue this long-term, I'd mix quiet days with activity days. You're not in control of your day; it's dictated by which kid is having a tantrum at any particular time.


DAWN: It feels like I was never away. My sister told me she called Steve on Friday and he was stressed out. Maybe she caught him at a bad moment. I think he was glad to get back to work. I'm pleased I did it, though, and I'm looking forward to going back to work

STEVE: Apart from the 125 e-mails, it's good to be back in the office, to manage my own time. A few days were enough - any more and I would probably have cracked up. Dawn has a full-time job with the boys and the house, but if her days were a bit more structured she'd have more time to herself. Although the kids can foil your good intentions. One thing I discovered is how to make the house look tidy in half an hour - in a superficial way. The boys did help me, although I had to threaten them with not being allowed to play with their toys downstairs ever again.

A longer version of this article appears in the September edition of `Red'.