My husband is giving up work - and worryingly the children are thrilled

Ellen's husband and son

Ellen's husband and son - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

My husband used to feed our daughter crisps for breakfast. He did this every day for six weeks.

No, this was not some kind of experiment in forced childhood obesity.

Nor were we in the dark depths of poverty and unable to afford a loaf of bread.

His explanation, when I discovered the daily menu of Wotsits and Walkers, was: “I asked her what she wanted and she said ‘crisps’.”


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At the time we had decided to share childcare of our firstborn so I could return to work.

I worked an early shift, leaving the house at 4am and returning for lunch. He worked a night shift, starting at 2pm and finishing at midnight.

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We only saw each other at hand over time. But our rationale was that our teeny, tiny baby needed us more than we needed each other.

So breakfast was his remit. Lunch and supper were mine.

My husband would be the first to admit that he is not a natural caregiver.

“Oh I adore my children,” he often says. “I would do absolutely anything for them.”

This – I discovered - just does not extend to him learning how to boil an egg.

Or, come to think of it, learning how to dress them appropriately for the weather.

“I thought they were trousers,” he said when I found my two-year-old daughter wearing nothing but a pair of sparkly party tights in the snow.

“Isn’t this a top?” he asked pulling up a skirt round her tummy like a boob tube.

You would think that he would find dressing a boy (our second born) easier.

After all, he manages to coordinate his own outfits.

But many times I have seen them going out for a walk with our son wearing superhero pants his father thought were shorts.

“I thought it was a new fashion I wasn’t aware of,” he said, watching our son splashing in muddy puddles in nothing but Wellington boots and Y-fronts.

These are sweet little anecdotes, aren’t they? Funny things to tell the grandkids when we are older.

“Wasn’t grandpa an eccentric old fellow? What a joker! How lucky that granny gave up work to look after your parents properly,” we will say.

Except we won’t.

Because although I did take over childcare after Quavergate, and for the last three years our children have been fed nourishing home-cooked meals and never ventured out wearing just their undergarments, roles are about to be reversed once again.

The husband, who is in discussions to get his book published, has decided to quit his job and work from home, taking on more of the household chores so I can concentrate on my growing PR and copywriting business.

“It will be so great,” he told me. “I can work around the school run, I can help with the cooking, cleaning and washing. I can even walk and feed the dog.”

I raised an eyebrow. So did the dog.

Last time he was in charge of the animal, he fed him dog food suitable for a beast ten times his size (he is a toy poodle) resulting in such severe constipation I had to massage his back passage for 20 minutes wearing a pair of marigolds.

My husband thought this hilarious.

“Ok, ok,” he conceded when I reminded him. “Maybe I will leave the pooch to you. But the kids will like having me around more.”

He is right. They are delighted at the prospect.

The soft-touch. The one they can wrap round their little finger. The playmate, the clown. The chap who still sneaks them biscuits after they have brushed their teeth.

“Can you take us to swimming lessons?” my daughter asked.

“Yes,” my husband replied.

“As long as mummy is on hand to wash your hair afterwards,” he added.

“And can we still have friends to play on Friday night after school?” asked my son.

“I can’t see why not,” my husband said, pleased with himself. “As long as mummy will help me cook tea.”

“I don’t care if you can’t cook,” my daughter said, throwing her arms around his waist.

And she doesn’t.

She doesn’t care if he once tried to cook dried pasta in the oven. Or that he manages to burn baked beans. Or that he once blew up the microwave by leaving a spoon in the pot of custard.

She doesn’t mind that he doesn’t know his Horrid Henry from his Ben 10 and his Frozen from his Tangled either.

She doesn’t care that he can’t colour coordinate her clothes. That he doesn’t understand the importance of conditioner. That he can’t plait hair.

After all, mummy does all those things perfectly well.

What she cares about is having more time with him. Something she has been lacking with his mammoth commute into London every day.

Research into parenting by the Equal Opportunities Commission said Britain’s long hours culture prevented men from being more involved in childcare.

The study found almost two out of five fathers worked more than 48 hours a week and one in eight worked at least 60 hours.

This leaves little – or no – time for bonding with babies.

Now of course this can also be true for mothers who work.

It can be immensely challenging juggling family and work life and most women I know who do it are burdened with guilt that they are not giving 100% to either task.

My working day is based around school hours – but I return to my computer after the bedtime story.

I make it work. I have to. But I don’t find it easy.

I pointed this out to my husband.

“No office banter, no after-work drinks, no long lunch meetings, no expense accounts, no business trips,” I said.

“I think I will cope,” he said, smiling.

And I’m sure he will.

Not with the cooking. Not with the cleaning. And not with washing the clothes.

But with his decision.

He will be as driven and determined in his work as he has always been but with time to spare for me and the kids.

“It’s all about balance, isn’t it?” he said, yesterday morning, allowing the children to dip their fingers into a jar of Nutella.

“It is,” I agreed. “But that is something you still haven’t learnt to apply to your choice of breakfast fayre.”

@EllenWiddupRead more from Ellen Widdup here

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