parent opinion

My husband quit his job. Now he understands why our house is messy.

"You empty the dishwasher every day?" he asks me skeptically. "Why are there so many dishes?"

My husband had been unemployed by choice for four days when this question and several similar ones started coming up. Until this point, I was the work-from-home default parent while he went into an office every day. 

He left during breakfast and came home before dinner. In January, my husband left his job to take some time off and find a new one, a good move for both him and our family. 

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I was excited to have him around more. I’m overwhelmed most days with child drop offs, pick-ups, lunch making, dinner making, laundry, tidying and oh, my full-time job and any semblance of self care I’m brave enough to attempt. 

Support around the house was welcome. In addition, the idea of an audience to my daily juggle and grind was appealing. I braced myself for the appreciation and admiration I was sure was coming. 

Now before I go too far down the gender role rabbit hole, I should make clear that my husband and I have a decent partnership when it comes to household tasks and looking after our two children. He manages a lot of "capital" projects – car stuff, mortgage payments, investments, landscaping, home renovations. He also cooks beautiful meals when we’re having friends for dinner. 


He doesn’t call it 'babysitting' when he looks after his own children which he does frequently on evenings and weekends. He’s a loving and engaged father. He manages the big things, generally the tasks with no hard deadlines or mind numbing repetition. I manage the day-to-day running of the household and the kids, their activities, laundry, groceries, chauffeuring... all the things that happen at specific times, on repeat. 

When he asks about the dishwasher, I explain that when four people eat two or three meals per day, that’s up to 12 plates and roughly 15 cups, a wack-load of cutlery, pots, pans and yes, the dishwasher goes on every night. I share that I usually empty it before anyone else is awake in the morning. He’s bewildered. Dishwasher. Every. Day. He retreats, eyes wide. 

Next he’s questioning the laundry wondering how there’s a full basket when he saw me do a load just a few days ago. I lay it out again, four people, one or two outfits a day between sports and spills and yup, it’s a full basket more than once a week. His eyes glaze over as I explain this happens every week. I usually fold laundry accompanied by my favourite reality TV (#scandoval amirite?) once everyone else is in bed. 

My unemployed husband is no slack. Without the obligations of an office job he kicks into high gear, domestically. He walks our oldest to school and drives our youngest to daycare multiple times a week. He shares the evening lunch making, he gets the kids dressed in the morning and puts their cereal bowls in the dishwasher (I’m still emptying it.) 


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He makes a list of everything he wants to achieve during this employment hiatus. He figures he should be able to secure new and fulfilling employment, clean out the garage, paint the stairs, renovate the bathroom, workout regularly, make daily sourdough and also practise some self-care to counter some of the burnout he’d been facing at work.


Two weeks into his house husband experience, he’s fallen behind on his to-do list. He says he feels like he’s just finished dropping the kids off and tidying the kitchen before it’s time to get them again! He starts insisting they wear their clothes more than once if they’re not that dirty as he can’t keep up with the laundry. I see him flustered, and I help. I pick the kids up from school. I make dinner. I tidy. after all, this juggle is nothing new to me. I don’t like to see him overwhelmed. 

During this time, I’m the sole working parent putting in a minimum of 35 hours a week at the laptop. I’m still managing at least 50 per cent of the child related logistics and 90 per cent of child and household related project management. 

I’m patiently waiting, every day, to hear the words, "I don’t know how you do it babe, you’re amazing."

I don’t put the pressure on. The reason he left his job was because my husband was stressed and burnt out from the pressures of the daily grind. The last thing I want is to perpetuate burnout from domestic overload. I encourage him to relax, work out, see friends and he does, periodically. 

He takes our son to the hardware store and our daughter bike riding. He fits in a few jogs, catches up on sports highlights and scrolls aspirational real estate listings. And while he does, the house stays messy. 

One day while out with a client I get a call from the school that no one has picked our son up. His dad has forgotten. It was no drama the teacher says, our year one had gone back to the teacher and done the right thing. And sure, Dad was only 15 minutes late, no big deal! He’d been working in the garage and lost track of time. Meanwhile, my heart is in my throat. I have never forgotten a pickup, I don’t think I’ve ever even been late. But it’s not a competition, this I know. And our son was fine, my husband chalked it up to a good learning experience.


Several times I throw caution to the wind and ask at 4.35pm, "What’s for dinner?" This never lands well in any household, no matter what time of day. But something about the hours between 3pm and 5pm makes it a riskier question. When met with, "I don’t know," I’m cool about it. I’ve been there and to be fair, I don’t know either. We throw pasta together, cut veggies on the side because we’re good parents. 

I say nothing about how he’s been home all day and could have made something more nutritious. I don’t mention the dirty laundry spilling out into the hallway. I pretend not to see the toast crust from yesterday’s breakfast going hard under the kitchen table. I list in my head all the things I do not say. And honestly, the mess doesn’t really bother me as the four of us chat away and eat our spaghetti. 

Two weeks ago, my husband accepted a new job. A fresh start with a company he’s really excited about. He begins talking about what he’ll wear his first day, wondering if his new team will do Friday lunches at the pub. There’s no conversation about the tasks he’s assumed over the last two months. No mention that picking both kids up at different times at different locations still has to be done, dinner will still be on the table every night at the same time. The dishwasher still needs to be loaded. 


It’s now been a week since he returned to an office job, leaving the house in the morning as the dishwasher’s being emptied and the kids are rolling out of bed. My husband is back to being the one who asks, "What’s for dinner?" But I notice now when I reply with the shrug emoji, his response is understanding. He gets it now, he’s been here. 

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The house is still messy. Messier than those months we were a household with only one working parent. And eventually he did mention it. My husband acknowledged the juggle of the work-from-home parent. Not in the words I might have chosen, but I saw him watch me pivot from a client meeting to throwing a load in the dryer, finishing off a work assignment and then heading out the door to pick our son up from school. 

Watching him watching me, I knew his house-husband stint was never sustainable, he would’ve gotten bored with the monotony and lack of tangible results. But it was nice to have him walk a mile in my shoes - one slipper and one stiletto, balancing a laundry basket, a laptop, and a Bluey lunch bag. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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