When I proposed to Caroline back in 2000, she was a trainee solicitor and I was a freelance journalist. In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself enjoying several years as a DINK — Double Income No Kids. Imagine my horror, then, when she got pregnant as soon as she qualified and showed no intention of returning to work. Three years later, I had become a SITCOM — Single Income Two Kids Oppressive Mortgage. So much for my dreams of eventually retiring as a GLAM — Greying Leisured Affluent Married.
For years, I’ve been complaining about this in a half-serious, half-jokey way, by which I mean I needle Caroline about it until she loses her rag, at which point I say: ‘Calm down! I was only joking.’ To which she responds: ‘If it’s a joke, why do you bring it up every bloody day?’
One of my chief gripes is that I do more of the domestic chores than I would if she had a paid job because the moment I return from work she signs off for the day and expects me to take over. Her reasoning is that she’s put in her shift so now it’s my turn. When I point out that I’ve been working all day too, she hoots with derision: ‘Sitting around all morning reading the papers, then going out for a long boozy lunch and occasionally rattling off 500 words about why you prefer brunettes to blondes is not working.’ My riposte is that she’s not exactly breaking her back from nine-to-five either. Yes, she does the morning run at 8.30 a.m. and picks up our youngest from school at 3.30 p.m., but in between she lives the life of Riley, playing tennis, hanging out with her girlfriends, and occasionally heading to Westfield for a spot of shopping.
I’ve always thought that if she was a working mum she would have a completely different attitude. We could afford to employ a nanny who would take the kids to school and make them their tea, and when Caroline returned from work she’d be so racked with guilt about not seeing enough of the little buggers that she’d be desperate to give them their baths, read them their bedtime stories, etc. Meanwhile, yours truly could change into his stretchy trousers, uncork a bottle of wine and watch the football.
Well, Caroline has finally got a job and I’m afraid it’s a case of be careful what you wish for. It doesn’t help that this wasn’t her choice. Rather, it’s because we need the money. I lost five positions at the beginning of the year, including my full-time job running a charity, after some offence archaeologists dug up a handful of sophomoric tweets I’d posted years ago. Caroline is now out of the house during the day and I’m stuck at home, having returned to freelance journalism. This means she expects me to do precisely what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working — and I cannot really object, given that it’s my fault we’ve found ourselves in this predicament.
Turns out the hours between 8.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. are not as leisurely as I’d imagined. Apart from the tidying, hoovering and washing — who knew there was so much washing? — there are the incessant phone calls from the children’s schools. Ten-year-old Charlie has forgotten his PE shorts and if I don’t drop them off at lunchtime he will have to do it in his pants. Eleven-year-old Freddie left his homework on the kitchen table and will be given a detention if he doesn’t hand it in. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Ludo has gone to school in his games kit and forgotten to take his uniform. It’s unending. I put on a tracksuit and a pair of trainers every morning because I know that at some point during the day I’m going to have to run to one of the kids’ schools.
And don’t imagine I can clock off when Caroline gets back from work. Any word of complaint is met with the same half-ironic tirade I used to subject her to. ‘I can’t help feeling I’m worse off than my friends with husbands who actually work for a living,’ she says. ‘When their partners get home in the evening, they’re keen to spend some time with the kids. But now that you’re a house-husband, you think you’re entitled to hand over to me at 5 p.m.’ When I give her a wounded look, she immediately shoots back with: ‘Calm down! I’m only joking.’
The solution is to earn enough money so Caroline no longer has to go out to work and we can return to what I now realise was a golden era. But that’s not easy in the gig economy, particularly at the advanced age of 55. I’ve become a SADDO — and that’s not an acronym.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.