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A Day In Her Apron

Mrs. Doyle: Stop! Stop! Ladies! It's after seven o'clock. I think your husbands might be wondering where their breakfasts are!
Father Ted: Mrs. Doyle's right! Remember last year, Mrs. Dunn, when your husband tried to wash a cup, and burned the house down? And Mrs. Collins, when Mr. Collins tried to make the bed on his own... and lost a leg.

An Undead Horse Trope. Essentially for some reason the Housewife won't be available to do the housework, and the job falls to someone else (usually her hubby). Hilarity Ensues.

Usually an Aesop about how important and hard housework is and how men ought to be grateful for the work women do in the home.

There are several variations. A common one is for the husband to argue that he does the "real work" and that the wife just gets to be home all day. A challenge ensues to see if he can really handle it. Or maybe it's a career woman who thinks that "homemaking" isn't really work. Of course, they learn differently.

Other times the wife and husband switch jobs, to see whose is "easiest". In this variation the wife also soon finds that the husband's job isn't nearly as easy as she thought it'd be. A lesson is learned by both to appreciate more what the other does. (A common subversion of the dual lesson learned is for the wife to head home ready to admit she was wrong, only for the husband to declare his surrender the minute she walks in the door—she then swallows her apology and agrees that the husband has learned his lesson and she'll "let him off easy". Sometimes a Double Subversion follows.) Related to Feminine Women Can Cook.

Other times it's the opposite scenario: The moment every Genre Savvy husband dreads, his wife is leaving him. Well, not quite. Maybe she has a job, or maybe she's taking a much-needed vacation, but either way, that means he has to do.... (Scare Chord) the housework. Perhaps he will protest. Or maybe he promises his wife that he's glad to help her out and let her get a rest. His friends might make jokes about him being emasculated. But, eventually, he will accept his fate. After all, he wants to be a good husband. So, he kisses his wife goodbye, she leaves, and then he prepares himself for his duty.

Gilligan Cut to 10 minutes later. The floor is covered in garbage, there's stuff on the walls, the sinks/toilets/dishwasher/washing machine/all of the above are overflowing, and something is burning in the oven. In more outrageous shows, there might even be a wild animal in the house. The phone rings, it's the wife.

Wife: How are you, honey? Is everything okay?
Husband: Oh, everything's just fine! (the curtains catch fire in the background)

This might be followed by a desperate attempt by husband and children to fix everything before mother gets home.

Sometimes part of a Mother's Day episode.

A particularly interesting variation is when the homemaker is a background character (maybe a Team Mom) who we rarely see, and then she goes missing for some reason. It's almost like A Day in the Limelight—but caused by the character not being there like she usually is.

A subtrope of Men Can't Keep House and Vetinari Job Security. Contrast Just Fine Without You and House Husband. See also Doom It Yourself. Do not confuse with Gender Bender.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • It shows up in commercials too, and the incompetence is limited to whatever the ad is trying to sell, i.e. if they're selling washing machines or dishwashers, he's going to flood the house; if they're trying to sell vacuums, he's unable to operate a broom or walk through the living room without knocking over 18 potted plants; if they're trying to sell carpet cleaning he (or the children, or all of them) can't eat or drink without major spillage, usually grape juice or ketchup on a white carpet or couch; if they're selling paper towels, he's unable to pour a glass of milk without overfilling the glass and making a mess.
    • In advertising, this is used in marketing cleaning products to women. The message is that you can't trust him to do it right, so instead of even asking the rest of your family for help, buy this product and you can do it all yourself and have some spare time left over.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Every time Nagi is alone in the house in Hayate the Combat Butler, she always somehow ends up destroying it. In one instance, she lets a cow in. When she attempts to 'help out' so she has more life experience, she seems unable to do anything without destroying something. Hayate and Maria are forced to watch as their amount of clean-up work starts to mount.
    • When she attempted to make tea for herself, she not only teleported a UFO into the kitchen, she also caused it to crash.
  • Done in an episode of Pokémon, in which Brock is sick, leaving Ash and Misty to take care of all his usual chores, from cooking to polishing Onix.
  • Sometimes inverted when a maid character utterly fails with housework. Doubly ironic when her master is more adept than she is.
  • In Ranma ˝, there's a late story where homemaker Kasumi Tendo is sick; by the story's end, the kitchen has been absolutely devastated. However, in an unusual display for this trope, the guilty party is Kasumi's little sister, Akane Tendo, whose utter ineptitude at household chores is a well-established part of her tomboy characterization. Even Akane's boyfriend, uber-macho semi-Jerk Jock Ranma Saotome, is more adept in the kitchen than Akane is!
  • In the Kimagure Orange Road story "Manami's Big Adventure," Kyousuke volunteers to help take care of the Kasuga apartment while Manami takes the day off, and goads sister Kurumi and dad Takashi into helping him. This results in the expected devastation of their home, including a toxic "stew" made by Kurumi which all but destroys Kyousuke's voice with one bite. (In the manga you can see a bottle of Tabasco floating in the stewpot.) The family learns just how much they rely on Manami to take care of them.

    Comic Books 
  • The Archie Comics have done it a few times.
  • Back in The Eighties, Swedish comic Bamse had one story in which the titular character swapped jobs with his wife (who at the time was a stay-at-home housewife with three children) for a day. Naturally, he made a complete mess of things though some of it was because one of the kids unexpectedly got sick and needed extra care. However, at the end of the day, he suggested to his wife that they occasionally swap jobs so that she could get out of the house more — and in later stories his housekeeping skills had improved drastically.

    Film 
  • The movie Mr. Mom, staring Michael Keaton.
  • Robin Williams in the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire was clearly going for this trope, though disguising himself as the eponymous housekeeper he had to improve in a hurry.
  • Happened in The Santa Clause when the Christmas turkey at the beginning caught on fire. Repeatedly.

    Folk Tales 
  • There's a folktale from Scandinavia (and other areas) called something like "how the husband and wife traded jobs" or "how the husband minded the house" which is all about this.

    Literature 
  • The children's book Gone is Gone by Wanda Gag. A man tells his wife that he works harder than she does, so they switch places for a day. The man turns out to be completely inept at doing housework. The book is based on a Bohemian tale recited to the author when she was a child (and she was born in 1893).
  • In one of Lois Lowry's Anastasia books, the mother is away for a while. Every time she calls, the list of things her husband and daughter have to avoid telling her gets longer: they're eating off paper plates, the daughter turned her father's shirts purple in the wash by accident, the father's ex-girlfriend comes by for a visit and the daughter completely botches dinner...
  • In one Oz book, the Emerald City is conquered by an army of girls. As a result, men and women switch jobs. Apparently, the men cannot stand all the hard housework... and the women cannot stand their husbands' cooking.
  • In one James Herriot book, the housekeeper has to be gone for a few days for a family problem. Siegfried "solves" the problem by assigning housework and cooking to Tristan, who does OK with the cleaning, but can only cook one dish and manages multiple disasters with that dish over a few days, driving his brother to the pub for a meal.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Mork and Mindy episode "Mindy And Mork", although he wasn't her husband yet.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond
  • The King of Queens
  • Occurs in Father Ted, though not with a married couple. The priest's housekeeper Mrs. Doyle goes on a night out for the first time ever, so Ted and Dougal try to make tea and end up setting each other on fire.
  • Brainiac: Science Abuse has a segment "Appliance Abuse", where the Bumbling Dad left to look after the kids uses various household objects to do different household chores, like making salad with a paper shredder and an automatic pencil sharpener.
  • I Love Lucy used this trope in the famous "chocolate factory" episode. Ricky kept on making iron marks on the clothes, made the nylon stockings into cardboard, and caused a huge mess in the kitchen.
  • The Canadian series The Week The Women Went.
  • One episode of Lois and Clark had Clark's parents doing this. Martha spent all day reading the newspaper, playing checkers, watching TV, etc. Jonathan had to cook, clean, shop, and run around exhausting himself trying to finish the three-page list of chores his wife had. At the end of the episode, he asks her if he really just sits around doing nothing all day while Martha works so hard. She tells him yes... but only when they're visiting Clark, and she knows he works hard when he's at home. She just wanted to prove that men aren't the only ones who work.
  • Being a 1950s sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show did this a couple times. It also subverted the trope once; when Aunt Bee goes out of town for a few days, Andy and Opie do too good a job as housekeepers, making her feel useless... until they trash the kitchen so she can clean up after them and feel happy again.
  • Rumpole of the Bailey: Rumpole faces a more realistic form of this when Hilda takes "industrial action" in "The Summer of Discontent." The house doesn't get enough time to go to pot, but Rumpole sets fire to his steak.
  • Outnumbered - episode 4.2
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sally and Harry decided to switch "jobs", Harry's "job" essentially being "do-nothing layabout". Harry ended up being a better housekeeper than Sally (which doesn't say much) while Sally was driven crazy by having nothing to do. Eventually, she was begging for her old job back.
  • In Make Room for Daddy, Danny's wife Kathy is summoned for jury duty but feels she should get out of it because their maid is on vacation and there's no one to take care of the family. Danny makes light of housework and claims he can do her job easily, which pisses her off enough to let him attempt it while she disappears for several days. He makes such a total hash of housework and taking care of the kids (for school lunch, he gives one kid a can of tuna and the other kid the can opener) that he immediately hires housecleaners, a butler, and cooks to take care of them while Kathy is gone. When she returns, at first he pretends to have cooked and cleaned himself, and the kids smack their lips over the gourmet meals they'd had. Kathy is devastated at being useless and runs crying into their bedroom, requiring Danny to coax her into the kitchen and reveal his joke by having the hired help serve her.

    Music 
  • The country song by Lonestar, "Mr Mom"—sample lyrics:
    Well
    Pampers melt in a Maytag dryer
    Crayons go up one drawer higher
    Rewind Barney for the fifteenth time
    Breakfast six, naps at nine
    There's bubble gum in the baby's hair
    Sweet potatoes in my lazy chair
    Been crazy all day long and it's only Monday
    Mr. Mom
    Football, soccer and ballet
    Squeeze in Scouts and PTA
    And there's that shopping list she left
    That's seven pages long
    How much smoke can one stove make
    The kids won't eat my charcoal cake
    It's more than any maid can take
    Being Mr. Mom
  • The folk song "The Old Man" is basically this story set to music.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes subverted it in that Dad was actually competent, though his diet does consist mostly of waffles.
  • Done a bunch of times in FoxTrot whenever the kids and dad are left to fend for themselves: the kitchen will inevitably be a disaster area, dinner will be inedible, and chaos will reign supreme. (Though the rest of the time, the mother's cooking is treated as pretty inedible too.). Sometimes, it also grows to be as bad as the first level of the house ending up flooded as a result of Roger not knowing how to operate the Dishwasher properly. In the same arc where he flooded the kitchen, its hinted that Andy does not trust Roger in maintaining the house, and also supplied her children with fire emergency exit maps of the house while Roger's taking care of it.
  • The newspaper comic strip Andy Capp once featured the normally shiftless and lazy Andy agree (after some nagging) to take care of the dishes on his wife's behalf, while she put her feet up. Once he begins (and she's not watching), he carefully and deliberately drops a plate, and then bemoans its fate, cursing his own ineptitude. His wife tsks, hustles him out of the kitchen and sets about cleaning up. As he settles back into the sofa, he looks to the Fourth Wall and smirks. "Life's easy, if you show yer incompetent." A truly sublime Subversion.

    Other 
  • There's an old joke about how a man goes to God complaining that his wife got the better job. So God lets him switch bodies with his wife, telling him he's got a week to see what it's like. By the end of the week he's burnt out and ready to switch back, but God has some bad news: he's pregnant!

    Webcomics 
  • Brad from Sorcery 101 managed to wreck the kitchen when he cooked while his wife was away despite her warning not to.
  • Batman had to take care of the Manor and his sons while his butler is sick in Mr. Bat-Mom in Batman and Sons.

    Western Animation 
  • Numerous occurrences on The Simpsons.
    • In one episode, Marge is spending too much time at the casino, and Homer decides he's going to make dinner for the family. He puts cloves and Tom Collins mix into a frozen pie shell, digs in and takes a bite, and says very calmly:
      Homer: Kids... let's go find your mother.
  • Rugrats inverted it for Angelica's parents.
  • Played with in King of the Hill, where Peggy likes to think that no one can top her at maintaining a home, but she grows quite jealous of her son's homemaking skills when takes Home Ec.
  • The Goofy cartoon Father's Day Off. By the time Mrs. Goof comes home, the house is a shambles, the bathtub is overflowing, the iron has burned through the floor, firemen are stomping through the halls, and the cops have come to investigate a murder (Goofy left the phone unhung and the operator overheard a radio show).
    • It also has what might be the dirtiest joke ever in a Disney cartoon, and says something about Mrs. Goofy's day. The doorbell rings and it's the milkman and when Goofy answers the door the milkman leans in with his eyes closed and plants a big kiss on Goofy's mouth. After the milkman leaves, unaware of who he kissed, Goofy looks to the audience and says, "Gee, what a friendly cuss!"
    • Goof Troop did this, too. This time, it was neighbours Peg and Pete involved; Pete was jealous of Goofy's expertise in, yes, homemaking. (What was never adequately explained was why he'd be good at it—single fatherhood, anyone?)
  • There's a Flintstones episode which could be the template of this troupe. Following a heated discussion about who works harder, Wilma takes over Fred's job at the quarry for one day- of course she's so inept (ie; continuously dumping the rocks in the wrong place, including on the boss) that she's told to go home. Meanwhile, Fred's frantic attempts to do a very long list of household chores soon reduces the place to a shambles. At the day's end, the couple declare they never want to make that switch again.
  • This happens in Family Guy when Lois goes to jail. There's pizza boxes and beer cans all over the floor, and Stewie's diaper is so full, he's dragging it around with him everywhere.
  • The Mother's Day episode of Dexter's Laboratory.
  • Johnny and Hugh Test (a stay at home dad) each believe the other has it easy. Susan and Mary switch their brains for a day. Cue the school torment for Hugh, and the disgust (and explosions) for Johnny. At the end, Lila and Susan have the same argument. Cut to Lila-as-Susan running from Bling Bling Boy, and Susan-as-Lila managing to explode cupcakes. Mary and Dukey were the only one with the sense not to try it.
  • The Dudley Do-Right short "Trading Places" has Dudley and Nell switching places. Dudley did all the housework while Nell became a more competent Mountie than Dudley ever was.


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