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A Day in Her Apron

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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).

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. Related to Feminine Women Can Cook.

Other times it's the opposite scenario: The moment every 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, Dads Can't Cook, and Vetinari Job Security. Contrast Just Fine Without You and House Husband. See also Doom It Yourself. Do not confuse with Gender Bender.


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  • 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.
    • This was subverted in a series of adverts for Flash cleaning products during The '90s, where the husband would show surprising competence in cleaning the house by using Flash instead of the generic Brand X stuff the wife normally used.

    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.
  • Pokémon: The Series: In Sick Daze in which Brock is sick, forces Ash and Misty to take care of all his usual chores, from cooking to polishing Onix.
    • Happens again in Doc Brock! with Ash and Dawn (although this time Brock isn't sick, he left on an errand). They fared a little better, but when Pachirisu gets sick, they had to send for Staravia (and Gliscor) to fetch Brock faster.
  • 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.
  • It happens in Ai Yori Aoshi, when Aoi falls sick and the rest of the cast takes over her tenant duties. It's much harder than she makes it look.

    Comic Books 
  • Back in The '80s, 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.

  • The movie Mr. Mom, staring Michael Keaton, is about a regular businessman who grapples with becoming a house husband when he loses his job and his wife returns to her old job.
  • Robin Williams in the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire was clearly going for this trope, though disguising himself as the eponymous housekeeper he has to improve in a hurry.
  • Incredibles 2: Mr. Incredible agrees to take care of the household in order to allow Elastigirl to work with the Deavors to try and restore Superhero rights. At first, he has some rocky moments attending to everything but appears to be getting things under control, then Jack-Jack demonstrates he has powers causing Bob to be completely overwhelmed and leading to a downward spiral of not getting enough sleep and making poor decisions to try and help Violet's dating problems and Dash's math homework. All while refusing to call Elastigirl for help.
  • In Salt of the Earth Juan is compelled to do this when 1) he and all the other miners go on strike, and 2) a Taft-Hartley injunction forces the union to send all the miners' wives, including Juan's wife Esperanza, to man the picket line. Juan hates it, and a rift develops between him and Esmeralda.
  • In the italian movie Dieci Giorni Senza Mamma the stock plot is played so straight that when the trailer was released people were fuming about how outdated, clichè and sexist the plot was. That didn't stop the movie from being a huge hit and getting a sequel which, thankfully, was centered on a very different conflict.
  • Happened in The Santa Clause when the Christmas turkey at the beginning catches on fire. Repeatedly.
  • Averted in Employee of the Month (2006) When Iqbal loses his job because of Zack's hijinks, his wife happens to get a big promotion at her own job, allowing him to become a stay-at-home daddy for their young children. From what we see, he seems to adore it despite being a lot of work.
  • Happens at the North Pole when the title character of Mrs. Santa Claus is gone for a few days. In a variant, it's not Santa Claus who has the day in her apron - it's Arvo, the head elf, who has to do a number of the lady's tasks for her. Most particularly, he has to take over making hot cocoa for the boss, who has been utterly oblivious to his wife's absence to this point; but one sip of Arvo's cocoa and Santa immediately knows that she did not make it.

    Folk Tales 
  • The Husband Who Minded the House: There's a folktale from Scandinavia (and other areas), also called "How the Husband and Wife Traded Jobs" or "How the Husband Minded the House", which is all about this trope. The text of one. Rarely does the story focus, or even comment on, what went on with the wife while she did the husband's job, whether it's herding livestock or caring for the fields; the story's focus is usually on the husband and how spectacularly he screws up, often just by not thinking through logical consequences.

  • 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 Krupnik books, the mother is away for a while. Every time she calls, the list of things her husband, daughter, and son 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 son has chicken pox, the father's ex-girlfriend comes by for a visit and the daughter completely botches dinner...
  • In The Marvelous Land of Oz, 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 cleans decently enough, 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.
  • Sleeping Beauties: As early as day one of the Aurora epidemic, Linny Mars, dispatcher at Dooling's sheriff's department, keeps getting countless emergency calls from men who have no clue how to take care of their male children now that their wives have gone to sleep. One even asks her if FEMA is setting up a facility to take care of the children.
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 has a variation with children spending a night in their mother's figurative apron. After Ramona and Beezus refuse to eat cow's tongue, their parents make them cook the next night's meal to teach them to appreciate their mother's hard work in the kitchen. The cooking process is one panic after another, with lots of improvisation with unconventional ingredients, and the kitchen is a mess in the end, but the dinner turns out surprisingly well.

    Live Action TV 
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: In one episode, Ray becomes resentful that Debra makes all the decisions around the house, and decides he wants to be more involved in running the household. Debra grudgingly agrees, and Ray goes grocery shopping without her help, buying "natural" bug spray for the ants in the kitchen (so they can cancel the exterminator) and tissues in a brand and color nobody likes. Irritated by the criticism he receives, Ray kicks the family out and tries to make dinner; naturally, this leads to the kitchen counter and curtains catching fire, thanks to the bug spray and tissues. When Ray tries to put out the fire with a garden hose, it's too short to reach into the kitchen, and sprays water all over the living room. Debra appears and calmly saves the day with a fire extinguisher, and the episode ends with her looking through a book of samples for new kitchen curtains — and giving Ray a stony gaze when he moves to make a suggestion.
  • The King of Queens: without Carrie, Doug degenerates into a complete slob and their house becomes a pigsty.
  • 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 the "job switching" version of 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.
  • One episode of Lois & 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 of 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.
  • 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 cleaners, 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.
  • Raising Hope contains an unusual variation, since both Burt and Virginia do work outside the home. Burt runs a lawn-and-pool-care business, and Virginia works for a maid service. Burt tells Virginia that her work isn't difficult because she doesn't have to make executive decisions or do corporate taxes like he does. This angers Virginia, so she challenges him to be "just an employee" (which he accepts when Barney offers to help with his taxes). In return, she decides to start a small business of her own to prove that she can run a business.
  • This is part of the conceit of Who's the Boss?. Angela is the high-powered advertising executive and not very good at housekeeping. Tony, on the other hand, is a retired baseball player and single father who is brilliant at cooking, cleaning, and similar tasks. They're not a married couple - he's her live-in housekeeper - but on those occasions when they have reason to switch roles, it invariably goes badly.
    • One episode has Tony and Angela helping with one of his daughter Sam's class projects, in which she and her schoolmates tag along on various careers. Sam has the option of going with one of them; she immediately picks Tony, thinking that it will be much easier to clean the house. Tony cheerfully gives her his to-do list the next day, which unrolls to spill onto the carpet, and then leaves for his college classes. When he comes home that night, he's surprised that she doesn't have dinner in the oven, which was one of the assigned tasks; she then reveals that she's on the fourth thing on his list.
  • The Partridge Family: In "This Male Chauvinist Piggy Went to Market," the students at Keith and Laurie's high school are required to take the opposite gender's classes so they can learn how other people live. The two have a contest to see whether Keith can do better at cooking than Laurie can at car maintenance. Naturally, Laurie does everything perfectly, while Keith's spinach soufflé turns out so inedible, he uses it as a planter.
  • One The Brady Bunch episode has Mike and Carol switch places. Carol doesn’t do well playing baseball with the boys and ends up sore. Mike tries helping the girls cook for a scout badge project and it goes terribly as well.
  • Billy the Exterminator: In S6 E11, Donnie is out sick, so Big Bill has to answer the phone at the office. He struggles immensely to keep up with the volume of phone calls.

  • The country song by Lonestar, "Mr Mom"—sample lyrics:
    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" (sometimes also called "Father Grumble") is basically this story set to music.
    There was an old man who lived in a wood
    As you can plainly see
    Who said he could do more work in a day
    Than his wife could do in three
    "If that be so," the old woman said
    "Why, this you must allow
    That you shall do my work for a day
    While I go drive the plough"

    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 gets so bad that the first level of the house ends 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 tuts, 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.
  • Baby Blues has Darryl occasionally take over domestic chores and realize just how busy Wanda's "job" as a stay-at-home mom really is. One notable example was when Wanda badly sprained her knee, resulting in Darryl having to stay home and perform tasks such as cooking, doing laundry, and getting Zoe to and from school. At one point, Darryl expresses amazement at everything Wanda does on a regular basis and proclaims that he's having the craziest week of his life...only for Wanda to inform him that it's still Monday.

  • 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!

    Puppet Shows 
  • Dinosaurs features Earl Sinclair trying to take over for his wife Fran while she takes some time to herself in "The Mating Dance". Everything went wrong for him; Baby keeps hitting Earl with a pot while he was ironing, he undercooked dinner, he got frustrated with Robbie and Charlene that he slams his hand on the table and he has to hold it so nothing falls off, Robbie and Charlene left while Earl was holding the broken table, Baby's tail got on fire and after Earl dropped the table to put out Baby's tail, he confesses that he is not putting up with it for the rest of his life while Fran was behind his back listening.

  • 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.
  • Touhou Project fancomic Life of Maid had an arc where Sakuya goes to a conference in England, leaving the Scarlet Devil Mansion crew to fend for themselves. Meiling and Flandre play the trope straight, but just when it looks like the entire place is going to fall apart Remilia flips out and becomes a whirlwind of cooking, cleaning badass.

    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.
  • 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 didn't hang up the phone and the operator overheard a radio show). Of course, the moral of this story isn't so much "Men can't keep house" as it is "Goofy can't do anything without turning it into a disaster".
    • 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 whom 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?)
  • Played straight and inverted in F is for Family. Frank obviously hates being stuck with domestic duties while Sue works at her job and has to take over as breadwinner for a stretch. At the same time, Sue finds that having to hold down a job is so miserable and stressful that she starts to look back fondly on being a homemaker.
  • There's an episode of The Flintstones which could be the template of this trope. 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 (i.e., 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 shambles. At the day's end, the couple declares they never want to make that switch again.
  • This happens in Family Guy when Lois goes to jail. There are pizza boxes and beer cans all over the floor, and Stewie's diaper is so full, he's dragging it around with him everywhere.
    • Subverted on another episode, where the kids and the parents swap lives for a day. Chris does great at work and Meg has cleaned the house top to bottom and is relaxing before dinner. Of course being Family Guy Chris becomes an abusive alcoholic with anger issues and things are set back to normal after he's forced to quit after a heart attack.
    Meg: (The house is) a finite area, I don't see why you have to be such a martyr about it
  • The Mother's Day episode of Dexter's Laboratory had this to an extent. In an example, Dexter, his dad, and Deedee are happy to do it to give Mom the day off. Unfortunately, they're so horribly inept at it that the only thing stopping Dexter's mom from intervening is the fact that she doesn't have her gloves, and she's a massive germophobe without them.
  • 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 ones 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.
  • Arnie Barkley of The Barkleys swaps places with his wife Agnes in the episode "Lib and Let Lib". While he doesn't exactly fail at housework, per say, he does find it harder than he expected (except for bed-making, which he apparently excelled at in the army).
  • Inverted in The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Deal", where Nicole spends a day in Richard's shoes after he goes on strike because she declared his odd methods of parenting to be insane. While his methods are odd, Nicole can't reign in the kids like Richard can, causing them to turn into gremlin-like creatures who cause problems throughout the house and neighborhood.

    Real Life 
  • The Icelandic Woman's Strike of October 24, 1975 was this enacted on a national scale, with 90% of Icelandic women taking the day off. This did not just apply to housework, but all women's work, and it became colloquially known as the Long Friday among the men because they were now forced to bring their children to work and keep them entertained. This paralyzed productivity in the country, and many places even had to close. Because it exposed how crucial women were to Icelandic society, this had significant positive ramifications for women's rights, and Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected the first female President in 1980 as a result.

  • In 1975, after a period of separation from his wife Yoko Ono which he'd refer to in interview as his "lost weekend" in Los Angeles marked by heavy drinking and depression, John Lennon reunited with Ono, sobered up and moved back to New York City. After Yoko gave birth to the couple's only son later that same year, Sean Lennon, John would retire from recording for the next five years and raise Sean at home as a "house-husband" while Yoko manged the family's financial affairs away from home. This period would be documented in the collaborative John Lennon/Yoko Ono studio albums Double Fantasy in 1980 as well as the posthumous 1984 album Milk And Honey.


Video Example(s):


Billy the Exterminator

In S6 E11, Donnie is out sick, so Big Bill has to answer the phone. He struggles massively with it.

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Main / ADayInHerApron

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