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Kirstie Allsopp Is Right - Housework Does Save Your Sanity!

14/08/2014 16:57 | Updated 20 May 2015

Young man with apron and mop, portrait

Kirstie Allsopp is right: housework does keep you sane. It's been the only thing that has stopped me going completely doolally this past fortnight.

It's more enjoyable than nagging the kids to write 'thank you' letters ("But Santa brought everything, didn't he? Why do I have to write to Auntie Irene?"); more therapeutic than staring at the walls and listening to the clock tick waiting for school to re-open; more stimulating than the over-hyped Sherlock on the telly; less depressing than watching the permanently on-heat celebrities in Big Brother; more rewarding than getting slaughtered for the umpteenth time by my sons on Xbox.

Housework is a sanity saver. Thank you for pointing it out, Kirstie.

Earlier this week, the TV presenter, mum and step-mum to four boys, said: "I'm absolutely convinced that those repetitive tasks that one does every day, organising and regularising one's home, and keeping it tidy, is enormously therapeutic.

"I know it is for me, and I have many, many working mum friends who feel the same. That to know that their child is going to school with clean hair, clean teeth, clean uniforms, and their house is clean is what keeps her sane."

And I couldn't agree more – and for a very good reason. For the past fortnight I have effectively been a single dad to my three kids, aged 12, nine and six.

This state of affairs came about when my wife had to rush to her elderly mum's bedside when she first had an emergency mastectomy followed, a couple of days later, by an emergency twisted bowel operation.

She arrived there – 300 miles from where we live – just before Christmas, called back briefly to spend the Big Day with us – a round trip of 10 hours – then went back to look after her mum and 86-year-old dad.

Which brings me to the point of this post: my father-in-law might be old, and yes, he does have a few health problems (diabetes, a tad deaf, a cataract on his eye), but aside from that, he's as fit as an old, but beautifully kept, Stradivarius.

Unfortunately, in some key domestic departments, he's lost. At cooking. At cleaning. At ironing. At making beds. At anything remotely to do with housework.

He SHOULD be able to take care of his own wife, as my dad did for his – even when she became a nightmare to live with because of Alzheimer's.

He should be able to wait on her hand and foot while she gets better, tend to her every need, ensure she is fed and water and that her dressings are clean.

But he can't. In fact, he struggles with anything to do with running the home.He can't turn on the oven or the washing machine ergo he can't cook a meal or wash a nightie. He can't go shopping (because he can't drive – and doesn't have the internet to order online, though even if he did...) or make a sandwich or..or...anything!

And this has started to cause a bit of friction between me and my wife. During one phone call this week, she complained of being bored. She had done all the chores for her parents and now she was sitting in the living room, listening to the clock tick.

"Come home, then," I urged.

"Your kids miss you. I miss you."

"And I miss you all too," she replied.

"But our kids don't need me: they've got you."

Agitated, I snapped back: "And your mum shouldn't need you: she's got your dad."

"Yes," she replied. "And he's about as useful as a chocolate teapot."

When I criticised her father she, loyally, became defensive.

"It's a generational thing," she said.

But it isn't. My dad is just a few years younger than my father-in-law. He looked after my mum for five hard years as Alzheimer's gradually ate away at her faculties. He cooked, he cleaned, he kept house. And when she died three years ago, he continued to cook and clean and keep himself, even after having a knee-replacement operation. But he has always cooked and cleaned, despite working as an engineering fitter for all of his life.

And the reason for that is because his wife worked, too. My mum held down three jobs to keep her family together. As a result, all the men in her life – my dad, me and my three brothers – had to do our bit to keep the house running.

She gave us each a job: I did cooking and ironing; number two brother made the beds; number three dusted and Hoovered; and number four had to make sure there was a cup of tea waiting for Mum for when she returned home in between her shifts packing underwear in a factory and ironing for the neighbours.

But my father-in-law has never had to lift a finger. The roles he and my mother-in-law signed up to were that he should earn the money while my wife and her sister's mum would run the home as a housewife (what we, today, call a stay-at-home-mum).

Even when her girls became secondary school age, my wife's mother didn't go out to work. Instead, she continued to 'run the house' which meant that her husband never had to lift a finger on the domestic front.

But what this arrangement has created is a man so dependent on her he is incapable of doing anything for his sick wife.

This wasn't the plan. Not one bit. Here's what they thought would happen: my mother-in-law is 10 years younger than her husband. It was natural, then, to assume that he would become infirm before she did. That was the assumption they lived their lives to. There was no Plan B.

But life doesn't do what you tell it. Bodies fail, circumstances change. Which is precisely why my wife has taken compassionate leave from work to run around like a headless chicken for her elderly parents.

And precisely why I am revelling in the housework - and why I'm teaching my children to cook and clean and do all those (sanity-saving) chores: because even though my wife is five years younger than me, there is no guarantee that I will snuff it before she does – and there is no way, ever, in a million years that I could risk being as helpless as my father-in-law if life decides to throw us a curve ball.

If, God forbid, my wife ever needs me as much as her own mum needs her right now, I'm going to make sure both me and the kids are ready, willing and CAPABLE.

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