One common worry new parents may have is how to manage childcare and housework after maternity/paternity leave is over, or when both parents are back in the office. This is a very valid concern as there’s a lot to do at home when you have a little one, even if they go to daycare, so I thought that I would share how my husband and I balanced childcare and employment over the course of a day.
This day, back in early September 2021, was a typical day when I had to go into the office while my husband worked from home. Due to COVID-19, my workplace allowed employees to work from home twice a week but required us to go into the office for the remainder. My husband, however, only has to go into the office about once every two or three months.
Since then, I have quit my job as we’re moving to Osaka next month and will be doing part-time freelance work. Meanwhile, my husband’s job has become far more demanding, so our routine has changed quite a bit. My daughter is still in daycare but she will be at home full-time from December. I will make sure to share these changes in a future post but for now, here’s what a typical workday looks like for a Canadian mom and Japanese dad in Japan. (You’ll notice right away that my part is quite a lot more detailed than my husband’s because he barely remembers what he does apart from work!)
A Look at a Day in the Life of a Mom-at-the-Office and Work-From-Home Dad in Japan
Starting the Day ⏰
My 26-month-old’s crying wakes me up at 5:30 AM. I head to her room and she’s lying in her crib, wailing. She wants “Daddy” so I tell her, “Okay, bye!” and go to the washroom. I hear her soon screaming, “Mama! Mamaaa!”. After returning to her room, I pick her up and look out the window to check if there are any cats outside (A loves cats). Then we head downstairs.
I change her diaper from オヤスミマン to Merries while she begins to whine.
“テレビ見る！(I want to watch TV!)” she wails. I tell her no.
“ミルク欲しい！(I want milk!)”
That’s totally fine so I heat up a cup of milk for her and she finishes it in a blink of an eye. “More milk!”
I give her a second cup and then tell A I’m going to the washroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. When I come back, I see that she hasn’t finished the milk. She starts whining about wanting to watch TV again but then changes her mind and decides she wants her BABYDOLL Elsa dress. She’s absolutely obsessed with it and is elated when I tell her that we will go upstairs to get it. We climb the stairs while counting all fourteen steps together. A tends to forget 2 and 12 lately, I’m not sure why.
She runs into her room and screams in excitement when I take out the Elsa dress. I change her into it and she takes my hand as she wants to go downstairs to listen to “Elsa songs”. In the living room, we listen to a few songs but then A wants to watch TV (again). I distract her with her Frozen coloring book and point out how she and Elsa have the same dress. She smiles shyly and giggles.
At around 6:20 AM, my husband comes downstairs.
“She woke up two times at night…” he says, squinting and clearly exhausted. He usually hears A crying at night before I do and tends to her. I’ve told him to wake me up but he never does because he feels bad. “You can take a nap.”
I decide not to as I have to leave for work in about an hour. A brings over a Japanese book about planets that we borrowed from the library and I read it to her. She gets bored halfway through and decides to play in her jungle gym. She already knows the names of the planets in our solar system in English and can identify them (thanks to this book on the solar system), but not in Japanese. My husband gently tells me not to pressure her and I insist that I’m not. She’s the one who asked me to read it! And she’s the one who wanted to borrow the book!
A starts to play with her father, serving him a variety of toy vegetables, and I end up falling asleep on the couch. At some point, A comes up to me and pats my head, saying, “よしよし (there, there)”. She and my husband go upstairs to play.
I wake up fifteen minutes later and wishing I could sleep for another hour, begrudgingly trudge upstairs. Husband is sitting in a rocking chair in A’s room while she’s spinning around.
I start to get her clothes ready for daycare but she doesn’t like any of the shirts, screaming, “ヤーダ！(No)”. So I get her a Hello Kitty sweater I bought last year for 199 yen from Nishimatsuya, and she’s thrilled. I stamp the label in the sweater with her name.
While I get ready for work, she asks her father to change her into the sweater immediately and they go downstairs. When I come down, my husband is cleaning the couch as A’s Elsa dress left a ton of sparkles on it.
“What do you want for dinner?” my husband asks.
“Ah, do you think you can make that kabocha gratin I was talking about?”
My husband says it’s no problem.
Our daughter, A, woke up at around 1 AM because her pacifier fell out. I put it back in her mouth and she fell right back to sleep. She woke up again at around 3 AM. This time her pacifier was still in her mouth. I patted her on the back and after 20 minutes, she fell asleep again.
I woke up at 6:30 AM, an hour later than Kay and A. This is usually the case as I’m the one who hears A crying at night and tends to her. Kay usually sleeps right through it.
After I wake up, I go downstairs and watch A and my wife playing in the living room while I check my work email on my phone. My wife falls asleep on the couch and I read a Frozen coloring book to A.
After finishing the book, A and I go upstairs and give food to our pet rabbit. We then go to A’s room where she takes all her toys out of the toybox.
My wife wakes up and comes upstairs. She gets A’s clothes ready and then A asks me to help her change into them. We go downstairs and I notice that the couch is covered in sparkles from her Elsa dress. I decide to clean it up.
My wife comes downstairs and I ask her what she wants for dinner. I make dinner for us whenever she goes to the office. She suggests kabocha gratin.
Mom Leaves for the Office 🚃
It’s 7:17 AM and there’s not very much time left before I have to catch the train. I grab a mask and put it on. I don’t wear makeup anymore since most of my face is covered and it saves so much time.
“Okay honey, Mama has to go now!” I tell A and give her and my husband a kiss. A follows me to the door and waves as I leave. Sometimes she cries but she doesn’t mind today.
It takes ten minutes to walk from my house to the station. The weather is cool and there’s light rain. Surprisingly, no one is using their umbrella, which makes me wonder whether I’m imagining the rain. Because of the pandemic, I can now waltz onto the train right before it leaves and get a seat. I spend the train ride catching up on text messages and reading the news. I also have to fill out an online form for my work to indicate where I’m working today and whether I have any COVID-19 symptoms. It’s a huge pain.
I arrive at the station near my work at 8:10 AM. Lately I haven’t been bringing lunch from home to the office because I really enjoy some of the sandwiches from Family Mart. Unfortunately, they don’t have any sandwiches I like today. I notice there’s a Starbucks Butterscotch Latte and as I’m not sure whether the Lawson near work will have it, I decide to get it.
When I arrive at work, I show the guard at the gate an email on my phone that permits me to enter the premises and then head to Lawson. They have the Butterscotch Latte (of course) and no sandwiches I want to eat. I decide to go with a tuna onigiri because I don’t really feel that hungry anyway. Before I head into the office, I send my husband the recipe I wanted to try for dinner.
After my wife leaves for the office at around 7:20 AM, I toast some bread for me and A. A likes to have honey on her toast, just like I do. I also make a cup of coffee for myself.
A takes a long time to eat and only finishes about half of her bread before it’s 8 AM. I quickly brush A’s teeth, get her changed for daycare, and fill out the renrakucho. I then give my parents a quick call.
A is being fussy and says, “じじ、ばば、嫌だ！ (I don’t like grandpa and grandma!)”. They’re sad. I think it’s because A wants to watch TV instead of talking to them.
At 8:25 AM, I leave home to drop off A at daycare.
Time to Start Work! 💻
At just before 8:30 AM, I’m the first one in the office, which is nice because I can take off my mask and enjoy my latte. I check my email and then get to work finishing a report. Only two other coworkers out of five are coming in today; the rest are working from home. They arrive a little bit before 9 AM.
I focus on the report and finish it around 11:30 AM. I’ll review it tomorrow before sending it to the higher-ups.
One of my coworkers leaves early to go to a doctor’s appointment, leaving only me and another person. I pray no one calls while I’m alone because my keigo is atrocious.
When it’s noon, I eat my onigiri quickly at my desk and then meet up with a friend from another office. We talk about A, her nieces and nephews, and then she shares some exciting news with me. I’m so happy for her but we’re both sad that I’m moving and won’t be around.
After lunch, I start to proofread a translation I finished the previous week. The content is very difficult and technical, so I’m not sure whether I’m using the correct terms. I spend the rest of the afternoon on it, munching on GABA chocolate I got from my mother-in-law. Apparently, it helps with stress but I feel like a child that gorged on Halloween candy.
At some point, A’s daycare uploads two photos of her to their app. It looks like they had an evacuation drill and afterward did some Montessori activities. She made some art by rolling a marble dipped in paint in a shoebox lid. It looks fun and I want to try it at home, but maybe with something larger as I’m always terrified of A accidentally swallowing something and choking. She’s never done it before but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.
Someone from another office who is passing by waves to me so we chat for a bit. She didn’t know I was both quitting and moving and is quite shocked. She used to live in Kansai but she doesn’t sound enthusiastic about it.
I’m back home a little past 8:30 AM after dropping A off. Her new daycare is very close to our house, which saves us a lot of time.
I change the bedsheets, do some laundry, and then wash the dishes from breakfast.
From 9 AM to 11:45 AM, I attend two meetings online, do some prep for an afternoon meeting, and write a proposal. I also do some other tasks for work here and there.
I make my lunch (ramen) and then watch some YouTube videos on child-rearing and a few on politics while eating. When I’m done, I wash my dishes and then put away A’s jungle gym.
At 12:30 PM I start working again. I attend four meetings, answer many emails, make an estimation for a customer, and then send out the minutes for all seven meetings.
At 4:15 PM, I vacuum the house and then make dinner — kabocha gratin, rice, miso soup, and a simple salad.
End of the Work Day
(for Mom) 🍵
I continue with my work until it’s time to leave. Right when it’s 5:00 PM, I run to the station so that I can catch the express train home. The path I take to the station is quite beautiful but I’m never able to enjoy it.
I catch up on more text messages and news articles on the train. My husband texts me that he’ll pick me up from the station as our daughter likes to ride in the car. Since it’s the express, I arrive at my station in 24 minutes.
When I get off the train, I see my husband waiting in the car with A who is watching シナぷしゅ on the small TV.
“見て見て! (Look, look!)” A says while pointing to the show.
My husband drives us home and with a sigh tells me that A is being quite emotional at daycare this week. A is usually more behaved at daycare so I wonder what’s wrong.
It’s a little before 6:00 PM when we get home. I head in first to put away my stuff, wash my hands, and change my clothes. A is screaming in the doorway because she wants to play outside.
I bring her inside and my husband washes her hands while I wash my own and change. She starts wailing because she wants to watch television… again. We say no and she asks if she can wear her Elsa dress. My husband tells her she can wear it after dinner and all hell has broken loose. She shrieks, rolls on the floor, and then demands my husband hold her. He has to finish making dinner so I hold her instead. She keeps screaming.
Finally, my husband takes her to the fridge and shows her Anpanman cheese.
“Give this to Mama.”
A excitedly brings over the cheese, all smiles. It’s hard to believe this is the same toddler who was a banshee mere moments ago. I give her one round ball of cheese and she happily eats it.
She wants a second one but I tell her that she can have it if she sits at the kitchen table and eats her dinner. She quickly runs and climbs into her seat. I sit next to her and we start to eat. The food is quite hot so I blow on A’s gratin. She doesn’t seem to like it, which is surprising because she loves most of the ingredients in it. I try some and it’s delicious. I talk to my husband about how we can change the recipe to suit A’s tastes.
A finishes her rice after asking for more “furigaki” (furikake) but doesn’t finish her salad or miso soup, which is unusual for her. We think she’s tired, which is why she is extra cranky today.
“おしまい! (I’m finished!)” she declares while rubbing her eyes. I try to get her to eat a bit more of the gratin and she finishes her Danone yogurt before she decides she doesn’t want any more. My husband tells me about a Japanese YouTube video he watched about toddlers and food.
“Apparently, food shouldn’t be conditional,” he tells me. “So you shouldn’t say, ‘You’ll get dessert if you finish your carrots’. You should also just let them eat however much they want.”
“Won’t A get hungry at night then?” I ask.
“Probably, but I guess we will just have to wake up.”
“You mean you will have to wake up.”
My husband laughs.
I clean A’s mouth and hands and then change her into the Elsa dress while my husband does the dishes. I read the Frozen coloring book to her (yes, it has text!) and after that, she plays on her Anpanman car. We do some pretend shopping with a toy scanner and credit card machine I got for her a few weeks ago from Daiso, but she starts to rub her eyes.
I pick up A from daycare at 5:00 PM and then play with her outside for a bit. While we’re playing, I message my wife on LINE to let her know that I’ll be picking her up.
At 5:15 PM, I put A into the car seat and drive to the station. A likes driving in the car because she gets to watch TV. While we wait, she occasionally asks, “Mamaは？(Where’s Mama?)” My wife arrives at 5:40 PM and A is very happy.
We drive home and have dinner at around 6 PM. While we have dinner, we talk about the day. I do the dishes after we finish eating at 6:30 PM. A is very tired today so we decide to put her to bed early.
Time for Bed (for the Toddler) 💤
It’s around 6:50 PM, so a little earlier than the usual time we get A ready for bed (7:30 PM) but since my husband has a meeting at 7:00 PM and she seems sleepy, we decide to give her a shower instead of waiting after his meeting is over. I could give her a shower and put her to bed on my own but we have a routine down and very rarely stray from it. My husband also doesn’t have to talk in the meeting, only listen.
I give A a shower almost the same way I have since she was 2 months old. She sits on my lap, I wash her hair (she doesn’t like water running down her face and will cry so I tilt her head back like they do at salons when they wash your hair). Then I let her stand up and wash the rest of her body. Lately she likes trying to wash me too but she tends to pump soap onto the loofa, scrub my leg a little bit, rinse the loofah, and then pump soap onto it again. Rinse and repeat. It’s a waste of water and soap so I don’t let her do it for very long. Afterward, my husband dries her and puts her to bed while I take a shower.
It’s around 7:15 PM when I’m done and I decide to start working on this blog post. By 8:50 PM, my husband still hasn’t come downstairs yet so I’m guessing he’s working. He comes down a little after 9:00 PM, cleans the kitchen, and then throws away the garbage. After this, he takes a bath.
I’m starting to feel pretty tired so I close the laptop, clean the kitchen table, brush my teeth, clean the bathroom sink, and then go to bed. But by “go to bed”, I mean browse Reddit while I’m in bed until around 10:00 PM.
My wife gives A a shower and when she’s done, I dry A off with a towel. I take her to the living room and put a nighttime diaper on her, cream, and then change her into her pajamas. After all of this, I blowdry her hair. She used to be scared of the blowdryer but now she’s completely fine.
I take her to her room, give her the pacifier, and then put her in her crib. At some point, we have to transition her into a bed but for now, the crib is still working so we’re not in any hurry.
She hasn’t learned to sleep on her own so I stay in the room with her until she falls asleep. During this time, I join a meeting for work as I only have to listen. She falls asleep and I leave the room at 8:00 PM.
I go to my office and finish my remaining work. Then I clean the rabbit’s cage. It’s 9:00 PM when I’m done.
My wife is working on her blog when I go downstairs. I clean the kitchen counters while listening to a YouTube video and throw out the garbage before taking a bath at 9:15 PM. When I’m done, I write out what I did during the day as my wife asked me to for her blog. I read a book from 9:45 PM to 10:00 PM and then go to sleep.
As you may have noticed, my husband helps out a lot around the house, especially when I have to go to the office. Working from home has definitely helped in allowing him to do this as he doesn’t have to spend time commuting but he has also been self-sufficient from a very early age. (Reading this again makes me feel like he does more housework than me!). On days that I worked from home, I did the laundry, vacuumed, and made dinner while my husband usually made us lunch and did the dishes.