I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard a dad tell someone he was babysitting his own kid . “On Saturday I was babysitting Sally and Dick so my wife had time to actually take a shower this week.” Or heard someone else refer to a father caring for his own child as the babysitter.
No. Just no. If you are the father and/or legal guardian of said child you are not babysitting. According to the current edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary babysit is a verb that means “to take care of a child while the child’s parents are away.” Therefore, it is impossible to babysit your own child. The time fathers spends with their kid(s), filling plates or wiping butts, playing legos and lava boat, or making them sit in the corner to think about why they should not lick strangers is actually, is in fact called parenting.
It’s all semantics though right? Well semantics are important. The minutia of language directs how our brains translate and store information. When a dad says he is babysitting his child he removes the permanency of that status and of his long term responsibility. When you create a person or bring a child into your home via adoption you are responsible for that person at least until they turn 18 years old and are legally an adult. Babysitting has a finite amount of time associated with it. An hour, for the night, a weekend. Parenting, on the other hand, is a state of being that begins on the very first day your child is with you and ends when you die. Seriously, it’s like a spit shake and spit shakes are for life.
Insinuating that dads are simply second-rate fill ins to the proper and natural parent, the mom, is sexist to both men and women. The message I get as a woman and mom is women should be at home with their kids and when I can’t or won’t my partner is a simply a temporary stand-in replacement; one who is not qualified to keep a five year old busy and well-maintained. As if leaving a child with their father is actually a somewhat reckless act that will result in a crater where my house used to stand or a starved, maimed child upon my return. Left her with Dad? Might of well just left her with matches and a full tank of gasoline. It also implies all the difficult parts of child-rearing, like cleaning up vomit and late nights and painfully early mornings are deeply intrenched in the act of motherhood but not a regular part of fatherhood.
The message my husband get’s is that despite his ability to be competent in nearly every other aspect of his life, he is not actually capable of doing any parenting by himself; that the time he spends alone with the kid(s) is a dangerous tight rope act. One that will surely end in a terrible act of incompetence for which he will be punished upon my arrival back to a home that looks as though the Beastie Boys fought for their right to party in the living room…and the bathroom…and the kitchen…and the hall closet. Or that it’s okay for everything to go to hell while I’m away because domestic stuff isn’t his natural born wheelhouse anyway.
Everyone ends up getting sold short. Men are not too stupid or clueless to parent. Women have lives outside of their role as a mom.
Kids are not check boxes to be marked complete. Calling it babysitting gives parenting a negative connotation, usually in front of the children being cared for. “Stuck babysitting the kids tonight huh? And you’re not ever getting paid. Well at least they are cute.” That is an actual quote that a dude said to another dude in the checkout line at our local grocery store. In the dad’s defense, he looked pretty stunned.
My husband is actually a really good dad who can handle Harp and a load of dishes all at the same time. And I think most dads, if given the chance and the expectation of active participation would show up and do all the gross stuff with much less pushing and pulling. What do you think? Should we stop calling it babysitting?
I also wanted the guys perspectives on this so I decided to interview my husband and ask him how he feels. If it goes well, a few friends have graciously volunteered to let me pick their brains about dadding and their Adventures in Babysitting (Just Kidding!). If you are interested in being interviewed in regards to why and how dad’s are so much more than babysitters email me at [email protected]