I didn’t have children the first time I heard a mom announce that “dads don’t babysit.” At the time I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Since becoming a mother thirteen years ago, I have repeatedly heard that sentiment in all its various forms, but I have never joined in the conversation. Because my husband does babysit.
I’m the primary caregiver in our family, and my husband works a full-time job. So if I want to work, or go out with friends, or go out by myself, or even get my own medical care, I’m going to have to ask him to watch the kids. Because to me, the “ask” is what constitutes the “act” of babysitting.
It would feel silly to ask, “Can you parent on Tuesday night?” Or, “Can you do some fathering on Thursday from 3 to 5?” He’s a parent all the time, not just when he’s watching the kids.
I don’t always say, “Can you babysit?” Usually I say, “Can you watch the kids at that time?” (In fact, JT WATCH KIDS is what goes into our shared Google calendar.) But what I tell other people is that “I have to get babysitting first” (the default here being ET WATCH KIDS).
And lest you get the wrong idea, let me say that we made the decision to run our family like this together. This is our mutually decided-upon life for now. It means that I’m the one at home most of the time, and it means that if I want alternative childcare during certain times, I have to ask. It doesn’t mean I think of him as “the babysitter” and not “the dad.” It just means he has to plan time to stay at home in place of me.
Saying I have to arrange babysitting with my husband doesn’t mean he doesn’t parent. (His parenting is astounding. He’s calm and wise, pragmatic and sensitive. He sees through any child’s manipulative tactics and also sees straight to their heart needs.) It simply means he has a job and that if I, as the primary caregiver, need or want to leave the house without my children, I’m going to have to ask him to clear some time in his schedule. It’s something he’s more than happy to do, but it’s still something I have to ask for, and it’s still something we have to plan.
So the next time you hear someone say that a man “is babysitting,” maybe don’t assume that he’s not also an active, hands-on parent. Maybe give that couple the benefit of the doubt and assume that they both love their children, and that they both parent their children, and that perhaps they both have complicated schedules.