It happened again today. As I told someone about my upcoming five-day trip to Berlin (as in Germany, not New Hampshire), I heard the words I most dread as a feminist female parent in 2011 who tells someone she won’t be home for a more than two-hour interval: “Who’s babysitting your kids?”
Believe me, I understand the intent of this question. I really do. But there are so many components to its mere existence that compel me to comment.
First, my husband is not my children’s babysitter. He is their father–and a spectacular one at that. He cooks, cleans, changes diapers, and can contend with the morning shuffle as well as anyone who happened to be born with two X chromosomes. He is patient and gentle and kind. I have said this before and will say it again . . . he is the father every child deserves.
The question posed to me today (and on countless other occasions) also has at its core an underlying assumption–that my husband cannot (or will not) take time off for these extenuating circumstances and therefore childcare must be arranged. Naturally, no one assumes that I cannot or will not take time off if one of the boys is ill or if it were my husband going to Europe. In fact, it would be expected. And no one would think I was “amazing,” or “a hero,” or a “great gal” for doing it.
And therein lies one of the (not so) great double standards of 2011. In the world of two-parent relationships that feature one woman and one man, it is assumed that the mother is indispensible and that the father is nice to have around when and if he happens to be available.
And this is a problem–a huge problem for me as a woman and mother of three sons. The bar needs to be a whole lot higher. The jokes about men’s ineptitude around the house and in caring for their children need to stop. The expectations need to be firm.
A long weekend with their father–just their father–is going to be a treat for my sons and will be for my husband as well. For me to assume that the house is going to fall apart in my absence is absurd–and for people to joke about it is unfair. At best, it reinforces gender stereotypes that really should have taken a hike with the eight-track player; and, at worst, it sends a message to my sons that they have the option, should they choose to parent, to be disposable, to not be a true partner.
And that, for me, is simply not an option.
So, if you see my husband over the weekend with his sons, don’t give him a pat on the back or an “atta boy.” If you want, tell him he’s lucky; but I have a suspicion he may already know that.