Best “Babysitter” I Know

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.

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9 thoughts on “Best “Babysitter” I Know

  1. Well said! I do tend to joke about my husband taking care of the kids by himself when I’m on business trips (only because of his lack of skills in the kitchen), but I completely agree about the whole expectations thing. He is a great dad and doesn’t look at this as though he’s babysitting. I’m always shocked by people who view it that way.

    Ashley
    http://www.modernmommymagic.blogspot.com

  2. Well said. Unfortunately the standard has been set in this country that affords men the option of how much of a parent they are willing to be, while it is assumed that a woman should be thankful at any ounce of help the man is willing to give. Men that take on equal household and childcare responsibilities are sometimes chastised by their friends for “being whipped.” You and your husband seem to have a loving, equal relationship which is being modeled for your children. They will be better children and grow up to be better men because of it. Good job!

  3. Well said, from someone who can cook, clean, bath, change diapers, take temperatures, clean runny noses, give meds on schedule, and have them in bed on time and back up again for school, find time for play and walk the dog as well. Too often people see us as being temp services only and not equal parents. I would say that this is a opinion left over from the past, however, I hear from mothers still today who complain that we don’t know how to do it like “THE MOM” and to be honest we get tired of hearing it so we quit trying

  4. Thank you for this! As the wife of a stay-at-home dad, I am constantly met with surprised (and sometimes alarmed) looks when I say that the kids father is their primary care-giver – and its working FINE! He cooks healthy, delicious meals, he does laundry without ruining anything and yes, even manages the household budget. He is not lazy, unemployed, or inept. He is my kids’ dad and a freaking miracle.

    Read more about us: http://thehossmanfamily.blogspot.com/2011/08/parental-wisdom_07.html

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