When my husband Ross was little, his father was out of work for a few years. His mother was the sole breadwinner. It’s a time my mother-in-law reflects upon with pride and accomplishment. She was out there, pounding the pavement, providing for her husband and son. My father-in-law, on the other hand, refers to those years at “the time I babysat Ross.”
This, of course, is infuriating. The suggestion that when a father takes on the majority of the day-to-day parenting needs of his child it’s akin to babysitting is ridiculous. Mothers “mother” and fathers “babysit”? Oh, I don’t think so, because it’s nothing like babysitting when my husband is taking care of our child.
This past Saturday I had a project I needed to finish before noon. My husband agreed to get up with our 16-month-old and take care of him while I worked. Not long after Ross had taken the baby downstairs for breakfast, who should appear back upstairs but the little guy, fork in hand and ready to play. When I brought him back downstairs, my husband was sleeping soundly on the couch.
I ask you: Is that the behavior of a babysitter? No. I would fire that babysitter.
When our babysitter comes, she has a veritable Marry Poppins bag of fun projects to do with my son. When my husband is on duty, he and the baby go to the hardware store to buy light bulbs.
The babysitter cleans up after lunch. My husband removes the batteries from the smoke alarms after the pizza doesn’t go as planned. I would be concerned if a babysitter dismantled home safety equipment.
The babysitter gives the baby baths and changes him into PJ’s before bed. My husband occasionally puts the child to bed in the clothes he wore that day, sticky hands and all. The babysitter that did something like that would not be asked back.
The babysitter calms our fussy boy with songs and snuggles. My husband has no problem letting him flail around on the floor of the lumber section of Home Depot. I would not be charmed to hear this from the babysitter.
When the baby is sick, the babysitter follows my instructions for medicine administration and texts me updates on my son’s condition. My husband takes the baby to the mall. I would have some notes if the babysitter tried the same.
The babysitter teaches my son how to wash his hands. My husband teaches him how fun it is to flush the toilet—all the time. This is not a skill I would seek in a babysitter.
When the baby is sleeping, the babysitter cleans up and then reads downstairs on the couch. My husband goes out back and does yard work. While the work would be appreciated, I would have to ask the babysitter to, in the future, stay inside the house where the baby is sleeping.
The babysitter gets paid. My husband does not. He does, however, get the pleasure of an adorable, happy child and an attractive wife.
Would I hire my husband to take care of our child? Never. His style is carefree and reckless. His childcare philosophy is nothing like mine or the babysitter’s. He certainly doesn’t “mother,” and he’s light years away from anything that resembles “babysitting,” so stop calling it that, guys. And it does bother me, this happy-go-lucky approach my husband takes. I would love for him to be more like me or the babysitter. I want to magically zap him so that he feels the same just-below-the-surface worry I experience for my child everyday—the worry that causes me to be so careful with my most precious gift and fearful about his safety. I want him to wrap our child in bubble wrap while he plays with nothing but foam blocks and is always safe and warm.
It’s been my experience that fathers make really terrible babysitters. But, as it turns out, they often make great dads. Because ultimately, I know that our child gets as much out of being “fathered” as being mothered or babysat. I know it’s important to have trips to the hardware store with dad while still in one’s footie pajamas. I know that the time they spend together trumps whatever terrible food they’re eating. I know that even if he’s at the park and falls off the slide that was meant for 5- to 12-year-olds while running a low-grade fever, my son will know that his father loves him and will protect and care for him in the way only he can. When I’m away, I will worry, but my husband and son will laugh. They will explore outdoors and at outlet malls. They will have water fights when it’s too cold and eat too many spicy foods. They will pet stray dogs and get scraped knees. And when I get home, I will wash those hands and kiss those scraped knees, and all of us—mom, dad and baby—will all be better for it.