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 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 kids, filling plates or wiping butts, playing legos and pretending the floor is lava, 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 parental status and 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, however, 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, 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 bucket 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 entrenched in the act of motherhood, but not a regular part of fatherhood.
The message my husband gets 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. He senses that the time he spends alone with the kid(s) is a dangerous tight rope act. It’s 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 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. More importantly, 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.
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. So goodbye babysitter, hello dad.