Dads Don't Babysit, Dads Do babysit, giving mum a break, involved dads

Some Dads DO Babysit. It’s All That’s Expected of Us

This time last year, there were a flurry of stories about my daughter and I published around the world. A US writer spotted an angle for a “sweet article about (my) daughter’s outfits”, and that got noticed by the likes of The Independent & Metro in UK, Buzzfeed and ABC News in US, and then various outlets across the globe. Radio and TV appearances followed. Perhaps you are reading this because you started following my blog after coming across one of those.

The premise was basically I was an at-home parent letting my (then) 3-year-old daughter choose what she wears every morning. And the outfits were kinda cool and not traditionally ‘girly’.

When I asked, the writers of those articles told me the same thing – what made this story ‘a story’ was the fact that I was a dad of a daughter.

While it was nice to bask in the mostly supportive comments (US conservatives aside – yikes), the fact people were reacting strongly to it highlighted an issue we have with parenting.

Is dad all there is?

Expectations for dads are so low, that fathers get plaudits for simply doing what mothers do as standard. Seriously, check out any of those articles I linked to. Have you ever read anything like that about a mother?

Some comments complained that this was another example of the patriarchy at work. That this was ‘the system’ congratulating a man for doing what women do on a daily basis, without any kudos.

I have often observed that I get compliments just because I’m a dad. When I tell people I’m a stay-at-home parent, the response is usually telling me what an awesome thing it is I’m doing. Are mothers routinely told that? No, of course not. When my kid was a baby, I used to get women stopping and telling me what a great dad I was – simply because they saw me bottle feeding my baby. What mother has EVER been congratulated for formula feeding their baby? By all means, take a moment to laugh that one out before reading on…

But I don’t think it’s the patriarchy at work. To me, it’s a symptom of the low expectations society has of men as parents. Dads get plaudits for just showing a little engagement, because our role has become so emotionally removed from the nurturing aspect of parenting. More often than not, we’re just expected to be breadwinners, playmates, drivers, and – yes – babysitters. It’s a role that begins early.

‘Dads Don’t Babysit’ (apart from when we do)

The ‘Dads Don’t Babysit’ movement will be familiar to anyone who follows dad bloggers. It’s a frequent statement thrown our way when we’re out with our kids – ‘Babysitting today are we?’, or ‘Giving mum a break?’.

It drives me nuts when directed at me. Sometimes I brush it off. But other times, I go into a mini-rant about how I’m the at-home parent, and my wife gives ME a break. Which is clearly unfair, because my wife’s role in our family isn’t ‘giving dad a break’ (ha!).

But I have to admit, ‘babysitting dads’ are real. That for some, their role IS defined by ‘babysitting’ their kids, to give mum a break. The thing is, perhaps this isn’t a role they want but it’s the role that life has given them.

Here’s a familiar narrative of a dad: They want a kid with their partner, who then becomes a pregnant. This is when their role as ‘supporter’ begins. All the dad can do is support their partner while their child grows inside them. Whatever the woman wants, whatever need or desire they express, we try and fulfil. During labour, we support however we can. After the child is born, we continue to do whatever the mother wants. They just pushed a person – your child – out of them for god’s sake!

The dad then fully supports the mother breastfeeding, knowing it’s best for your child. But this is more than simply feeding. This is the forming of a bond between parent and child, the primary point of connection between mother and baby, that is exclusively theirs. The mother has become the nurturer. What is your role, dad?

I experienced this, but for a very short time. There were post-birth complications so I (very unexpectedly) had our newborn daughter at home alone with me in week 2. A few weeks later, we made the decision to stop breastfeeding (for the sake of my wife’s recovery). I noted that the parental intimacy I felt bottle feeding my daughter was like no other aspect of my new found role as father.

This isn’t the case for most dads, and I am absolutely not advocating for bottle over breast.  But – in the best case scenario of a happily breast feeding baby – at what point does the dad become a nurturer too? How does he bond? When does he form an intimate, nurturing relationship with his child?

In this scenario, is it any wonder that so many dads become ‘babysitters’ – continuing this support role as the child gets older. Because that’s all that been expected – and allowed – of them since they became a father in the first place.

Don’t be a babysitter. Be a dad.

I think to stop this ‘babysitter’ mentality taking hold, dads need to find a more nurturing role in the heart of their new family as soon as possible. To do more than simply ‘give mum a break’.

Set the pattern early. Bathtime? Make it yours as default. Winding/burping? Do it whenever you can. Cuddle your child for comfort as much as possible. Start reading to them early – I know this is a thankless task at the start, but sooner than you think this will become a key source of interaction – so put yourself at the heart of it. When you start them on solids, feed them – but more than that, cook for them, delight in the delicious and nourishing foods you can create for your child. Create your own feeding bond.

From the very start, try and find ways to create a parenting space for yourself that isn’t defined as just supporting your partner. It is up to you as a dad to form a relationship with your child. No one else is going to do it for you. Your partner is too busy recovering from pushing a person out of her vagina, and dealing with an insatiable grub that sucks milk from her boobs on demand. You need to find a way to support the mother of your baby AND create a parenting space for you and your child.

Your partner will (I’m sure) recover from growing and pushing that new human out. Breastfeeding will end. But by then, your role in the family may have already been defined by being ‘the babysitter’.

Mothering and parenting are currently interchangeable terms, whereas fathering has it’s own different meaning, with frankly lower expectations. Let’s change that.

16 thoughts on “Some Dads DO Babysit. It’s All That’s Expected of Us”

  1. Thank you, it annoys me the fallacy that breastfeeding means dads can’t be as involved or bond as well.
    Plenty of skin to skin
    As you say make bath time daddy’s.
    Read and sing to them
    Take them initially while mum naps or has lunch & just spend time marvelling at their little hands and feet.
    Carry them with you round the house telling them what you’re doing
    As soon as he came home from work he took our daughter upstairs with him while he got changed, no mum allowed. He used to prop her up on his knees and read aloud whatever book he was currently reading
    push the pushchair every chance you get so they are watching your face
    Nappy changes are also a chance for silly games and giggles
    Swimming is also a good one to make your time as well
    So many ways to bond if you put your mind to it.

    We are a family, we are a team, and we all support & love each other in different ways.

  2. This is excellent. Well said. Loads of really good advice and thoughts.
    “Mothering and parenting are currently interchangeable terms, whereas fathering has it’s own different meaning, with frankly lower expectations. Let’s change that.”
    I think the current generation(s) of Dads are starting that change. Let’s hope it’s quick!
    X

    1. I think you’re right. I just get amazed at how much ‘why are dads so crap’ commentary/memes shared by mums online, and even comments to me from mums about their partners. We are not inherently shit at parenting, so I just wondered what else is at play here.

  3. I think in my case there was a certain amount of selfishness at play also – we missed out on shared parental leave by a few days, so I was at home on my own for the first 6 months. I’d had to spend so much time on all the parenting that I didn’t want to have to give up the good bits about it. Also, the fact that I was the primary care-giver for so long, I am better at settling her to sleep, and comforting her – but that’s just practice and familiarity (husband isn’t bad at it, just less quick). That said, bathtime has always been Daddy-Daughter time for us, as they are both total water-babies, and weaning has meant that we can now take turns doing the bedtime routine. There can be difficult moments – we both work full-time yet I’m still the one expected to stay home if she’s sick, and he can sleep through her cries in the night while they wake me instantly so I end up always being the one to deal with her, so we’re not completely equal still, but we’re a long way further than some.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to characterise it as being selfish, that sounds perfectly natural and understandable to me. The staying home when sick is tricky, and I have always taken that myself in those rare times we’re both working. For us, my wife has the steady career and I need to support that for both our sakes while I dip back into mine (which is ad hoc freelance/contract at the moment).

  4. I’ve always been of the belief that there are as many different types of dads as there are mums, although SAHDs remain fewer in number for now. Some dads are full-time carers, some are career dads who only get properly involved with their kids at weekends (if at all), and there are 50 shades of dad in between. In just the same way I know stay-at-home mums, part-time working mums (such as my wife), full-time working mums, single mums, co-parenting mums and more variants than I could even name.

    Ultimately it’s easy to pigeon-hole dads (and mums) into certain categories but what matters more is not how many hours you spend with your kids but how well you spend that time. I think your posts show how invovled with and close to your daughter you are and how you are educating her in this big wide world. Being an at-home dad shoudl be the secondary label – the key is that you’re a good dad.

    1. For me, I tend to go through life assuming people think of me as a good dad, so oddly that ‘label’ is less important. I do overstate the at-home dad one, as that’s part of why I blog – to highlight that aspect for others considering it (or their other halves). But I in no way think I’m a better dad than a working one because of it, and if I ever give that impression I apologise. I feel very lucky life has given me this opportunity, but when I return to work full-time, my parenting approach will remain the same.

  5. I’ve always been annoyed by the idea that a man is ‘babysitting’ his own children! I really enjoyed reading this from a man’s point of view, and it made me much more aware of how my husband must feel at times, so thank you for that. We bottle fed my son and I know my husband loved having the chance to form that bond with him. He really missed that time with our daughter as she ended up being exclusively breastfed for about a year. Reading this, I think I need to allow him more time with me out of the picture to build that special bond with her. #Brilliantblogposts

  6. It’s a good post. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in a backlash and have people ascribe motivations to you without thought. You can see it in the baffling harsh reaction to the campaign for more baby changing facilities that can be used by dads. There’s no sense of wanting a biscuit for asking for the opportunity to change children in public so it was unfair to try and lump that campaign in with the very, very different mens’ rights activists.

    My take was from that of maternity care and seeing fathers-to-be sidelined at a time when they needed to be most involved in the care of their partner and child. http://wp.me/p6SLXs-aZ

    #BrillBlogPosts

  7. Thank you for this post. I’ve been a childcare provider for 13 years and it boggles the mind how many dads think they babysit. Hello, you’re a parent, what you are doing is parenting. I’ve also watched as dads give each other a hard time for being a “woman” and taking care of the kids. It’s sad how little we expect out of fathers and it’s nice to know that there are great ones left in this world, even if they are outnumbered.

    * I found you on the Weekend Blog Hop

  8. Very well put. I’m a stay at home mom so when I do stuff it’s work but when hubby does it the kids see it as a treat & others seem to think it’s the stuff of superheroes. Hubby IS a superhero, but not because he takes kids to practice or tucks them in. It’s because he’s an awesome dad. We DO need to expect more — dads deserve that.

  9. If my husband is looking after our son I try to refer to it as “being on Dad duty” rather than babysitting. As I read this I’m eating my lunch and Chris (my husband) has coordinated lunch for our son (okay rotation of duties now need to go put him down for a nap if he’ll cooperate – son that is not husband!)

    I was a breastfeeding mummy for almost 18 months. Certainly at the beginning I felt like a milk machine and we joked that I should change my name to Ermintrude (the cow from Magic Roundabout). Having the support from my husband kept me going on those days when I just needed my body to be mine! I had carried a baby for nine months and then breastfed for nearly 18 by the end I was glad for it to be my body again! Whether it was things like getting up to change Jaxon first thing in the morning so that I could keep my eyes closed for ten more minutes or looking after Jaxon so I could shower without trying to keep an eye on Jaxon and not fall over in the shower (I can be a bit clumsy!). All about the team effort.

    As a daughter, being dad to a daughter can be really hard work especially when we hit our teens – especially when those things you need a mum or female friend to help with! I see the pictures of your daughter on Instagram and I think she’s so fab! I was “encouraged” to wear dresses when I was little and really hated it but I think if I’d know I could wear a Star Wars t-shirt with a pink flowery skirt I think I would have put up with the skirt/dress! Some of my best memories are hanging in the garden with my Dad talking about random stuff or singing silly songs at the top of our lungs (usually Lily the Pink or Little Boxes).

  10. Great to read. I have twins with my best friend, they’re 10 months and live with her. I was very much a part of the pregnancy, very much more than ‘present’ for their birth, I stayed in the hospital for the first week, up with their Mum for every feed & change – twins meant it was a lot harder to do alone, and I was glad of the chance to be essential!
    The first week home I was there and we learnt our routines together, surprised at what we could achieve.
    Then back to my own home, work (down to 4 days), and having the twins for an evening, overnight and following day each week. Sometimes I see them at weekends too- usually if I want to take them to see my parents or sister or friends – it’s harder for my lot to be involved if I’m not around at their Mum’s house.
    They are my children, I am their parent, they know me. Their Mum is not, as many exclaim insensitively in my presence “doing an amazing job raising them single-handedly!”, she is simply doing an amazing job and is simply single…and as amazing as any mother or father who holds it together as we do…
    It’s not perfect, and things will change again when maternity leave is up, I’ll have them 1 day, Mum 2, her parents 1, nanny 1…
    Sometimes I’ve had to be quite firm that my time with them is my time. Usually not a problem…so, why do I still get so irritated when her Dad has the cheek to say (as he leaves me after standing poolside to watch us having a lesson) “Thanks for looking after them, you know, and thanks for taking them swimming.”, like I’m doing something that isn’t my right or duty but a favour to him?!
    Insecure of Fatherhood…

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