I’m a Father, Not a Babysitter – Debunking the Mr. Mom Stereotype

Summary: It’s insulting to both dads and moms to call it babysitting when a father is taking care of his children. Breaking the stereotype of dad as substitute parent.

When I’m out and about with my daughter I hear two typical comments. One falls in the “you’re such a good father” category. The other falls into the “so you’re babysitting today?” category. Moms never hear these. Ever.

Underlining these two statements are the same concepts. Women are just expected to devote their lives to their children, therefore any praise or acknowledgment is redundant and unnecessary. Fathers on the other hand are either inept or just have more important things to do than parent. Therefore any contribution to the raising of their own children is to be praised and acknowledged.

Both are insulting to men and women. Why is a man called a Mr. Mom when parenting his own children? It’s simple really. When raising children is classified exclusively as women’s work, any contribution from a man is considered an anomaly and a feminization of his manhood.

This is, of course, poppycock. Yeah, you read that right, I said poppycock!

Not only do society norms enforce this nonsense, women also tend to perpetuate this attitude as well. How many times have you seen a dad trying to calm down their child during a meltdown. Probably a few. How many times did you see the mom swoop in to “rescue” the dad and take over. Every time? Almost every time? The truth is women often do not let the father work through a child crisis on his own. Whether it’s a child throwing up, crying hysterically, having a tantrum or freaking out over an injury, if the mom is around she’s right there to take over. The father, who most likely has less life experience with children and therefore feels less confident in handling the situation, quickly hands over the child. Everyone’s relieved. The father knows he can now go off and do something else that is either more fun or that he feels more confident in, and the woman reasserts her image as the supreme caregiver and center of her child’s emotional universe.

So you can see where this all leads. As the years go by, the dad, ever confident that his partner will always rescue him when things get tough, becomes more disconnected from his children, the children become overly dependent on mom, and mom wonders why she’s the only one that can handle anything around the house.

This is most unfortunate as being able to take care of your children is one of the most empowering and manly things a guy can do.

There are a lot of things that make me feel manly. Being able to fix something makes me feel manly. Supporting my family financially makes me feel manly. Executing a perfect to duck dive on a shallow reef  makes me feel manly. Making my partner laugh makes me feel manly. An exuberant sexual experience with my partner makes me feel manly. Getting a compliment from her makes me feel manly. Teaching my daughter how to swim or ride a bike makes me feel manly. And caring of her when she hurts herself makes me feel manly.

The pattern is obvious.

Men feel at their best when they feel in control, when they can identify a problem and find a solution, and when they know that their efforts are worthwhile, appreciated and of value to those they care about most. Not so much different from women really.

So if mom is always “saving” you or your child when things go less than perfect you need to stop it.

This is going to be tough. If the mom is around it’s nearly impossible to take the lead on anything that the woman feels is her responsibility. What are the chances that your partner will continue with her business while you tend to your child’s cut finger. Zero? Less than zero? How about picking out her clothes?  Think you’ll be allowed to dress your own child without mom putting in her two cents? Yeah, fat chance. Truth is, in most households,  a man will not be able to dress, feed, or educate his child without mom hovering over and guiding the whole process. We have a very feminist and progressive household and I can’t even escape it. It’s maddening and crippling and it’s bad for you and it’s bad for you child.

Bottom line is you need extended time alone with your child without mom hovering around. That means you either need to take your kid out of the house or she needs to leave. Preferably on a vacation every now and then. If you haven’t spent at least 24 hours alone with you child then you  are missing out on some serious opportunities for personal growth and bonding. Your partner is also missing out on the same personal growth. It’s important that she let go from time to time and learn that the world doesn’t fall apart when she’s not there.

On two separate occasions, when my partner left town for the weekend, my daughter got sick and threw up in the middle of the night. And I mean big -time puke. All over the floor, the sheets, the furniture and whatever else was in her vicinity. Now, when I told my partner this in the morning she decided to cut her trip short. I told her it wasn’t necessary and it’s all under control. But she came home anyway.

The truth is I was glad she wasn’t there. I can handle a sick, barfing child just fine. What I find difficult is having someone tell me that I’m using the wrong towel to mop up the vomit, to remove the vomit from the bed sheets BEFORE putting them in the laundry basket (well duh!), and then after everything is cleaned up,  that I didn’t put the pillows back on the couch in the right order. Now that’s difficult!

Right now, the men reading this are thinking “amen brother!” However, the women reading this are saying “well someone has to make sure things are done correctly. The whole house would be a disaster and we’d live like cave people if it wasn’t for me”.

Women, I’m here to burst your bubble. The man in your life can handle things just fine, just not the exact way you’d do it. If you were to die tomorrow your partner and child would survive. The house would still be cleaned (just not as well or in the same way you would) your child would still get to school (perhaps not as early as you would like),  and your child would still be fed, clothed, educated and disciplined ( just not exactly the way you think it should be done).

And men, you can handle a lot more than you think. Raising a child is tough but not as tough as your wife or partner has led you to believe. Tedious and mind numbing, yes. Exhausting. You bet. Tough as in digging a ditch in the desert or assembling one of those ten by ten foot metal sheds, then no.

The truth is moms tend to make raising children harder than it is. When I’m alone with my daughter, traveling around and having fun, everything seems to go more or less smoothly. No big drama. If things don’t go as planned, well, I just change my plans. I adapt. Going out with my daughter is easy because it don’t need to control everything and I’m not burdened with preconceived notions of how things are “supposed” to be. However, my partner does.

If my partner’s along, the dynamic changes completely. There’s always something “wrong”. There’s always something me and my daughter aren’t doing the “right way”. And you bet she’s going to point it out. It adds a layer of unneeded stress.

So to her, packing up the car with our daughter and a friend or two and going on adventure is not something to look forward to.

Here’s a completely fabricated, yet amazingly accurate imaginary conversation that  never really happened, but most definitely could have taken place.

Me: “So I’m thinking tomorrow morning we’ll either go to Silliman Swim Center or maybe the Discovery Museum, After that we’ll go get some Vietnamese food and then maybe swing by this park that was built on an old quarry. Might be lame and a waste of time but we’ll see.”

My Daughter: “Cool”

How it goes down if my partner’s involved.

Me: “So I’m thinking tomorrow morning we’ll either go to Silliman Swim Center or maybe the Discovery Museum, After that we’ll go get some Vietnamese food and then maybe swing by this park that was built on an old quarry. Might be a waste of time but we’ll see.”

My Daughter: “Cool!”

My Partner: “You mean you don’t know yet? It’s 7:30 pm and you don’t know where we’re going tomorrow? How can you not know? You should have decided by now. What time are we leaving? If we’re not going swimming then I need time to take a shower. If we’re going swimming then I need to get all our swim stuff together and bring a change of clothes and I’ll shower there. Where’s the Vietnamese place? Have you been there before? Where’s the quarry? If we go swimming and take a shower, I don’t want her getting all dirty at some quarry afterward…(continued ad infinitum)

My Daughter: “We’re not going to the quarry? I want to go the quarry! Daddy said we’re going to the quarry (cue tears).”

What started as a fun, loosely planned trip has turned into a battle for me, and total confusion for my daughter.

If you asked me in my most reactionary and defensive moments about it, I’d say that if my daughter was only exposed to my partner’s way of thinking she’d see the world from a rigid, judgmental point of view. A place where nothing is spontaneous and all rules and laws are follow regardless of validity or appropriateness to the situation.

My partner in turn would say if it wasn’t for her influence, our daughter would grow up thinking it’s ok to just change your mind after you’ve made plans and that she doesn’t need to follow any rules or laws. Oh, and she’d also have rotting teeth, knotted hair and be dressed like a homeless child. Oh, and she wouldn’t be vaccinated against polio, have any birthday or Christmas presents and never make it to school on time or perhaps not even be enrolled in school.

Of course, neither one of us is correct. Our daughter will largely come out the way she’s going to come out. I’m 100% certain that if either us were to die tomorrow our daughter will do just fine being raised alone by the other parent. However, I’m not convinced my partner completely believes it. Intellectually yes, deep in her gut, I’m not so sure. I don’t think society in general believes it either. When I’m out and about with my daughter I just get the general vibe that although it’s wonderful that I’m spending time with my daughter, I’m not the “real” parent. Sort of like the show “Beatlemania” whose slogan is “Not the Beatles But an Amazing Simulation!” Kind of the way you look at a YouTube video of a six year girl belting out a Whitney Houston song. Yes, it’s cute and entertaining, and the child deserves major kudos for trying, but she’s no Whitney Houston.

Back when she was younger, if took my daughter to a typical parent/child type class (ie: anything that has the word “together” or “and me” in it) it would feel as if at any moment some woman was going to pat me on the head and say “awww, isn’t that cute, he’s trying to be a mommy!”

I don’t get it. I’m a capable and fully involved parent. And no matter what my partner says, no it’s not like she’s dealing with two children. Just because dads think and do things differently than moms doesn’t mean it’s wrong or any less valid.

Ummm, so what was I saying originally…oh, yeah, I’M A FATHER NOT A BABYSITTER, BIOTCH!

That’s it for now.

File Under: Mr Mom Stereotype – Fathering Prejudice – Men as Equal Parents – Parenting Equality – Shared Parenting – Father Not babysitter – Daddy Childcare – Dad as Equal Parent


7 Responses to “I’m a Father, Not a Babysitter – Debunking the Mr. Mom Stereotype”

  • Bobby Walker Says:

    I have a buddy that refuses to say “watching the kids today” or “babysitting” when he misses work. He says (accurately) that he ‘is the active co-parent today’.

    What he and I believe is just what you said at the beginning and end of this post: We are parents, not babysitters.

    We don’t just watch the kids until the wife gets home, we are decision makers, life-enriching he-men (in the eyes of our kids at least).

    Thanks for the post and I agree whole heartedly. (even with the part about the partners involvement (but don’t tell my wife I said that))
    .-= Bobby Walker´s lastest blog ..Bone shakingly bad kid movies =-.

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  • Sarah Tena Says:

    My husband certainly does not agree with you guys, too bad for him. I only have one hang with this blog post: The situation where you described your partner having to make all the plans ahead of time and know everything in advance and sticking to the plan. This isn’t a mom thing or a women’s thing. Many women are like this but certainly not across the board, I would go so far as to say it’s a first-time parent quirk and yet many first time parents are very relaxed. I really think you and your partner would enjoy a book called “Babyproofing your Marriage,” which talks at length about what you brought up here. It’s a very fast, funny, easy, read.

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  • Bryan Myers Says:

    Love the post! Being self employed and having a wife who is working 9-5. I am handling a lot of the primary care giving (or as I call it, TRAINING!) of my 3 year old daughter.

    To me it is a joy, it is fun and it can be trying. I don’t consider it ‘work’ like my wife does.

    Speak of the cute little devil.. she needs me and so I need to cut this short. I’ll be back though!

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  • Dan Casey Says:

    I laughed or shook my head all the way through this article.

    I’m the father, with the two toddlers (3 and 1.5)with the partner as you described, except that the stress she causes herself through the obsessiveness means that I am the steady and capable one, the primary resource and fixer go-to-guy, while she’s crumbling in uncertianty and anxiety. Not that she will let go any, or relax and let me do it, just have to do it her way, every time. *sigh* but thanks. It’s refreshing to see such an enthusiastic viewpoint expressed outside of the box. Cheers.
    Dan.
    .-= Dan Casey´s lastest blog ..It’s all about happiness =-.

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  • Dave Says:

    A blog with a male parent’s perspective… I found one.

    You’re the man. Nice piece.

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  • Shea Laking Says:

    I’M A FATHER NOT A BABYSITTER, BIOTCH!!!!

    Man, but I NEED that on a bumper sticker for my minivan.

    I’m a father of 6 year old twin daughters (not identical, thank God) and I “free-form improvise” all the time when I take them out on a Sunday afternoon-My wife works Sundays AM from home and plays baseball Sunday afternoons.

    Oh yeah, I’m the one who takes ‘em to the sitters before work and usually does the homework shuffle. ;)

    Thanks, I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!

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  • Suzanne Says:

    Oh I completely agree. Unfortunately I’ve seen this from the other side also. My ex used to refer to it as babysitting if I ever went out and left him with the kids.. They were his children! :o

    [Reply]

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