When I stay home with the padawan it tends to illicit a range of expression from people. Mostly, it’s very supportive. Those who know me well enough know I cherish the time with them. Occasionally though, I get one of these:
“Oh, you’re babysitting today?”
Thankfully, I don’t hear the outdated cliche often, but when I do it can be a bit infuriating. Typically, in the most polite voice I can muster, I’ll respond, “Nope, I’m not baby sitting, I’m fathering.”
No disrespect at all to babysitters. They have a very difficult, often thankless job of taking care of children when the primary caretakers cannot do it.
I, however, am no babysitter. It isn’t my “job” to watch my own offspring. I’m not getting paid for this. I can’t simply just check out at the end of a shift and be done with it.
I am a father. It’s both my responsibility and my pleasure to spend time with my padawan with or without the company of any other family or friends around. I take my responsibility seriously. And, I derive a great deal of enjoyment from the experience as well.
Each generation has dealt with unique experiences which shape how parenting looks for all the caregivers. Fatherhood has greatly changed from my dad’s generation parenting to my own. And, honestly, it looked a lot different from his father’s and his father before him. Socio-cultural shifts put different emphasis on different aspects of what it means to be a good father and, as such, each generation dealt with shaping their roles as fathers in nuanced manners.
Somewhere over time in U.S. culture fathers became thoroughly disconnected from childrearing. One can debate the how and when this occurred but from my perception the industrial revolution probably was a major catalyst for it as it removed the father from the regular presence of his family as a craftsman, tradesman or farmer and into a factory away from them for increasingly larger portions of the day. The subtle changes in schedule and daily routine changed the emphasis of role to being a specific type of breadwinnering strategy that deemphasized the importance of participation in family life. Add in the effects of several major wars disrupting the generational influences of fathers on sons and so on and the refinement in the definition of being a good father.
A very specific division of labor was created by this shift in career responsibilities for men. When they did participate in domestic activities, they were expected to fulfill very specific household needs that wedged squarely into their very “manly” skillset. They would mow the law, maintain the car, repair the roof and plumbing, deal with the finances, wielded the grill and so on. They were rewarded socially for their manly endeavors but also likewise shamed if they were to participate in the routine cooking, cleaning and childrearing responsibilities that were reserved for moms.
What you end up with is the Stepford style experience of women’s work is in the home to serve their breadwinning husband and tend to the children to the point where it the societal pressure on men to subjugate their parental responsibilities in order to better their careers as a definition of self worth actually became problematic to the family dynamic as a whole and created a reactionary response in pursuing forced interactions like “daddy-daughter time” and “father-son time” to bridge the gap.
A new generation of fathers has been slowly working to reverse this trend of fatherly disengagement but the social stigmas associated after several generations of essentially rewarding estranged parenting by dads can be tough to overcome even for the most enlightened of us.
And, this is why the idea of father’s babysitting their children irks me so much. It’s a cliche derived from exactly the type of social stigma that makes good parenting for dad’s so difficult to come by because it sends mixed signals about the role of fathers in their own children’s lives.
While parenting may never be “equal” it can be balanced to an equilibrium and part of attaining and maintaining that equilibrium is allowing dads to feel empowered by alone time with their children. To cast it as part of the normal routine and not treat it as a novelty. To frame it as a part of normal fatherly interaction with children and not .
Too often still though there’s a societal sense that men are lost particularly in the early development years of children. That we won’t be capable of correctly feeding the bottle, or to change a diaper. That we won’t be able to calm a fidgeting or console a screaming child. That we’re somehow afraid of our own shadows. If you are told enough time’s you are going to fail there does come a point where the expectation even within yourself is that you will fail.
While there may be some parents who do suffer from parental paralysis and struggle to adapt it isn’t predicated on gender alone and to treat it as such is the kind of sexist bullshit that continues to undermine men’s ability to parent properly from a socio-cultural point of view.
Rather, if there’s an expectation that father’s should take some role in childrearing in modern society there needs to be a conscious and concerted effort to embrace the opportunities provided to do that. And, one of the most obvious ones is in individual caregiving when the maternal parent is away.
Trust me, the baby will still be alive and most likely completely unharmed when the family is back together. We know how to wipe our own asses when we have to shit. We know how to feed our own faces when we’re hungry. And, we’ve figure out how to deal with the range of emotions of the people we have daily interactions with. We are not incompetent and can figure out how to apply these skills to our interactions with our offspring.
The child maybe even will have had a unique experience bonding with their father and the father with their child that could not have otherwise occurred in co-parenting circumstances.
So, let’s stop calling individual parenting moments for dad’s “babysitting” and start calling it what it is “fathering.” And, lets encourage more dad’s to do it.