I was at the theatre a couple of weeks ago with my mum. As we were saying goodbye, she asked me to give my love to my husband. ‘Oh and thank him for babysitting of course’. It was really just a passing comment, so she was pretty surprised when I turned to her and said ‘he’s not babysitting. If I was the one at home with Tom, would you say I was babysitting?’
Now, my mum wasn’t meaning to be offensive to Mr Techno. And chances are, if he had heard her, he wouldn’t even have thought anything of it. But it drives me a bit nuts when I hear people describe fathers as babysitters when they are in sole charge of their kids.
I currently work three days a week. Tom goes to nursery two days a week, and Mr Techno is able to look after him the other day (he is a restaurant manager, so is more likely to have time off during the week than at weekends). Mr Techno also covers childcare on other days if I have to travel for work, which tends to happen at least once a month. I do more childcare because I work fewer days. But Mr Techno is Tom’s father. He plays a full and active role in bringing him up. The day they have alone together every week is not the equivalent of me leaving Tom with a babysitter.
While it is true that society’s view of fathers is changing, there are still an awful lot of depictions of men as charming, but essentially useless when it comes to childcare. Watch any sitcom or film where a father is left in charge of his kids, and he will be making a hilarious mess of it, whilst his overly competent wife swings by occasionally to be quietly (or loudly) disappointed by his efforts.
It is very definitely still the case that women, overall, do more childcare than men. We are more likely to give up our jobs, or to go part-time. For some families, that is what works. Me being part-time and Mr Techno being full-time is what works best for our family and neither of us is in a hurry to change that. But there is also a theme in a lot of families’ conversations where the women complain about the men not stepping up enough to help with the kids (I have to admit, I am guilty of doing this myself).
If we want our men to help out more when they are home, regardless of who works more or who spends more time with the kids, we need to acknowledge that dads are as much parents as mums are. That means changing our language – talking about parents, rather than mums, for example. And definitely never referring to our partners as babysitters when what they are is fathers.
Is it just me who gets riled up about this? Have you been irritated by people making assumptions about parenting being the mother’s domain? Or do you think I am overreacting to an innocent remark? Let me know in the comment section.