I have lost count of the times my own mother has asked me if my husband was “babysitting” our two boys when I call her from my drive to head to a girls’ dinner or work event. I always (lightheartedly) remind her that my husband is their “dad” and he isn’t babysitting but in fact is just hanging out with his two children alone, in his own house, without me. Nope, not the babysitter.
I can’t fault my mom, however, because this response is quite simply conditioned. It is conditioned from generations before, generations of men whose roles were clearly defined. They were “breadwinners,” and their “job” was to go out and earn money to support their families. Nowhere in their job description were the words “childcare,” “babysitter” or “stay-at-home dad.”
I have memories from my own childhood of my mom, who worked part time owning her own store and then later as a teacher, leaving me and my two older brothers with my father occasionally. My dad would stand bewildered and confused, looking at that can of Zoodles or the box of mac and cheese that my mom would leave him to prepare for us and I can still clearly feel his discomfort at being left alone with HIS three children. This “babysitting” was very much out of his realm of comfort. He was the dad who took us to soccer, tennis and hockey. He even flew with me across the country for a modeling job when I was 12 and didn’t skip a beat. If we were doing something or he was the coach or chaperone, all was OK. But left alone in our home staring at a can of pasta and tomato sauce, not so much.
I look at all the fathers I’m surrounded by today—my two brothers, my brother-in-law, my friends’ husbands, my high school buddies, the dads that are part of my “mommy” groups, my own husband—and it is clear this is a different breed of dudes. These guys might have grown up with fathers who had clear-cut roles, and being home with kids was probably not one of them, but they are faced with a different world, different women and way different perspectives today. I know my own brother was the dad who woke up to do the 3 a.m. feedings with all three of his babies. He’s also known as the bath and bedtime guru for his two little girls and baby boy.
I don’t ever worry when I leave my husband alone with my two boys. Sure, the house might look like he threw a raging frat party, and my kids might have eaten a week’s worth of sugar and cheddar duckies, and it might be a pants-optional outfit day, but I’m cool with that. Dads have just as important a role to play in their kids’ lives as moms do. An important token of knowledge I take with me is something an expert in child development once told me: Children need one-on-one time with their fathers just as much as they do with their mothers. Fathers provide a completely different type of “play” for kids that helps their brains develop and fulfills completely different needs. Dads have their own unique way of engaging play. For example, my husband loves to wrestle my two boys and plays in a much more physical way with them than I ever could (or would). This type of play provides feedback that literally calms their nervous system and helps them behave better in school and in other social interactions.
I think this generation of dads are just as revolutionary and incredible as this generation of moms. We all know moms and women in general are blurring the lines that existed from generations before. We do all the stuff our mothers and grandmothers did and then do so much more. We work, we handle the bills, we can fix stuff, we are breadwinners—there is nothing we CAN’T do. Dads are the same. These dads change diapers, give bottles, wipe messy faces, get on the floor and play, do preschool pickup and drop-off, go to parenting groups and cook, clean and give baths. These dads are also changing the role of “father” and it is fantastic.
Look, I love our actual nanny and babysitters. Love them. But my husband is just not one of them. He’s a parent. He’s dad. He might not do things the way I do (he most definitely doesn’t), but he has his own way of hanging with our two boys and they absolutely love it.
He and his fellow “dad” tribe are forging a path unknown and it’s pretty darned cool.
The next time someone asks me if my husband is “babysitting” our kids, I will answer quite simply, “Nope, he’s not the babysitter. He’s the wrestling, book-reading, bath-giving, sports-coaching, fun-making DAD.” And if he is the babysitter, he’s getting a raw deal ’cause I haven’t paid his tab yet.