I was organising to go out for dinner with my mother's group a couple of months ago, and as it was our first evening out, we were all giggling about staying up late and drinking wine.
One of the mums piped up, "I'll have to get his dad to babysit!" Some of the mothers laughed and nodded in agreement (I admit I was one of them), while others were quick to point out that dads aren't babysitters. And after the conversation that arose from this innocent comment, I am now adamantly a part of the latter group.
What do we mean when we ask if the dads are babysitting? What are we actually implying?
A babysitter is used to refer to someone who looks after your baby. Seems logical enough, right? But do we ever call a mother a "babysitter"? Not for their own children, of course not. They are a parent – they look after their OWN child. They feed them. They clean and change them. They entertain and play with them. These are the normal roles and responsibilities that come with being a parent.
So when we ask our spouse or our partner (or our child's other parent) to "babysit", we are actually removing their role and responsibility to look after their own child. Do we only see it as the "mother's job" to look after the children? NO.
Mums constantly complain about their partner's lack of support or their refusal to be a "hands-on" parent. So why then, do we talk about dads as babysitters? Are we reflecting our partner's relationship with the children onto the experience (they are, in fact, unsupportive and not "hands-on"), or are we just perpetuating this idea of dads as lazy, uncooperative and uninvolved?
The modern dad?
I'm surrounded by a fair few traditionalists – those who vehemently believe it is the wife's responsibility to child-rear, while the husband brings home the bacon (so to speak). The idea of dads looking after children is usually the topic of hilarious memes, ridicule and some very bad jokes. We almost celebrate the fact that dads are viewed as the incompetent and uninterested parents, rather than praise the eager, involved and hands-on ones.
My husband has recently made the decision to cut down his working days from full time to 4 days part-time. This is 100 per cent his choice, and it is to do with the fact that he'd like to spend more time with our son.
I am going away for a weekend soon, and my husband is actually – can you believe it – EXCITED about spending some one-on-one time with our son. You know all the things those dad-memes suggest that dads don't want to do, like changing nappies or feeding the baby? My husband WANTS to do all the hands-on, nitty-gritty parenting stuff. Is he a keeper or what?
But he is also not the only dad. I am hearing stories of a lot more dads who are eagerly involved in their child/ren's lives, and we as mothers (and the general population) need to stop being surprised about that and support their involvement.
Stop the stereotypes
With a seeming increase in dads participating in the home life, what can we do – as wives and mums – about these stereotypical images of lazy, good-for-nothing dads?
1. Encourage your partner/husband/baby daddy to his face
Sometimes dads make silly mistakes – hey, don't we all? Us mums are just as prone (if not MORE so) to doing silly stuff with or around the kids. Instead of honing in on those things, offer encouraging words and support to him when he tries to get involved in your child/ren's lives (and if it isn't all that often, make a HUGE deal of it when he does – he'll get the hint that this is encouraged!).
2. Praise you partner/husband/baby daddy to others
It can be so easy to fall into the trap of complaining or whining about someone when everyone else is doing it. Next time you're in a group of mums (let's face it – that's usually where it happens), don't join in on the partner/husband bashing conversation. Either leave the conversation, or share something amazing and "hands-on" that they did instead ("Hey, my hubby changed his bum today!"). We need to start normalising conversations where dads are praised rather than berated.
3. Refrain from sharing demeaning dad memes
Heck, we all do it – I even CREATED one for my Facebook page. (To be fair, my husband thought it was a funny joke and said I should do it, but still). By jumping on this bandwagon, everyone knows that you are sharing it because you can relate to it, or agree with it.
As mums, we always share nice, fluffy, emotional memes about how mothers have amazing bonds with their kids (which is true), so why don't we share those types of posts about dads?
Dads as equal parents
At the end of the day, you are an equal parent with your husband/partner/baby daddy.
As your child grows and matures, each parent might have different roles and responsibilities with the child. One parent might drive to soccer practice while another cooks the meals (who is to say which parent does which?). One parent might have gender-specific conversations with their child, while the other parent offers perspectives from the opposite sex.
Each parent has a role and responsibility to play in their child's life, and we should be encouraging and supporting that to flourish, rather than add to the perception of ignorance.