Who’s watching the baby?

Guest post by Alissabeth Newton

Andrew and Baby J
Andrew and Baby J

This is, hands down, the question that I am asked most frequently when I am out and about. I spend a lot of time out of the house without Andrew and baby J. Last week, for example, I spent 20 hours working my university job, nine hours in class, about 11 hours doing consultation projects in a couple of different parish settings, three hours at yoga class and three hours at my own parish prepping and teaching Godly Play. Add a few hours of travel and transition time in to that and you’re getting close to 40 hours. Andrew, on the other hand, has about 11 hours of class time, 12 hours of clinic and 1-2 hours of study groups each week. So he’s home more right now. The funny thing is that this possibility — the possibility that when I am out working Andrew is home with baby J — doesn’t really occur to many people first thing.

“Who’s taking care of the baby while you work?” It seems like a harmless question, and really it is. But I didn’t realize until I became a mother how against the grain of our current culture it still is for a father to be just as involved in parenting and primary care-giving for a child — especially an infant — as the mother is.

Another common question is this one: “So, is daddy babysitting today?”

I’d bet our mortgage that no one has asked Andrew if I was “babysitting” our daughter when he’s been out and about without us. I’m not offended when I’m asked these questions, at least not for me. But I feel a little irked for Andrew. What, because he is a man the best he can do is “babysit” his child? It’s not seriously offensive in any way, but I do feel like this is one way our culture shortchanges our men. Let me explain.

One of the things I love about making an effort to engage the world from a feminist perspective is the flip side to feminism. There’s the main idea — that women are full human beings in every respect, equal to men and just as deserving of respect, care, safety, and power. I like that and I believe that. These ideas are most often highlighted and played out in direct respect to “women’s issues” — women deserve equal pay, the right to move up the corporate ladder, to do whatever men do etc. etc. etc. The freeing aspects are focused on freedom for women. But the whole thing falls apart unless this perspective is freeing for men too. Sometimes that part is neglected.

So the flip side to believing that the arenas of power and control that have traditionally belonged to men should also belong to women and offer them equal opportunity (stuff like politics, powerful careers, high pay, working outside the home for money, etc.) is believing that the arenas of power and control that have traditionally belonged to women also belong to men, and they should be offered equal opportunity there. This is stuff like capacity to nurture and care for children, ability to organize house and home, desire to be involved in an intimate and daily way with the business of the nuclear family.

Part of looking at life from a feminist perspective, for me, means believing that these spheres of influence are equally valuable and important, despite the disparate value that our culture places on the public sphere, and that there are human beings of both genders who have the capacity to excel in either arena. Maybe even in both. It proposes the hypothesis that for every woman whose true gifts could have led her to dramatic success as a business person, contractor, fireman, police officer, CEO, state senator, doctor etc. if only she hadn’t felt pressured to stay home and raise a family there is also a man out there whose true gifts could have led him to dramatic success as a child-rearer, household organizer, nurturer, and homemaker if he hadn’t felt pressured to have a career in more traditionally male role.

When Andrew and I sat down, years ago, to talk about how we wanted to build our family I had concerns from my feminist perspective about expectations. I am not built to be a stay-at-home mom, and I needed him to know that. At the same time, I found the prospect of being the sole financial provider for our family daunting. And I didn’t want any children, should we choose to have them, to spend a lot of their babyhood in daycare. Turns out, he was much on the same page himself. It was such a relief for us to let go of the pressures of traditional gender expectations, AND the pressure from the other side to be so radically different that we “reverse” our roles. What if, we thought, we just figure out what we’d each be best at and what our real priorities are and worked from there?

Right now that means that I’m doing more in the public world than Andrew is, and he’s taking care of a lot, but not all, of the business of homemaking for the three of us. It means that our baby is always with one of her parents. It means that we have to really talk to each other about all of our household routines because we both have to know how to do everything. It also means that we hold these things as impermanent — we are open to a time when he’s doing more “out there” and I’m doing more at home. Or when it’s more 50-50.

Most importantly it means that there are no babysitters living in this house — no, not even Daddy.

Comments on Who’s watching the baby?

  1. Amen! I'm the primary caretaker and my husband is the primary breadwinner but when I do go out (for work or pleasure), I get the same question! I say, "she's home with dad." I don't know why it's so wierd for people to imagine…

  2. I work full-time, as does my husband. Four days out of the week our daughter is at a great daycare. My husband works Saturdays, and he gets Tuesdays off instead, so our daughter gets to stay home with him on those days. This arrangement started almost six months ago, and I'm really starting to see the pay-off these days. His confidence with Sadie has increased tenfold, and their relationship is beautiful. Yes, I wish that one of us could be home with her every day. Or that we had more than only Sundays together as a complete family. But I really appreciate that Sadie gets at least one day a week with each of us to herself.

    Before Sadie was born, I made the mistake of telling my husband that he could "babysit" our baby when I wanted to go out and do things like book club. He quickly corrected me saying, "It's not babysitting if it's MY baby, too." Well put, sir.

  3. I love this! My partner is about to become a stay at home dad and we are both thrilled. We also know a couple other dads who are home during the day so he can still have some "guy time". They just pack up the babies and hang out. I'm so glad we won't have to use day care (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and I don't have to give up my job. Also he LOVES the idea of only working on weekends.

  4. I completely agree! When our little boy comes in June, I will be going back to work after maternity leave and my husband will be staying home to attend college and take care of the baby. I'm appalled at how many people seem shocked and ask "Can he handle it?" Well OF COURSE he can handle it, just as well as I could handle it if the situation was reversed. And since we are expecting a son, I don't think things could've worked out any better.

  5. My fiance dreams of being a stay at home dad, unfortunately as a chef he makes more money than I ever could so it's not financially feasible right now. He gets extremely mad when somebody makes the 'babysitting' comment to him and quickly corrects them. He's a parent, not a babysitter.

  6. Yesssss! We plan on a similar arrangement for our little gal once she arrives andmy maternity leave ends. Thanks also for illuminating the oft-forgotten "flip side" of feminism.
    A friend posted this hilarious and related music video on You Tube last week and it immediately struck me as something OBM would feature: ("Stay At Home Dad")

    • Jon Lajoie is hilarious, thanks for sharing that! I know a few "stay at home dads" and they are happy content individuals. I think more people should be open to the arrangement!!

  7. When our son was first born, my husband stayed home so that I could go back and finish school. I was amazed by how many people thought it was a bad idea and that I should put off finishing my degree. It was the best thing we could have done, for many reasons, and we don't regret it at all. I would like to see more opportunities for Dads to stay home, without it being about what is financially feasible. We are expecting our second baby in June, and I'm sad to say, that for financial reasons Dad will not be taking any time off.

  8. I completely agree! We knew that we didn't want day care for our son, and my husband is in a graduate program a couple nights a week, so I became the main income earner for our family, working during the day 4 days a week. I am amazed at how many times people just assume my son must be in day care if I'm working during the day. No, he's home with his daddy. It's like a foreign concept.

    I like that we each have time to develop a relationship with this awesome kid, and right now he actually is a daddy's boy because they spend more time with each other.

    I knew right away that I didn't want to be a stay-at-home mom completely. I love being home with my son, and I love taking care of the house and putting everything in order, but I need time to be my own person, in the adult world, and have that social interaction that I just can't get from being at home (or from mommy groups or kid-friendly activities). I just need a certain amount of time to have a separate identity from "Mommy". Thankfully, my husband is completely okay with that.

  9. I hate hate hate when people say oh I need to ask my husband if he can babysit the kids tonight or if they ask me oh is your husband babysitting tonight so you can go out?

    No he is not a freakin babysitter. He is not being paid, he is her father and yes she is staying home with him.
    It is one of my biggest pet peeves.

  10. I relate SO MUCH to this post. Since Andreas and I are both self-employed, we share baby caring duties pretty much 50/50. I am so grateful that Tavi gets to spend so much of his infancy with Andreas … and like Katherine, it's really important to my sanity to have time away to be my own person.

  11. This has been one of my mum's biggest pet-peeves since as long as I can remember. I have seen her explode when people mention dads "babysitting" their own children or the horrible term "Mr Mom". He's not "Mr Mom" he's "DAD". It's really too bad that dads taking care of their own children is seen by some as out of the norm.

  12. My husband stayed home over the winter with our 1 year-old (sadly (IMHO) he's back at work now, but it's a seasonal job so he'll be a SAHD again in a few months) and what I noticed is how many people complimented ME on "how good he is with the baby" like he was some kind of well-trained wild animal and I should get credit for teaching him all his tricks. I thought it was pretty insulting to both of us. But I've always been the breadwinner, so my skin is pretty well armoured against that sort of unconsious gender-role judgement from the larger world. The most important thing is that my little guy has a GREAT relationship with his papa, his mama, and all the other wonderful adults in his life.

  13. i had a very similar discussion with my ex husband the other day when i asked if he could arrange shifts around a few things that are happening over the next couple of months with me and my mum (my munchkin's usual carer while i'm at work for all of 2 hours every weekday!). He complained that i was using him as an unpaid babysitter, so i ended up pointing out that if she isn't with me she SHOULD be with him, as he is her parent too! he's started chipping in more and stopped complaining since then… 🙂 =happy muchkin, happy mummy and happy daddy!

  14. OMG YES. I am a hair stylist, so I see/talk to lots off different people in a day’s time. Once people hear I have a little boy, 98% of the time their next question is, “Who watches him when you’re here?” I get this question so much, sometimes I want to say, “Oh, no one. I’ve been leaving him home alone with a bottle of jack & a book of matches. Why, is that bad?” I don’t understand why it would matter to someone who has known me for fifteen minutes. I guess most of them don’t realize they’re being rude.

  15. I stumbled over this recently when I was explaining that a couple days prior our girl stayed with her first babysitter. My friend asked Oh you mean other than Dad? And I thought. wait, dad is Dad, he's not a babysitter, but unfortunately since I'm currently unemployed and he works full time. It does feel that way sometimes. He just doesn't get to spend as much time with her as we'd both like. So while I don't like the term babysitting for dad, even I have mistakenly thought that way sometimes. To combat that, we are trying to build more daddy daughter time… in other words get out of the house mom or at the very least butt out and let dad be in charge more.

  16. My father stayed at home with me in the 1980s and it's sad that not much has changed since then.

    Although we did get some weird judgments, my school really loved that he came along on fields trips!

    • My dad stayed at home with me in the 80s too! He's an artist, but he spent most of his time taking care of me and the house while my mom worked full-time and went to school. I didn't think it was weird at all. But maybe I should ask him if he felt out-of-place at the park or during school field trips. (;

  17. Perfectly stated! My husband is a stay at home dad to our almost 8 year old daughter and now also to our 3 week old daughter! My grandparents just cannot grasp this concept and are constantly asking when he is getting a job…I know for a FACT they would not be asking this if it was I who was staying home with the girls! I think it is great our children are getting so much more daddy time in this day and age!!

  18. I'm the wage earner in our family. Mark stays at home. I have to say there are still people walking around the earth with healing burns from my response to the "babysitting" terminology.

  19. Well put, Alissabeth! On paper our family looks pretty stereotypical–I stay home and my husband works full-time, so the SAHMs at our son's preschool assume I'm simpatico with them. This means I hear the most irksome comments about uninvolved dads, babysitters, and even housekeepers (ugh!). They seem confused upon discovering I work part-time from home and my husband is active with housework and child care, keeping his work hours as flexible as possible so he can help me meet deadlines and attend school events. In turn, we’re astonished that he’s such an anomaly at this "progressive" Montessori school.

  20. It is REALLY great to read about how people negotiate who stays home when. I will be in this situation when my husband and I have kids–I enjoy working and being out of the house more than he does, but being the sole breadwinner doesn't appeal to me either. (Plus I'm looking at a career as a theater artist, and he's a nurse, so, uh, there's the financial feasibility of that too.) I've really only experienced households with one primary caregiver, so I struggle a bit to imagine what our family will be like in the future, and it's just so fabulous to hear about other people doing it, and with such aplomb.

  21. I hated when people asked me if "daddy is babysitting". No. DADDY is taking care of HIS KIDS. He's not getting paid…he's not going to leave when I get home. And he [hopefully!] isn't inviting his teenybopper boyfriend over as soon as I leave.

    I am a stay at home mom…but it annoyed me to feel like I had to justify my being out of the house. Without a husband or kids!!

    There was a brief window when we considered dad being the stay at home and me being the primary worker. Dad was going to watch the kids & go to school…he joined the Army instead, so…there's not a whole lot he can do from Afghanistan, lol…so I'm EVERYTHING right now. 😉

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