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. I hear ya! And on the same note, there need to be more changing stations in mens' restrooms! My husband gets so irritated (and rightly so) when there is not one in the mens room, but there is in the womans.

  2. I've known so many couples with dad taking the first year off work (woot woot, Canada!) that it's just so normal, and I'm really sad for the people who make these rude comments, because their lives are a little closed and small.

    Becca – I know in most places in BC there is a men's, women's, and "family" restroom, which is nice!

  3. I wonder if the stay-at-home mom model of family life has an expiration date at this point. It is a wonderful thing when it works, don't get me wrong, but there are serious downsides to it. For one thing, it's just stressful to put all the financial eggs in one basket, what if that one person who supports the family in that way loses his or her job? And I have some wonderings about what it does to partnerships to divide up the home life/financial life that way as well.

    • I think that putting all the pressure of either homemaking/childcare or work outside the home on one person and one person only is problematic. Even though both partners might be feeling a lot of pressure from whichever angle, it seems like it would always be best to just spread it all out amongst everyone, in order to minimize it as much as possible.

      Unfortunately, much of the time some of the more preferable childcare scenarios just aren't financially feasible, and that's too bad.

  4. I knew my husband for years (when I was married to my ex) before we started dating. We dated for about 7 months and then decided to seriously give our relationship a shot and he moved in. I was working full time and my mom and sister were watching (and spoiling horribly) my two boys. After a couple of months, my sister and my, then, boyfriend weren't getting along (I don't get along w/ my sister, but her babysitting was necessary), so he changed jobs so that he worked at night and stayed home w/ the boys during the day. I knew he was committed the day he walked into work and said that he had a family emergency and couldn't work days. The boys were 2 & 4 at the time. He's been the primary caregiver ever since; they are 6 & 8 now. He's now in school using his GI Bill.

    I'm sure that their will come a day when the boys are rebellious teenagers and they try to say that he's not their real dad, but when they become parents themselves, they will realize that being a dad is in the day-to-day stuff and not genetics.

  5. Sometimes it's the DAD who has the idea that he's not really a parent. Even before our divorce, my now-ex-husband would refer to caring for our daughter as "babysitting" her and would balk at me asking for any time to myself. Whether he realizes it or not, he still does that to an extent; during a school break, I once asked my parents could spend a few days with our child. He said "if there's any need for babysitting, I should be consulted before anyone else." While it's admirable he actually wants to spend time with our child now, the fact that he still refers to it as "babysitting" is still troublesome. Caring for your own child is not "babysitting." Maybe he should read this.

    • You are assuming he thinks of himself as a babysitter. What he said makes perfect sense… "if you're thinking of calling a sitter, call me first" Maybe you've fallen into the "he's my ex so he's bad" trap.

  6. My husband gets so irritated on the changing table thing too!! I have begun keeping track of where they have them in public areas, in handicapped restrooms, etc. Thankfully I live in Europe so it's becoming more common to see them outside of women^s restrooms (however, it's still irksome when a supposedly family-friendly restaurant has not only no changing table in ANY restroom, but not even a countertop! Changing a squirmy baby/toddler on a toilet seat…no thanks)

    Anyway — yeah — If my husband or anyone else ever referred to him PARENTING his child as babysitting?! Um, yeah – be prepared to get an earful. If he's babysitting, then what am I doing all day long? He does sometimes give me shit about handing over baby duties to him on his "day off" but I'm like, wtf get over it, I am out of here. He barely even asks me when he wants to go do something so I figure I can do the same. It's not the most mature solution I will admit….

    Funnily, my husband has been begging me to go back to school and get a teaching degree so that I can be the primary breadwinner and he can be a stay at home dad! I'm serious! Because I don't speak the language fluently I really can't get a job in my profession, so I could teach at International School (here or anywhere) if I was certified. I'm not quite ready to do it at the moment, but maybe later….

  7. Very well stated. I wish people (specially family) would stop passing judgment on someone before they know what is going on. In my opinion, "Mr. Mom" and "is Dad babysitting?", are both judgments. I am the breadwinner and my husband works. I take care of the kids appointments during the day while he is the one that shuttles the kids around after school and to games and to friends houses. Since most of the parents see him, he is asked if he is a single father. He always responds with "No, I just married a smart woman."

    My job takes me away from home a few weeks a year and I also work crazy hours. Sometimes not seeing my kids at all for a few days. I have to live with the guilt of this and it doesn't help when people ask "So who is taking care of the kids?" or "So hubby is playing Mr. Mom." I love responding with "Playing, no he is just being a dad."

    Why don't men get the credit they deserve? Who don't women get the credit they deserve? Instead we all just pass judgment on each other on what we are not doing. We should be praising each other for what we are doing, no matter if it is expecting out of us by our gender.

  8. When we first had our child I had a flex schedule and relished every day I got to spend with him. I also got the babysitting comment. It has the feel of it being beneath me, as a man, to raise my child. At best, that is annoying.

    Now our jobs have shifted with the economy, and I am working full time, and my wife is part time. No more comments, but I miss the days with our boy. We are working to make that happen again.

  9. Could you explain why you believe that men are "pressured" to have a career? I mean since there are now as many women as men in the work place, it can no longer be claimed that there is any difference in career expectations between the sexes. But if you really want to prove your commitment to equality of the sexes, I will anxiously await your next post on how terrible it is that the feminist movement "pressured" women into having careers. When is that coming?

    Oh, and since we object so vociferously about viewing fathers as less than equal parents (babysitters), I'm sure we all equally object to the title of this blog -Off Beat Mama-and I'm sure we have all been demanding it be changed to Off Beat Parent, right?

    • I'm not sure that you can make the claim that there is no difference in career expectations simply because there are as many women as men in "the work place." For one thing there is no one "work place." While it is changing the majority of women still work jobs that reflect society's expectations for women (number one job for women employed in the US in 2008 was Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, followed by Registered Nurses and Elementary School teachers. These are not high prestige "career" jobs necessarily.) And it is still overwhelmingly true that women are much more likely to stop, pause, change, or leave careers in order to devote more time to parenting than men, though I believe that is also changing.

      It's hard for me to tell by your name if you are a man or a woman. But I'm willing to bet you're either a woman or a man with a job/career. Ask any man who is staying at home or choosing family over career if he feels cultural pressure to make a different choice.

      I think the point of the post is that people shouldn't be pressured to make a choice about career vs. family/homemaking simply because that person is a man or a woman. Part of that is treating men and women equally as homemakers as well as in "the workplace."

      • Sometimes us ladies working traditional female jobs get guilt for having them! My mom pressured me to go to premed…which I did…then dropped out because my heart was with children. To this day, regardless of the fact that I'm happy, she's disappointed with me not doing something "important" and instead educating very young children (infant through prekindergarten).

  10. Great article! Here in Canada, we can share our parental leave, so when I went back to work after 9 months, my husband took over for the last three. When people would ask how the baby was doing in daycare, they were always surprised to hear that she was home with dad. It never occurred to them that this would be an option.

    My husband, in advance of his leave, got all sorts of ribbing at work: "I guess you'll have to learn how to change diapers now!" and "Looking forward to being Mr. Mom?" The assumption was that he hadn't done ANY of the babycare from the moment our daughter was born. In reality, he's changed diapers and fed bottles in the night and sang to her and played with her and taught her new things from day one. I suppose we're true products of this generation because we can even understand the mindset from which all these comments are coming!

  11. This is hands down my favorite thing that I've read on OBM. Its like you read my mind, but weren't as preachy and obnoxious as I would have been had I written this : ) Way to go.

  12. I love this post. My honey and I both work 3 days a week. He is a nurse, and I work at a non-profit, and it was really important to me to keep my job after our daughter was born. My honey and I don't see each other as often as we like to, but we really appreciate that we're able to keep our baby out of daycare for now, and that we each have a great relationship with our daughter independent of each other, although, we both agree that she prefers it when we are both around.

    After she was born, I took 10 weeks off of work, and found myself going a little stir crazy, so I joined a parent group organized by a local non-profit to help parents adjust to having children. I was appalled when I heard a mom refer to her partner as "daddy daycare" when she was going back to work. I would never diminish my partner's involvement in our daughter's life that way.

  13. I think my fiance needs to read this article. He works from home and I work 3rds. I know sometimes he feels isolated because he works from home and takes care of our 2 year old daughter on the days she is not in daycare or when I am asleep. I get pissed off when people who watches her while I am at work and I tell them her daddy.

  14. What a great post! I’m always so proud to get to answer “her daddy” when people ask where Nola Jean stays during the day. I work full (FULL) time for a non-profit and he is self-employed as a commercial photographer…so she’s with him most of the time. And the better for it! So many girls don’t get the support they need from their dads; it was such a blessing to me and I hope will be to our baby girl!

  15. I like the way you phrased the “flipside of feminism.” We must not only expect and trust our male partners to care for our children, we must also create a society where men are expected to do so. We must teach our sons as well as our daughters to be nurturing and responsible so that they will grow up to be equitable parents. All too often, boys are left off the hook and grow up believing the myth that women must be full-time caregivers.

  16. This is awesome. My husband is just finally coming into his own as a SAHD, since he was unemployed prior to our having our son, and my job was too lucrative not to go back. He used to be upset about not “having a job” and I had to keep explaining to him that taking care of our son WAS his job. I think he’s getting used to it now, but it shows how ingrained it is to NOT expect men to be caregivers in our society.

  17. We are choosing to have my husband be a Stay at home dad. It was really the most logical choice, I love my 9-5 office job with benefits. He does not thrive in office situations at all. I also go a little batty if I don’t leave the house all day, he is perfectly content to be at home all day. It will take some cutting corners, but I really don’t want our child in daycare before 2-2.5 years old if we can help it. He will take the time to work on writing a book, but I also know that stay at home parent is a full time job.

  18. I am glad to see this pop up again.
    We are just a few months from our child arriving and I CONSTANTLY get asked “are you going back to work after the baby” When I say yes, but my husband is staying home, I often get the response of “oh, you’ll change your mind about that” especially from people who don’t know us that well. It irritates the hell out of me. My husband’s personality is much more suited to being at home with a child than mine. I have no doubt I will absolutely ADORE my child, and I will miss her while I am at work, but I feel lucky that we have the opportunity for him to stay home.

  19. I’m sharing this article with my man who co-hosts a feminist talk radio show. He was a stay-at-home dad for a while and now works part-time while I work full-time. I like your point that handling the outside the house and inside the house stuff is not an either/or arrangement. We’re a team, we have a common goal of caring for our family, and we share all the work of reaching that goal based on our abilities and the family’s needs–not our genders.

  20. Our daughter isn’t due until March but over Christmas my husband gave me tickets to a concert in June and his mother immediately put it in her calendar…to come over that night to take care of the baby. I was flabbergasted at the idea that she didn’t think that my husband (her own son) could take care of his three month old daughter for a night while Momma went out on the town. I was a little insulted FOR him!

  21. I’m a stay at home mom and my husband goes to work, which works for us, but I am also irritated by the “babysitting” comment. I think it’s especially harmful since my husband is the one who is gone at work all day. When he comes home I want him to feel like he is an important part of raising, teaching and nurturing our children, not that he’s just the guy who signs the checks and occasionally has to change a few diapers when mom wants to go out. “Babysitting” is a word that creates distance and using it only in reference to him kind of implies that our kids are more mine than his. I appreciate your comments about the flip side of feminism!

  22. I am so glad this article popped up on OBM. My husband and I are expecting our first baby any day now and we have planned from the beginning for him to stay home and me to go back to work for at least the first year. Being a hair stylist, I see people (mainly women) all day long and have been so judged by our decision. I’ve been told I would regret it, that I am “spoiling” my husband and that I should be careful because after he stays home with the baby he will never want to get a “real job”. WTF is wrong with people?! Since when is taking care of your child not a “real job” and how on earth would me “letting” him stay home with our son spoil my husband?! Sometimes I just want to smack people.

  23. I used to get this too; I went back to work early, then was a full-time student, and people often asked me who was watching my son. Um, his dad? Duh? Ryan has always wanted to be a stay at home dad, and I’ve always wanted to work and we’re trying really hard to make this a reality, even though it’s the opposite now that Gabe is older.

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