He’s No Babysitter, He’s Their Father

By Gretchen
My husband travels for work occasionally. Usually, these trips take him 2,000 miles away from home, for about a week. He attends meetings, training sessions, and social gatherings. He braves the airports and hotel breakfast bars.

He probably has dozens of interactions every day with co-workers and travel industry employees. I bet he’s never been asked if his wife is at home babysitting the kids. Not once.

Yet, when I go away for a weekend or just out for dinner and desert with a group of moms, the subject always comes up. Is your husband babysitting?

I wish I could say, “Yes. And he is charging $5 per kid, per hour, so pass those Mexican eggrolls a little faster.”

This past weekend, I attended a major women’s conference which travels to 30 cities all over the country. I was gone for two nights, staying in a hotel, braving the breakfast bar. Our six children were at home, being parented by their father. He was not babysitting. I didn’t leave a list of instructions, pre-made foods, emergency contacts. I didn’t lay out their pajamas or their clothes for the next day. I called home three times, but talked to my oldest daughter more than I talked to him.

I did tell him where to find barrettes for our two-year-old daughter’s hair.

While I was away, he took them grocery shopping. He went to Costco. He rearranged furniture. They had a movie night. He made pancakes. All children and objects were clean and intact when I arrived home.

I refuse to believe he’s the only father in America who is capable, attentive, relaxed, and in his element when he’s with his children. I know he isn’t.

So why do women tolerate equating our children’s fathers with babysitters? Why do we forward inane emails to each other about Dad’s Survivor—men dropped off on a tropical island with three children and a dog. How hysterical! Those bumbling fools wouldn’t last an hour, nudge nudge and ha ha!

They would survive and most likely thrive. If they love their kids, they’d find a way to make it work and they’d probably have a really good time doing it. Men bring an element to parenting that women simply don’t—and I think that is why women feel they have to diminish the abilities of fathers who are parenting alone for a night, a weekend, a lifetime.

He’s no babysitter, nanny, or governess.

He’s not for hire.

Gretchen can also be found blogging at Lifenut.

35 Responses to He’s No Babysitter, He’s Their Father
  1. Candace
    September 28, 2008 | 12:09 am

    I completely agree. My husband is very capable of taking care of our son (sometimes better I might add) and it is not babysitting. I get really upset and so does he when dads say things like “I have to watch my kids tonight”.
    My husband often gets up with him on weekends and let’s me sleep. I love him for that.

  2. Dawn
    September 28, 2008 | 12:21 am

    I know you are correct, but infortunately, my kids are 6 & 10 (as you know) and Chicago was the first time my husband has had them for more than a normal day solo, much less 3 days and 3 nights! Also, he did have work on Sat, so my in-laws had them. Church and dinner with them on Sunday. (He did take A to a bday party…I left the wrapped gift on the table!) No prepared food or clothes though.

  3. Dawn
    September 28, 2008 | 12:21 am

    PS ~ We miss you on the SP Board

  4. cornnut32
    September 28, 2008 | 12:29 am

    my husband is at home with our son in the afternoons, while i am at work. i am at home with our son while he works in the mornings. he is extremely capable, and i know i don’t have to worry about the baby being fed, changed, or given naps. i am so glad that he is so responsible and such an awesome daddy! i couldn’t imagine equating him to a babysitter. it’s too bad that there are fathers out there that have given all dads that reputation.

  5. Lorie
    September 28, 2008 | 1:15 am

    My husband is great with my kids. And he is great about letting me go out and have time away. Now the house isn’t always clean when I get home, but the kids have had a great time!

  6. Gill
    September 28, 2008 | 4:29 am

    oh great post! my hubby even managed to toilet rain our middle one while i was holed up in hospital!
    And yeah Dads give kids something that Moms can’t. It always amazes me how Dads don’t tire either! Although they do have “naps” with the kids in arms!! LOL.

  7. Megryansmom
    September 28, 2008 | 7:56 am

    I refuse to believe he’s the only father in America who is capable, attentive, relaxed, and in his element when he’s with his children. I know he isn’t.

    No, but surely he’s a dying breed. For me, it’s a +control issue, I refuse to believe anyone besides me is capable of taking care of anything as WELL as I do. Yeah I know, I need years of therapy, but I can’t afford it, so I blog. See, I feel better and I saved a $30 copay. TY

  8. Sarah at themommylogues
    September 28, 2008 | 8:56 am

    YES. AND AMEN. Makes me more nuts when dads refer to themselves as babysitting. You cannot babysit your own child. Next time I’m asked that, I’m totally going to say he’s charging $5 a kid! My husband often makes it so I can get away. He and the girls have a great time. He’s said before several times that he’d gladly watch me go out into corporate America so he could be a stay at home dad. I think he could do it, too.

  9. Kelly
    September 28, 2008 | 9:47 am

    Great post, Gretchen. Dads don’t babysit. They parent.

    However, having said that, my husband looks like a deer in the headlights when I leave him for more than a day with the kids. He’s a TERRIFIC father, and the kids love being with him. But he’s not always in the know about the details of their daily life: what clothes are the favorites, what to pack for lunch, how to juggle the after-school duties. I think those are the things that make him nervous. He doesn’t want to get something wrong and frustrate the kids.

  10. […] latest 5 Minutes for Parenting post is up today. I wrote about the annoying habit of calling dads “babysitters” when […]

  11. Minnesotamom
    September 28, 2008 | 10:53 am

    I was just talking about this apalling phenomenon with my husband last week, and how, no, he’s not a SITTER, he’s the FATHER.

  12. Ecki
    September 28, 2008 | 10:54 am

    My DH is awesome with the kids, but he definitely considers it “babysitting” if I have to leave him with both of the kids for a few hours.

    I think it’s interesting that other moms consider it “babysitting” since most of the moms I talk to bristle at the thought since you can’t babysit your OWN kids. That’s called PARENTING.

  13. Kisha
    September 28, 2008 | 12:19 pm

    I love this. When he has plans with his friends he says he can’t go “because he’s babysitting”, I’ll have to tell him how much he owes me for “babysitting” all these years, lol.

  14. edj
    September 28, 2008 | 12:33 pm

    I totally agree! Although Donn’s sense of what clothing matches is much more adventurous than mine, I have no problem leaving him with our kids…even when we had 3 in diapers. I’ve left for extended weekends a couple of times, and there were no problems. He is their father, not a babysitter.
    But I will tell you a story. Once a friend asked me to babysit (this was years ago; at that point I was married but childless). I agreed to help her out, even thought it was a major inconvenience for me, and I didn’t charge her. Imagine my shock and chagrin when I realized her husband was home that evening, but didn’t feel capable of watching a 2 year old and a 5 month old by himself! I’m not making this up. I babysat that evening, but I was not happy, and I am sure the husband knew it. (I totally vibed him, plus how weird to have some woman over when your husband is home) I was seriously unimpressed with that man.

  15. onemotherslove
    September 28, 2008 | 12:40 pm

    Here, here! Unfortunately, in my world, it’s my husband who calls it babysitting! I have to remind him, “you’re not babysitting, you’re parenting! Now have fun!” : )

  16. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
    September 28, 2008 | 2:15 pm


    It sounds like you have a wonderful husband and a great dad for your kids.

    In our family (and extended family) we’re often laughing about the use of the term ‘babysitting’ for times when dads are looking after kids. But unfortunately, we do sometimes end up letting it slip out about our own husbands. I might sometimes accidentally say it.

    But the reality for me is that my husband works so many hours that he doesn’t know all of the details and routines, so sometimes I do have to spell things out more than I would like.

    I think it is a common frustration for many moms that we are naturally expected to be responsible for everything and that we’re never asked if we can ‘look after’ the kids for the afternoon or whatever… it’s just assumed that we will or we’ll figure out who else can.

    But I agree that as a society, we need to try to change what the expectations are for fathers. We all need to try and see and treat them more as being equally important ‘parents’. I know I need to work on this!


  17. Jennifer Bentch
    September 28, 2008 | 2:38 pm

    I completely agree with you. It is so frustrating to me when other moms tell me that their husbands don’t like “babysitting” the kids. What? I always thought it was called “spending time with your children.” My husband happily stays at home with the kids when I need a night away and doesn’t consider it babysitting at all.

  18. Amy
    September 28, 2008 | 2:42 pm

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. Carrie of Ceaseless Praises
    September 28, 2008 | 3:51 pm

    I think you’re right about this wierd phenomenon of when the dad is watching the kids, he’s ‘babysitting’! What? It’s so wierd- he’s their parent, too!

    This always makes me think of this quote from a TV show (maybe Law & Order?) where the guy says he was ‘babysitting’ his kids, and the lady cop says, “It’s not babysitting, it’s called BEING a DAD.” And that’s so true!

  20. Jen
    September 28, 2008 | 5:41 pm

    I recently went on a girls’ weekend before one of my college buddies got married. It was only one night away from home. But all my friends asked me if my parents had the kids. When I told them no, my husband was at home with them, they were amazed and called him “Super Dad.” When I told him this, he was actually a little offended. “Why were they surprised? Do people think I’m incompetent? That I can’t take care of my own kids?” he asked. I had to explain to him that no, it’s just that the cultural perception of fathers as being incompetent is so widespread, that people assume all dads are bumbling idiots (a la Homer from “The Simpsons”). I think it is actually somewhat damaging to our culture that there is such a perception of dads as being unable to care for the kids, instead of celebrating them for their contributions to family life.

  21. Michael J
    September 28, 2008 | 8:26 pm

    My father was disabled and when mother became ill and hospitalized he took over by leading us in all the areas she normally handled. Nobody skipped a beat. He was not our babysitter he was our father.

  22. midlife mommy
    September 29, 2008 | 6:19 am

    In order to have that, the mom needs to let go and realize that there is more than one way to do things. I’ve learned that the fastest way to shut my husband down is to criticize him about things that don’t matter much because they weren’t done my way. Ugh. That looks bad typing it out, but I think that’s the secret — at least for us.

  23. Shayne
    September 29, 2008 | 10:19 am

    I couldn’t agree more with midlife mommy. When I finally realized that things may get done differently while I’m away, but that they WILL get done, I was able to relax and enjoy time away.

    My husband and I continually marvel at the number of commercials on TV that portray men and dads as bumbling idiots (the Klondike bar commercials come to mind). What kind of message does this send to our children? I guess we have to counteract that at home by showing them a real-life example of what a great guy their dad is.

    About 3 times per year, I go away for a long weekend to scrapbook with girlfriends. I’m still amazed that my husband is the only one who seems to be capable of staying home alone with the kids without calling in the grandma reinforcements. I don’t know if the other husbands think they can’t do it on their own or their wives are the ones who lack confidence in their abilities.

  24. Moriah
    September 29, 2008 | 11:32 am

    Great post (hubby liked it, too). Although I will say, I usually come home to a mess 🙂 but that’s okay – it’s messy when I’m here, too.

    And my husband is an only child; before our kids he’d never been around a baby before. So, I don’t mind laying out jammies for him just like he doesn’t mind making breakfast for all of us.

    Give and take. We’re all “on the same team.”

  25. Melanie
    September 29, 2008 | 1:48 pm

    I totally agree! My DH is NOT the babysitter! He is a wonderful father who is great at taking care of the kids and is often much more patient with them than I am. He makes breakfast every Sunday morning before church and gets most of the kids ready that day so I can sleep a bit longer.

  26. T with Honey
    September 29, 2008 | 4:21 pm

    I love this post. We should not be looking at fathers as babysitters when the mommy wants or needs to go out of town or attend some function sans child.

    Yet we have the jokes like Daddy Survivor because at one time the father was not as involved with their children and it was the role of the mother. Times have changed but the old stereotype image still exists. I’d say that it is similar to the old Blonde Jokes.

    Yes, we should work toward breaking the stereotype but those jokes can be darn funny!

  27. amy
    September 29, 2008 | 8:39 pm

    This is a little different, but a friend told me the other day she thought it was “so nice” how my husband took the dirty dishes to the kitchen after we ate without grumbling or acting like he was doing me a big favor. Come again? She’s a new friend, so I don’t know her well, but I feel like regardless of the work at home/outside of home balance, all that stuff should be shared. And as for parenting, I tell everyone that he’s the natural and I’m the one that struggles. Most people don’t believe it, but it’s true. Estrogen has not made me the more natural parent.

  28. jenni
    September 29, 2008 | 10:44 pm

    Oh you have struck upon one of my biggest pet peeves!! My own Mother In Law refers to her son as the babysitter when we go to lunch and I never fail to correct her. Grrr…just chaps my hide.

  29. Savvy Business Moms
    September 30, 2008 | 10:40 am

    Here, here! Unfortunately, in my world, it’s my husband who calls it babysitting! I have to remind him, “you’re not babysitting, you’re parenting! Now have fun!” : )”

    I am right there with ya! Great post by the way!

  30. Jennifer
    October 4, 2008 | 5:48 pm

    Amen and Amen! It drives me insane when people act like it’s a huge deal when dad is home with the kids. Ummm, excuse me. He’s THEIR DAD! Great post!

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  32. The Straight Dope Dad
    December 9, 2009 | 9:39 am

    It is weird isn’t it. Calling dads babysitters. As a fully involved stay at home, self employed dad I know this all to well.

    I wrote about it here:

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