Let’s start with this: Dads are not babysitters. After all, a babysitter is someone who “takes charge of a child while the parents are temporarily away”. Therefore, when a dad is caring for his child, he is not “babysitting”; he is “parenting”.
In one post, aptly titled “I’m a father. I don’t babysit my child, I’m a fucking parent and that’s what all of us should strive to be”, mungoflago describes a day he took his five-month-old to work (where he is the boss and is allowed to do such things). Throughout the course of the day, he was asked why he was “babysitting” three times by three different people:
I feel that there is a shitty double standard going on. Nobody in their right mind would call a mum with their kid “babysitting,” but because I’m a guy it’s happening to me on a regular basis. I’m not babysitting — I’m just trying to be a decent parent.
In another post, MDFlash describes being stopped by a neighbour while taking a walk with his four-month-old:
She asked, “How much longer are you stuck taking care of him?” Initially I was thrown off by the question and just sort of stared and asked, “What?” She then clarified, “I think it’s awesome you’re giving your wife a break but how long do you have to watch him until your wife takes him back?”
If dads are not babysitters, they also are not being “helpful” when they are doing the work of parenting. When an employee goes to work in the morning, they are not being “helpful” to their boss; they’re doing their job.
When a dad changes a nappy, throws a load of laundry in the washing machine, purees up some organic baby food or plays an energetic round of peek-a-boo, he’s not “helping” his partner. He is parenting.
Because having fathers very involved in the day-to-day running of the household is somewhat of a dynamic shift over the past generation or two, it can still be reflexive to want to acknowledge or praise a dad for playing an active role in parenting. And if a dad (or a mum!) is doing a good job, it’s really nice to point it out.
On the One Bad Mother podcast, hosts Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn end each episode by telling each other, 'You’re doing a really good job.' It has always struck me as such a sweet way to encourage each other when you’re in the thick of parenting, everything seems like a struggle and you feel like no one around you sees how hard you’re working.
However, you can point it out in a way that doesn’t devalue their role. Motherly writer Heather Marcoux says, “instead of saying ‘my husband helps a lot,’ I’m going to start saying ‘my husband does his fair share.’”
In another Motherly article, Marcoux offers up more suggestions for adjusting the language around fatherhood. Here are my favourites:
Instead of, “I’m so happy my husband’s babysitting tonight,” try, “I’m so happy to have a partner who can stay home with the kids tonight.”
Instead of, “My partner’s great, he helps me a lot with the baby,” try, “My partner is great, he’s such a competent father.”
Instead of, “Thanks for helping me with the kids today,” try, “Thanks for being such a great dad.”
Instead of, “You need to start helping with the laundry,” try, “I have a lot on my plate. You need to do some laundry, too.”
And for dads who want to do more around the house or get more involved in the parenting, instead of asking, “How can I help?” try “What else needs to be done?”