If you have the internet and know anyone who knows anyone who is a father, you’ve probably seen at least a few articles or memes pointing out something that seems obvious: fathers are parents, not babysitters. If you’re not familiar with the argument, you can read about it here, here, and here. If all of this is to be believed, people referring to dads as babysitters is a HUGE problem. For all that, it’s also one that’s been pretty thoroughly discussed, so I’m not writing about that.
I’m going to make an uncomfortable confession. While I have never had some nosy stranger call me a babysitter, I have at times felt like a babysitter to my own children.
When my family moved last summer, one of my wife’s goals was to start her own company providing a service that lots of folks need. This past Saturday, she had a table at a community event to promote her business. From about 8am to 3pm, I was the only parent in the house. When I say I felt like a babysitter, I don’t mean that I felt put upon or inconvenienced. I don’t mean that I felt like I should have gotten $12 an hour or whatever the going rate is because I did something extra. Not at all. I mean that my poor wife probably should have just left me written instructions and a schedule so I didn’t have to text her all day asking when and what the kids eat, or can’t eat, or should eat. Ok, so it was really only the eating thing, but still. I felt like a guest parent, like, “Jeez, man. You’re their father–shouldn’t you know this?”
To be clear, this is not a complaint about my responsibilities as a parent or a commentary on parenting or parent culture in general. It is a feeling that I, as a working dad, sometimes get and do not like. It stings my pride when I don’t know where to look for my daughter’s breakfast, or whether there was supposed to be a snack a half hour ago, or if I was supposed to save the yogurt for after nap.
See, I leave for work around 6:15 and get home around 4:15 on an average day. Mom usually handles getting dinner together for everyone because I’m with the kids. On the weekends, I might make breakfast for my son, because he’s been eating two scrambled eggs, strawberries, and a pancake or waffle every day for two years. I’ve got that down. The rest, though, I tend to leave to Mom, because she knows the routine. By the time she tells me what to do and where to find everything to feed everyone lunch, she could have done it twice. Easier to just let her do it once. Carry this on for a few months, add in my daughter’s ever-changing eating habits, and here I am feeling totally clueless about the lives my kids lead between the hours of 8 and 3.
And that sucks. I don’t have a clever solution or punchline for this. Maybe now that I’ve thought about it enough to write this I’ll pay extra attention when I’m home so that next time I’m parenting solo (not babysitting!) I’ll know exactly what to do. Or maybe I’ll just console myself with the knowledge that my teacher’s work schedule means I’ll have the summer to catch up. One thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want to see myself become the stereotypical sitcom dad, bumbling and clueless–but that’s a subject for another blog post.