A Response to ’10 Reasons Fathers CAN be Referred to as Babysitters’

Ten reasons why saying a parent is inept at childcare says more about the marriage than the parent.

“This man is a father – his children’s legal guardian for flip’s sake.  He. Is. Not. Babysitting. But a lot of the time, it feels like he might as well be.”

This is the intro by a writer/dancer named Keesha in her ten reasons why fathers CAN be referred to as babysitters. The blog post appears on Scary Mommy, the website from Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood, a 2012 best-selling collection of essays by Jill Smokler.

The list, meant to find humor in domestic discord, is based on specific type of husband, who works long hours away from home and is otherwise so uninvolved at home that he doesn’t even know where the diapers are. This is an endangered male, a grotesque more than a stereotype, and as the commenters make clear, this type of domestic discord usually ends with divorce. The generalizations are brutal—for men and women, for the at-home parent and the at-work parent—so we crafted a point-by-point response to refute some claims and redress others.

1. It’s a business arrangement. From sex to this-for-that night outs, taking a night out for yourself makes this type of spouse feel like “you owe him for his services” of being on kid duty. That sucks. It is not a business arrangement, it’s a marriage. If you respect him, you’ll know what to do next time he wants to go out with his friends. Say, “Have fun.” And if he acts or says things to make you feel indebted, tell him so. Or wait and tell the lawyers.

2. You feel like you’re overindulging. Is it worth going out, given the business arrangement outlined above? If you feel guilty taking time for yourself, then something is wrong with your relationship, something is not being communicated. Don’t blame him; it’s both of you.

3. They are only fully employed when you aren’t there or are on your deathbed. All domestic work naturally devolves to this type of woman, Keesha writes. Questions she doesn’t ask her presumed reader about her relationship with her husband: have you involved them in the roles and needs of the home? Have you expressed your expectations? Or have you blown him off because your way is best not because it’s best but because it’s your way?

4. You leave a ton of instructions. Like how your child prefers her hot dog cut up or when bed time is. If you need to leave instructions, like you would for a babysitter who has never worked for you before, then you neither trust nor respect your spouse’s parenting. Or your sense of guilt is outmatched by your sense of control. The reasons for this are multitudinous. It is the job of the parent who is home more often with the kids to communicate what is going on to the parent who isn’t. If that parent needs a list, that’s your problem.

5. The fear factor. From the lights of an ambulance greeting your return home to a messy floor, Keesha worries that with her husband in charge, everything will be destroyed. That’s a lack of respect, plain and simple. You do not respect your partner as a parent. That’s a big problem. If you married someone that inept…

6. You lay down the law regarding TV, Internet, and phone use. You have to tell this type of husband what he cannot, and should not do. Because he’s an idiot. Again, no respect. Deservedly so, if they’re so distracted by a screen that they don’t notice what their kids are doing. Laying down the law will not engender mutual respect. Consider suggesting—not demanding—ways to engage the kids with the things the spouse enjoys. He wants to watch a football game? Suggest playing football with the kids at halftime. Or doing a puzzle under the TV. Or a family game. If you tell him what he shouldn’t do, he’ll do it as soon as the door hits you in the ass.

7. Due to unfamiliarity with the house, you put things out where they can’t be missed. The house is a labyrinth, the man is a mouse. Keesha thinks this guy can’t find anything in the house he lives in. See #3. If the spouse doesn’t know where stuff goes, then engage him. Maybe he acts like a kid because you treat him like one.

8. Your kids will have a great time doing shit you’d never let them get away with. This type of half-dad will let children do anything they want, and this is horrible. All I can say is revisit #4 or deal with it.

9. If they clean up and do some laundry you do a happy dance. Keesha considers it a miracle if her spouse does any basic housework. See #3, #4, #7. No one likes feeling left with all the chores. One of the most difficult parts of marriage can be the roommate factor. Express your expectations. If they don’t get it, it’s on them. If their help is so rare, what’s the alternative to the happy dance? Sullen moping? Passive aggressive comments? Why is it the way it is?

10. Somehow, even when things go not exactly as you’d have liked, everything is fine when you get home. Oh. What a relief you enjoyed your time out.

Here’s something to consider, for women and men who are in this kind of relationship, who actually look at and treat their spouses the way this article describes: when you go out, your husband/spouse probably LOVES it because he won’t feel belittled, marginalized, inept, controlled, and lesser in his children’s eyes. He’ll be able to hang with his kids on his terms and he might connect with them and the household in a new way. Again, not a good way to live.

Our time is limited; this is the human condition. Parenting is a daily reminder of how limited it is. Consider spending one date night with your family as a unit, and communicate to your spouse why you do the things you do. Help him understand what goes on when he’s not there. He will thank you for it. Your investment in time will be paid off with a deeper connection to your spouse, and a much better evening the next time you go out. Happy dances for everyone.

—photo by mdanys/Flikr

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About Robert Duffer

Robert Duffer (www.robertduffer.com) is the editor of the Dads & Families section of The Good Men Project. Winner of the Chicago Public Library's writing contest, his work appears in the Chicago Tribune, MAKE Magazine, Chicago Reader, Curbside Splendor, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, Annalemma, New City, and other coffee-table favorites like Canadian Builders Quarterly. He teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and lives in the suburbs with his wife, two kids, and their minivan. Follow @DufferRobert, Google+, facebook.

Comments

  1. Why is it that men who “work long hours away from home” are “grotesques”? Why, if I’m earning all the money, am I not pulling my load if I don’t know how my kid likes his hot dogs cut to the fraction of an inch? My work will pay the mortgage, put the kids through school and fund our retirement. But god help me if I don’t load the dishwasher often enough and just how she likes it. There must be something wrong with me for not sharing her neuroses.

    • The challenges for the family breadwinner are distinct yet as significant to the challenges for the family caretaker, Ben. The “grotesques” referred to above are the characterizations by Keesha in the original article, of the type of man-child husband whose care of his children unnerves his wife so much that she’s afraid to leave them alone. A hot dog’s a hot dog; the kid’s gonna like it as long as someone’s giving it to him. I’ve heard the dishwasher thing from one of my dearest friends, so much so that he doesn’t bother helping with the dishes anymore. Not because he’s lazy or inept, but because she’s going to change it to her way anyway. Like watching the kids: it might not be her way, but it’ll get done well enough.

  2. The title of the piece assumes a marriage. The disfunctions illustrated also apply to live-in relationships (including legally recognised “de facto”, etc.)

    Men should “man-up” when it comes to understanding their domestic situation.

    That said, some mysteries still elude me, such as where particular types of towels are meant to go. That is a mystery…. just as my wife has similar mystery when it comes to using a mower for the grass. :-)

  3. I agree with Ben.

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  1. [...] in baby-town. I was irritated with other mothers that I met who described their male partners as “babysitting” their children while they were out, rather than thinking of their what their partners did as just [...]

  2. [...] something is not being communicated. Don’t blame him; it’s both of you. Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/families/a-response-to-10-reasons-fathers-can-be-referred-to-as-babysitter… SHARE THIS:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Filed Under: Fatherhood Tagged With: [...]

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