You’ve seen the memes. You’ve probably even shared some of them on social media. You know the ones; something about how fathers always tell people that they are babysitting their kids.
If you haven’t seen them, here’s just a few that I found doing a Google search. But let me give you this bit of advice before you scroll through this gallery of hilarious memes; make sure you’re not drinking because you’re likely to have the liquid come out of your nose because these are that funny…
Yep, those ones. Funny, hey?
So it seems that all dads must think that looking after their own kids is called babysitting, right? I mean, humour like this is often based on clichés and clichés are generally based on a certain element of the truth, right? Of course.
In the just over seven years since I became a father, I have never said that. Having said that, I have been accused of doing it myself. I have had, mostly older women, possibly those in the grandmother age bracket (the large bracket I might add) who have seen me at the park, cafe, playground or shopping centre ask me,
“Are you babysitting the kids today?”
Like WTF old lady? Like really, WT actually F are you talking about? Haven’t you seen the memes? I’m not babysitting. Well, not my own kids.
My good friends at the At Home Dad organisation in the United States and Canada have been fighting the good fight since October 2011 by sharing stories about how many of them, as stay-at-home-dads, have been asked if they too are babysitting their kids “for the day”. With blogs posts such as I Am Not A Babysitter, Dad Don’t Babysit, and the sequel Dads Don’t Babysit 2, they have been living up to their “Advocacy, Community, Education, and Support” ethos and their slogan “Providing support, education and advocacy for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their children.”
Just look at their smug faces in that photo montage above. Dad’s don’t babysit they say. Dads. Do. Not. Babysit. Really guys? Really? I’m sorry to tell you this, but dads DO in fact babysit.
Other people’s kids of course.
As I mentioned in my post Growing Up Without Grandmothers we are in the unfortunate position where both my mother and my wife’s mother have passed away leaving our boys with only their grandfathers. While my father-in-law lives over three hours away he is intending to move slightly closer, but instead of living over three hours west of Sydney he wants to move two hours north of us. My own father lives about 45 minutes from us which is not so bad a trek, but he’s still not exactly around the corner available to dash to do school pick ups in a hurry, nor have the kids before or after school on the days that both my wife and I are working an unavailable to pick them up during work hours.
We manage this by relying on long day care for our preschooler and the occasional after school care for our almost second grader. And sometimes, if we are really in a bind, we have a few friends that we can call on to help us out, but only if they are available. And when it comes to my wife and I going out for the night, be it to a concert, a movie, or to an adults only party such as a wedding with no kids allowed, we either have to organise an expensive professional babysitter, or we get our friends to look after the kids.
We have a pretty good circle of friends who we have look after our kids and in turn, with some of them being in the same boat having no family to rely on, we look after their kids too. Out of all the people I can rely on and who we trust more than anyone to look after our kids is a single dad. Even before he and his wife split up, if we needed someone to look after the boys it would generally be the dad that I called to make the request. It’s not just because I’m closer to him than his wife, it’s just that, well, even my wife would suggest that I call him rather than she call the mum who she is closer to.
After they split up, it was the dad who I kept in touch with more so and I would be more inclined to ask him if he was free to look after the boys than my wife is to ask his ex-wife. On one occasion I asked him if he could look after the boys knowing that our boys like hanging out with his (his first born is a day older than ours, his second born is a day younger than our second born; yes we’re that in synch), and I obviously just assumed when he said yes that he had the boys that night. It turns out that the mum had the boys that night, but as my friend didn’t have plans, he was more than happy to help out.
Back when my wife used to work away from home on Saturdays (she now works full time at home) there were a few times when this couple along with another couple that we were close to would ask me to look after their kids. There were other friends who would ask my wife if she could look after the kids for some time during the day on a Saturday and she would accept on my behalf knowing that I am always willing to help people out. Little did some of her friends know that I would be looking after the kids by myself for either part of the time or even the whole time we were trusted with their kids.
My first time babysitting on my own after becoming a father was for my sister-in-law and her husband back in December 2010 when they attended the U2 360° Tour concert in Sydney. My wife had plans that night and her sister was desperate for her to be the one to look after their daughter so we pretended that my wife would be home a little after they were dropping my niece at our house. Our own first born son had turned two years old the month before while his cousin was turning two in exactly a month’s time from that night. I made the kids dinner and sat them down at a kid’s table to eat.
There were things that my sister-in-law expected to be on the dinner plate for her child and there were things that I always expected my own child to eat and between the two of them, they egged each other on to try things on their plate that they hadn’t had before. Both kids left the table having eaten everything. I “live blogged” it to my sister-in-law taking photos of the two kids proving that I was keeping them both alive. I honestly can’t remember if I gave them both a bath, but I do remember reading them both a book in the bed in our spare room with our son falling asleep first allowing me to carry him to his room to sleep for the rest of the night.
My niece had other plans and started getting a little upset, but I showed her YouTube clips of the Baby Einstein videos and so enough, she too was asleep. Not long after that I transferred her into her portable cot before leaving her to sleep. And I achieved this all before my wife came home and well before her sister and her husband got home from the concert. To play it safe, we let my sister-in-law believe that my wife was home doing the babysitting because she had some preconceived ideas that somehow her sister, as a mother could handle this better than I as a father could.
I am sure that there would be plenty of parents, especially mothers, but also some fathers that I know who would be happy to leave their kids with a mother or even a woman or late teenage girl who doesn’t have kids of their own, but they would be very hesitant to leave their kids with a man or late teenage boy as they would have a lot of preconceived ideas about men looking after kids. Whether they’re thinking something minor like how men are portrayed as bumbling fools when looking after kids, or something major like how men are perceived as child abusers and paedophiles, or many other preconceived negatives in between, I’m sure that for many parents, single dads, or even dads or other men who are home alone without a female present in the house would be on the “no go” list of people who they can trust to look after their kids.
It’s sad. It really is. It hurts me to thinks that a handful of bad guys have ruined this experience for all those normal, trustworthy fathers and non-paternal men who would be more than capable of looking after kids. It pains me to think that us dads are being excluded, just as much as it pained me to read the proposal in one of the other states of Australia to ban men from childcare as I wrote in my post Should Men Be Banned From Working In Childcare?
As I know that I am trustworthy, and I know that my own mates, especially those with children are definitely, not just loving and caring fathers, but decent citizens, I have no hesitation myself to leave my boys with any of the single dads I know.
So again, I need to apologise to the boys at the National At-Home Dad Network. You’re wrong dudes. Dad. Can. Babysit…
Other. People’s. Children.
If you are a stay at home dad in the US or Canada, please click on the link below to check out the National At-Home Dad Network’s website. And if you want one of the snazzy tees, jackets, hoodies, or whatever they are selling to promote the cause at the moment, click here to visit their fundraising store.