People Should Embrace Dads As Parents, Not Babysitters

Recently, I had a work conference out of town. I dropped my daughter off at preschool before I headed to the airport. As I was leaving, I mentioned to one of the administrators that I would be out of town for a few days. She responded by saying, “Oh, will Daddy be babysitting?” I couldn’t believe a woman — especially another mom — was saying this to me. So I politely responded, “No, Daddy will be parenting.”

I’m not one to make every word and comment said to me about parenting into a political statement, but it happens all the time. In fact, pretty much any time I’m not with my kids someone makes a comment about it. At the gym, work, or a girl’s night out, someone will ask, “Who is with the kids?” It seems harmless enough, except it’s not. My kids have a father. Why isn’t it assumed that he is with his own children?   

I just can’t imagine my husband is questioned about parenting issues as often as I am. There’s an assumption that we moms are always the default parent. If our children’s fathers are with their own children, it’s assumed that mom needed a break. Dad is rescuing mom from the labors of mothering, as if she couldn’t go another minute with the kids without a break. The assumption is never that both mom and dad parent equally and willingly. Dad is a babysitter rather than a parent. Mom needs a break from her kids rather than dad actually wanting to spend time with his kids.

It’s true. Sometimes my husband is with our children because I can’t be with them. Sometimes I do have a work conflict and occasionally I do need a break. But more often than not, when he’s with the kids he’s thrilled for the time with them. And while I do have a more flexible work schedule than my husband, we parent equally and with enthusiasm. We’re parents — not babysitters — regardless of our gender. 

So when I’m at work, working out, out with friends, or running errands, I’m resentful when a friend or stranger asks, “Where are the kids?” as if I have to justify my time away from my kids. Were they thinking I left my kids alone in the car while I went to spin class? Do they think I asked a stranger on the corner to watch my kids while I dropped off the dry cleaning? And why is the assumption that parenting is a mom’s job while babysitting is a dad’s?

I’m fairly certain that when my husband steps out of the house, free of children, he’s not interrogated about the whereabouts and safety of his kids. And yet, I can’t walk to the mailbox on the corner without someone commenting that I’m not with my kids. And while I hate to take every random comment made by a friend or stranger personally, I can’t help but feel insulted knowing I’m being asked questions someone would never ask a man. I’m not just insulted for myself, I’m insulted for my husband and for all dads who are partners in parenting not babysitters to their own children.

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