The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dads, stop it with the we-don’t-babysit thing

Terence Mentor not babysitting his sons. (Mentor selfie)
Placeholder while article actions load

People wear T-shirts declaring it. Blogs are written about it. I myself made a short video and several Facebook posts supporting it.

I’m talking about the “Dads Don’t Babysit” movement.

The main idea of the movement is simple — we shouldn’t say that a dad is babysitting his own children, because looking after your own kids is called parenting.

There doesn’t really seem like much to argue against that, so I guess we can all stop reading from here?

But wait just a minute. This movement is not as clear-cut as it may seem. In fact, I have a really, really big problem with it: I think it’s stupid.

But first, here are some points that will hopefully slow you down before you bite my head off with rebuttals:

  • I think dads are as important as moms in their kids’ lives.
  • I’m a dad who takes his role very seriously.
  • I don’t think I’m babysitting when I’m alone with my boys.

So, I actually agree with the fundamental idea behind the movement: Dads should not be called babysitters. I used to get so annoyed with people who would make the passing comment when I’m out with my boys without their mom. It felt like my role as their parent was being undermined.

But then I asked myself some simple questions: Why are people like this? Why do they think it’s okay to think it or say it, even as a joke? Who is at fault?

The first two questions actually had the same answer — there is still novelty in seeing a dad spending quality alone time with his children (and that novelty quadruples if he uses a baby carrier). People, especially older people, just are not used to seeing it.

You might be an incredibly involved dad who engages with his kids every day, but it’s easy to forget that the older grandma staring at you in the grocery store doesn’t see that. She doesn’t see the hard work you put in. So she still looks at you, the dad, through a stereotypical lens reinforced over many years.

Which brings us to the final question: Who is to blame for this? The answer to that is obvious:

Dads are to blame.

Yep, the very group of people who are complaining about being called babysitters is the same group that created the situation in the first place.

I think we forget that the idea that a father needs to be actively engaged in his kids’ lives is a fairly new one. The people with the social power (i.e., men) made sure that the responsibility of raising children fell squarely on the mothers’ shoulders for generations.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: We shouldn’t complain about not being respected as parents when we gladly gave that right away for generations.

Also, doesn’t it feel really silly to complain about something so very insignificant?

So someone made a passing comment about you being a babysitter. If that is the biggest thing that you have going against you, then you seriously need to take a look around. You don’t even have to look very far — just really look at what the mother of your child has to go through.

(I’ve tried very, very, very hard not to use the patriarchy here, but that has now become impossible.)

The patriarchy takes away our ability to make our own choices — like my choice to be as engaged a father as possible — by laying down a set of expectations for each gender. That is the reason people call us babysitters.

And yes, that sucks — but you should see what it has done to moms for generations. It just seems like we’re crying over a splinter while mothers are trying to deal with a gaping stab wound — and then we make T-shirts about it too.

Seems a bit silly now, doesn’t it?

Do not fret, dear non-Mens’-Rights reader (I’m assuming they have stopped a while ago), I have a solution to all of this!

You don’t want people to call dads babysitters? Take away the novelty. Make sure you are the most engaged and active father you can be. Encourage other dads in your community to do the same. When this kind of fatherhood becomes the norm, the comments will stop happening because it just won’t be a surprise anymore. You won’t need the T-shirts.

In all honesty, this won’t happen anytime soon. This generation of dads might just have to take the knock on the chin, but that may mean our sons won’t have to.

After all, that knock on the chin — isn’t that what moms have been dealing with for ages?

Terence Mentor is a dad, content producer and host at Cape Talk radio in Cape Town, South Africa. You can find more from him on his Facebook page and on his AfroDaddy YouTube channel. He tweets, too.

Follow On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and updates. You can sign up here for our weekly newsletter. Join our discussion group here to talk about parenting and balancing a career.

More reading: 

14 things I’ve learned after caring for 14 babies

To my son on World Adoption Day