It’s something that’s often said, but there’s no harm in stating it again: “DADS DON’T BABYSIT”. During my time as a stay-at-home-dad, I’ve had more people (complete strangers) than I can count come up to me and ask if I’m ‘babysitting’ today. With time, I’ve learned to take such queries on the chin. I smile and say that the kids are having a ‘Daddy Day’. Life really is too short to attempt to explain to every random person I meet that a kid spending time with their dad isn’t always the result of the father filling in for a temporarily absent mum.
Dads are not secondary parents.
Here’s a diary entry of mine, from a time when it seemed everyone had the same question: “Where’s Mum?”
I know that people aren’t meaning it to be nasty. Or, at least, I hope they’re not. But my life at the moment seems to be one long inquisition where complete strangers, on seeing me out with the kids in the pram, seem compelled to ask the same question: “Where’s Mum?”
TBH, I’m beginning to understand how Ant feels. What am I talking about? Ant McPartlin of ‘Ant & Dec’ fame. Whenever he’s out and about, on his own, people must come up to Ant and say: “Where is he then?” or “On your own today?” or “Where’s Dec?”. To be fair, the reciprocal must also be true of Dec, where the focus of the questions becomes the absence of Ant. It must be so frustrating to only be viewed as half of something, not a whole in your own right. That said, if I was offered their millions, I’m sure I’d cope.
Back to me. I’m frustrated that, in our society, when looking after kids, people don’t notice who is there (the dad) rather they seem focused on who isn’t (the mum). It’s as if somewhere, deep down within people, there’s a feeling that the natural order of things has been upset by a dad taking on the childcare rather than the mum.
Seriously, I’m not sure if people expect me to be surprised upon their bringing up the absence of Mum. Do they think I’ll start looking around to see if she’s somewhere in the vicinity, like a mislaid teddy bear? Many older people ask me if I’m ‘giving mum a break’. To which my usual reply is “No, she’s at work. She’ll be giving me a break later by looking after the kids”. This is often met with looks of disgust normally reserved for anyone who announces that coffee cream is their favourite soft-centred chocolate or that they prefer Eamon & Ruth to Phil & Holly on This Morning.
A man came up to me today, as I dealt with my son, mid tantrum and announced: “You’re brave!” I’m sure, on some level, this was supposed to be a compliment. He was showing that, by dealing with these infant tears, I was going above and beyond the call of duty. But let’s think about it, I’m not being brave in looking after MY OWN CHILDREN. Surely, catering to their needs is the very least I can do. Bravery is all about putting yourself at risk to go above and beyond day-to-day parameters in order to help others. All I do is change nappies and watch far too much Hey Duggee (which, BTW, is amazing).
So, what am I saying? It’s simple really. Next time you see a dad out with his kids, please don’t remind him of who isn’t there (the mum). Why not engage on a positive level about who is present and how testing, but rewarding, parenting can be?
And PLEASE, whatever you do, don’t ask him if he’s ‘babysitting’. It’s like asking a professional builder if they’re doing ‘a bit of DIY’. It won’t get a good response.”
Chris McGuire, Outofdepthdad.com