Fathers don’t “babysit” their kids… Love and thanks to all the great fathers out there this Father’s Day

written by Nucleus

“So while you were away, your husband babysat the kiddo, eh?”

No. He didn’t. It’s his child too. We pay our babysitter to babysit.

How many dads out there get asked this question? I don’t think moms generally get asked if they have to “babysit” their kid. What in our psychology puts mom ahead of dad in the relationship with their child?

I was gone for a few weeks to do field work (see my previous post “The Guilt: one mama’s thoughts from the field”), and my wonderful, supportive husband took on the lion’s share of parenting and household responsibilities (in addition to his own full-time career as an academic). When I returned, I looked through my toddler’s daily daycare reports – something the teachers write to let the parents know what activities the children did that day, ate, etc.. Usually, they are peppered with stories of how much my kiddo loved playing in the sandbox, painting with potato cut-out stamps, or singing Ol’ MacDonald. However, as I read through the reports I had missed while I was in the field, I noticed the teachers kept commenting on how my toddler was “upset” and “sad” and “had a HORRIBLE time going down for a nap,” which were all followed with, “She really misses her mom :(”

And yet, when my husband goes out of town, not a word on those reports. So does mommy, who works just as much as daddy and is gone just as often, somehow resonate as more important in her toddler’s life? Or have our daycare-takers just fallen into the trap of this antiquated, stereotypical thinking?

I mean, it’s true that even when mom and dad are both employed full-time, usually mom does 40% more of the childcare (along with 30% more housework) than dad1 (though same sex couples usually divide these responsibilities more evenly2). My husband and I share childcare and household responsibilities equally. No wait, I lie. My husband totally cleans more than I do – he’s even given himself 100% of dish-washing duty and household shopping. I’m supposed to be on laundry, but he helps me fold.

Now, our daughter acts the same when either of us leaves, but comments by her daycare only get made when I leave – when dad “babysits”. And even though I understand the stereotypical reasons behind this, I still feel a huge wave of guilt hit me every time I see that stupid sad, frowny-face emoticon on her reports.

Yet, I don’t see this story only as an example of the plight of the career-loving mother. I see this as an example of the HUGE under-appreciation of all those amazing fathers out there that put in equal, if not more, help and time in their child’s life.

This under-appreciation certainly does not encourage fathers to take on equal responsibilities at home either, and that bodes badly for women AND for children. For example, in one report, when women were asked why they leave their careers, 60% say because their husband didn’t pitch in enough at home3. When a woman earns half the income and her husband does half the housework, their risk of divorce reduces by half4. In terms of the kiddos, kids with more involved dads are smarter5 and do better in school and life in general6,7.

The more we view dads as “babysitters” of their own children, the more we cheapen their worth as parents, and the more we hold back women in their careers.

So to all you dads out there that are half as amazing as my husband, I salute you. Your actions make our battle for gender equality in the workplace that much more possible. You also set a great example for your sons and open more doors for your daughters by being real men – men who give equal time and help in the home. And guess what, supermen? Couples who share domestic responsibilities have more sex8.

You’re welcome.

Happy Father’s Day!




I want to thank and acknowledge Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” for leading me to such great references, some of which I cited in this post:

1. Milkie, M.A., Raley, S.B., Bianchi, S.M. 2009. Taking on the second shift: time allocations and time pressures of U.S. parents and pre-schoolers. Social Forces 88:487-571.

2. Solomon, S.E., Rothblum, E.D., Balsam, K.F. 2005. Money, housework, sex, and conflict: same-sex couples in civil unions, those not in civil unions, and heterosexual married siblings. Sex Roles 52:561-575.

3. Stone, P. 2007. Opting out? Why women really quit careers and head home. Berkeley: University of California Press: 62.

4. Cook, L.P. 2006. ‘Doing’ Gender in context: household bargaining and risk of divorce in Germany and the United States. American Journal of Sociology. 112:442-472.

5. Sarkadi, A. et al. 2008. Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatrica 97:153-58

6. Pleck, J.H., Masciadrelli, B.P. 2004. Parental involvement in U.S. residential fathers: levels, sources, and consequences. In The Role of the Father in Child Development. Ed. M.E. Lamb (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons) 222-271.

7. Yeung, W.J. 2004. Fahters: an overlooked resource for children’s educational success. In After the Bell – Family Background, Public Policy, and Educational Success. Ed. D. Conley and K. Albright (London: Routledge) 145-169.

8. Gager, C.T. and Yabiku, S.T. 2010. Who has the time? The relationship between household labor time and sexual frequency. Journal of Family Issues 31:135-163.

This entry was posted in Dad-in-science, Diversity, Field Biology, Mom in Science, Parenthood and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fathers don’t “babysit” their kids… Love and thanks to all the great fathers out there this Father’s Day

  1. John says:

    Loved the article and completely agree, but your last sentence ruined it for me. You implied that sex is some sort of “reward” for a man doing what you want him to do. This demeans him just as much as calling him a “babysitter”. When you’re married you should love each other unconditionally. You have sex as a way of sharing that love. If I ever got the slightest hint that my wife was trying to manipulate me with sex, I would instantly stop initiating sex and I would turn her down if she initiated. And I would tell her why. I wouldn’t stop being a great father, because I enjoy parenting and it’s my duty, no matter what my wife does. But it is the height of arrogance and condescending behavior to dangle sex in front of your husband like it’s some kind of reward.

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