Early on in our parenting life I found myself struggling with having to ask Peter to babysit the children. It stuck uncomfortable somewhere.
This was my internal conversation: We are both parents and I don’t babysit them – I care for them – day in and day out. Pete too was the parent – why did he babysit them?
Babysitting has some hidden presumptions
- The children are not the babysitters long term responsibility
- Therefore the babysitter does just what has to be done to keep everyone happy
- Baby-sitting is a job, which can be accepted or declined – babysitting is only done when the babysitter is available
- There is some reward for babysitting (even if it is just praise or brownie points)
This does not sound like parenting – not one bit!
I realised that Dad babysitting the kids was a cultural language thing; it was something we said, something we did without thinking. I started thinking! I decided to change my language. I stopped asking Pete to babysit the kids. I started asking him if he was free to have the kids? Bit by bit our language started to change. Bit by bit our expectations started to change. No longer was Pete occasional care, no longer was he just keeping them happy till mum got home. He was being the Dad.
I am constantly amazed at what language does for our behaviour. This is one of those situations: we need to use the right language for what is in our hearts.
We may acknowledge that Dad is the father, that he is involved in their lives, that he spends time with them, that he has a heart towards them, or is responsible for them. We unconsciously undo all that when we ask him to babysit; when we ask him to disengage from being a parent, and take on part time, short term responsibility for their own kids!
The challenge to many mums though if we start changing our language we cannot relate to our husband as a babysitter; we cannot dish out expectations and we certainly cannot be upset with what went down while we were out of the house. I remember a friend telling the story where she had the day to herself and the kids spent the day with Dad – she came home to find that they were still in their Pjays – but not only that – they had spent the day in the city!! It was a challenge to let go of the internal scream – WHAT??!! The important thing was – they had spent the day with their dad.
It is a challenge to many dads to pick up responsibility this way. They can feel intimidated or underprepared because they don’t spend as much time with the kids as mum does. Just as mum’s need to let go of control, dads need to pick up responsibility and not hide behind part-time care.
There were two reasons why Pete took full responsibility for the kids for an extended period of time (that is, with me out of the house, or with him out about without me)
- To spend time with his kids
- To let me have some quiet refreshing time without the kids
Both are necessary in a family – one is Dad being a parent, the other is husband blessing his wife.
Just because Dad isn’t babysitting doesn’t mean that Mum can’t prepare the way so things go well – especially if this is a new habit you are building in your family. In most situations mum is the one who spends most time with the kids, she knows things that Dad may not. She can help Dad and kid’s time together be a success – not because he is the babysitter, but because they are in this parenting thing together – which means that where there is a weakness in one, the strength of the other will help them. Mum – we may well be the strongest in terms of knowing the day to day parenting but Dads don’t need to babysit to be part of the team – they just need to be the Dad.
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