Dads are co-parents, not babysitters

Dads are co-parents, not babysitters
On mom boards, I’ve been hearing from moms wondering how to get dads to pitch in more, particularly in the child-rearing department. They’re stay-at-home moms with husbands who expect them to handle the kids, or working moms who come home from work only to do even more work around the house. They’re not sure how to get their partners to ease some of the burden from their shoulders.

I’m not surprised with this situation. Women are seen as the nurturing gender, the caregivers of the family (maybe that’s why most schools, hospitals or single-income families I’ve seen tend to have female teachers, female nurses, and stay-at-home moms). Some parenting books even have a section “just for dad,” insinuating that most parenting falls on mom and, oh hey, dad can be involved too. SSBE reader (and dad) Chris from Babies and Dogs posted an article describing a parenting book with just that kind of section:

My favorite lines are in the “Your Young Toddler” section of “Dad’s Role.”  Here it advises you to take your toddler to the park, to the pool, on a walk around the block, and to the bathtub (all activities that give Mom a break, I might add).

At a park it advises that, “While playing at the park, some safety rules have to be followed. Your toddler is still learning to walk, so she may not be as good a climber as you think she is.”  ‘Cause let’s face it, Dad’s are idiots.

Apparently even parenting experts consider dads as a byline, a helping hand. Time-wise, I spend more time with our toddler, but effort-wise, my husband and I expend the same amount and equally co-parent LO.

Yet even with a willing husband, there have been times when I wasn’t always so eager to unburden my duties. I remember a particular day when LO was several months old. We were heading out the door, and without thinking, I grabbed the baby, the diaper bag and my own purse. I walked straight to the garage door, fumbling at my keys and trying to reach the doorknob, all the while carrying the baby and my bundles when my husband, “Let me do it.” I didn’t even stop to think that he could open the door too, particularly since he wasn’t carrying the baby.

We talked about that incident later that night, and he pointed out that he wants to do more, especially if I’m clearly struggling with a heavy load (literally). Until that point, I hadn’t even realized that 1) I was trying to do everything myself, and 2) my husband wanted to and could share the burden as well. I remembered to let go of many responsibilities I automatically assumed. I don’t have to do everything, don’t want to do everything, and that I have a husband whom I was shutting out of the parenting role.

Since I spent more time with the baby, I grew quite adept at handling things—I’ve carried the baby, diaper bag and my purse while fumbling for keys to open the garage door—alone, often and successfully. So I had to consciously remind myself that when my husband is around, I needed to step back, share the load, and give him the opportunity to care for his son as well. I needed to let him do things his way and parent the way he wanted to as well.

Thankfully we are more often than not a tag-team extraordinaire. We’ve assumed dad- and mom-designated chores, so that I tend to pack our toddler’s main lunch and snacks while he fills the sippy cups and roasts the sweet potatoes. I put on LO’s pajamas while he reads to him. It’s nice not to have to wonder whose turn it is to give him a bath or to keep score. But we still share plenty of roles interchangeably as well (I don’t think either one of us want to have sole responsibility for changing diapers).

I want my toddler to know that his dad is just as invested in him as his mom is. He sees me more than his dad (which is probably even more true for kids of stay-at-home moms) but he knows that his dad has equal parental authority over and love for him. When kids witness their dads willingly chop up their food, do their laundry and sing them lullabies, they’ll hopefully grow up and be yet another generation that will blur gender lines when it comes to parental duties (and for this reason, I applaud stay-at-home dads and their partners most of all for paving the way).

I’m thankful that my husband will gladly don the parenting badge and assume its duties, both good and bad. He has even worn the Moby Wrap (“Why did you have to pick beige?” he asked. “Couldn’t you have chosen black instead?”). Life at home is just so much smoother when we work as a team. I don’t have to do everything; I have a hands-on dad—a co-parent—as my partner in crime.

How do you and your partner work together? Do you find the workload more or less balanced or tilted to one parent? Stay-at-home dads, have your thoughts on parental roles changed now that you are the one who stays home with the kids?

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29 thoughts on “Dads are co-parents, not babysitters

  1. Great post! I also try to remind myself to take a step back and let my husband be a co-parent. I’m a control freak by nature, so it’s hard, but absolutely necessary to keep my sanity. (Love the title, by the way.)

  2. I’ve been so blessed to have a husband that willingly and enthusiastically assumes his role as parent. I feel bad for the many families where this is not the case, ’cause I know I couldn’t do it on my own (at least not the way I WANT to parent, we can all rise to the occasion in bad circumstances I guess). I’ve been thinking of writing a similar post to this as to slowly change culture there needs to be more of this sort of message floating around to balance the many messages of “my husband is just and extra child under my care” that are so prevalent in the blogosphere and on TV. Thank you for writing this.

    • Karen, send me a link to the post if you ever end up writing about this topic. I’d love for the discussion continue and hear your take on it!

  3. I see it everywhere — dads are “on the side.” Every time I read a dad blog or hear about dads who do help or don’t help or feel lost or feel scared, I think, I cannot identify with this at all. My life is probably the polar opposite of society’s norms. And you would think that perhaps I would feel, I don’t know? pride? spirit? happiness? from this happenstance. Honestly, I do not. Perhaps the grass is always greener: I wish we had more of the stereotypical parenting style, where the mother is the nurturer and the father is the “co-parent” — the playmate, the roughhouser, the disciplinarian, maybe? It is a low point for me, causes me much misery. Just once, I wish the children would see me as the nurturing parent, just to know what it feels like to give comfort to my daughters.

    • Remind me, was your husband a stay-at-home dad for your girls? I wonder why the tables are turned in your case? And it’s also interesting to hear how heavy of a feeling it can be for a mom who isn’t considered the “nurturing” kind. Makes me wonder if dads feel that way too, or are moms more inclined to feel terrible if they aren’t the primary caregiver.

      • He was until recently the stay-at-home parent (now they are in daycare/preschool), but he’s more than that. He takes care of the household. He was with them when they were tiny. They are imprinted on him, and they know if they need anything, from an apple to a kiss on an owie, they can get it from him.

        I imagine it is partly society telling me that I should be the nurturing one, partly me wishing I was seen as the nurturing one.

  4. Thank you for visiting my blog and for commenting!

    I feel our work is pretty well balanced in our home. I have no problem asking for help and my husband has no problem helping me. Right now I think we have a good thing going on where one does the work the other one didn’t have time or energy to do. Sometimes without even having to ask.

  5. Thanks for stopping by!

    Great post!

    So now that baby #3 is on its way, hubby has really stepped it up. So much that the boys miss him during the week and I beg for him to “work from home”. He has really taken over on the weekends. I know it’s his parental duty, but I always show him how grateful I am.

  6. I really love this post. My partner and I are still patiently awaiting our first child. The whole co-parenting issue exists even for us as two women. We’ve had many discussions about how we want to parent, how we both want to be equally involved and who will be taking leave from work.

    As I’m not the birth mother, I’m only entitled to 9 months of leave from my job. My wife will be leaving her job, as it was only temporarily anyways. The plan we have is for me to take 1 month as soon as baby’s born, to help my wife and baby settle in at home. I’ll go back to work for 3 months and then take the remaining 8 months of leave. I want to be involved as much as my wife and the issue I have is that I’m expected to not take the whole 9 months of leave!

    I know my wife will have issues like you talk about, stepping back and letting me take care of our little one! She knows it too. She’s already working hard to change her ideas and let go of some of her control issues!

    • It’s mind-boggling to hear non-US citizens say *only* 9 months because to me that would be a near miracle lol.

      That’s great though that you guys are already talking about your roles and expectations, even at this stage of parenthood. I think there will always be conflicts, and it’s the way couples handle them and talk about them that make them stronger or not.

      Congratulations, by the way!

        • “Only” 9 months!!! I’d have taken that too! The US is so behind most of Europe when it comes to recognizing the need to bond with a new child. *sigh* I got 12 weeks, 6 of which were paid at 66% of my earnings. Most women I know got 6 weeks, so I felt lucky.

  7. My partner and I regally didn’t share parenting responsibilities before. It got so bad (on my part) at one point that I would thank him for doing things he wanted to do with our son. I only realized I was doing it when he said one day “Why do you thank me for feeding him?”

    It was almost like I completely shut him out of the parenting experience. To top it all off if I ever felt overwhelmed by the experience I shut him out of, I wouldn’t ask for help because I didn’t think he wanted to do most of the parental stuff (as dumb as that sounds now that I’m typing it).

    Since he’s starting a new business I’ve taken over a bit more, but he still enjoys the little things he can do like serving dinner & picking him up from school.

    Great post!

  8. Thanks for the shout out, Sleeping! SAHD’s everywhere salute you! I can’t even remember how many parenting books we read (mostly because my wife was the one who read them all and then passed along the important stuff for me to implement at home) that totally relegated the Dad to the sidelines. It was crazy! We were like, when were these things written??? What world are they living in? With very few exceptions every couple we know with kids share the duties on almost everything. When she was two, our daughter, Greta (3), was looking at a picture book where daddy went to work and mommy stayed home and she said: “My mommy goes to work and my daddy does dishes!” Not exactly what I want on my headstone, but, hooray to her for correcting an outdated book! May her generation be the first to be truly gender neutral!

  9. I feel very lucky to be a SAHM. So I’m with the baby all day. Taking care of a little one can be so tiring and I feel so tempted to hand her off to my husband when he comes home. But at the same time, it’s because of him and his hard work that allows me to be able to stay home, so I don’t force him into any baby chores when he walks home. He’s not as lucky as I am to get a good three hour nap/break from work during the day. But he does his jobs anyways and we have found a good balance and if I am having a rough day with the baby, he will definitely take her off my hands and let me go do my thing.

  10. Great post. I agree that it is important to have Dads involved as co-parents, not babysitters. They are not doing Mom a favor, but acting as a parent. I liked your point that sometimes Moms contribute to Dads being less involved by trying to do too much. So true.

  11. My husband and I are very fortunate that we both assume full responsibility for both taking care of our son AND taking care of the house. Although I am a SAHM (for now), I still need help with some daily housekeeping duties.

    There is no set schedule or task list. We pitch in when/where need-be. We were married 12 years before we had our little one so we kind of established the “housekeeping duties” in our relationship pre-baby.

    Once our son was born, everything just fell into place. Like you, it’s hard to let my husband do some things because I’m used to doing everything by myself for 12-14 hours every day during the week. He literally has to take my bag/our child/the dishes away from me because it’s just habitual for me to be doing everything.

    This evening I prepared dinner, made my husband’s lunch for tomorrow, and finished up 2 loads of the little guy’s laundry. I wasn’t planning on making dinner; but right when he came home from work I had the energy to start it. I even finished the dishes!

    Our duties go unsaid and when the little one goes down at 7pm, we have the rest of the evening to ourselves. We do NO chores. We detox from the day and enjoy each other’s company.

    I could not do this job without him!

  12. Great post! I guess I am very fortunate. I wrote a post about almost dying after childbirth. My husband jumped in, took care of both me and my newborn. Our son goes to which ever parent is closest or is at home if he wants a hug. If he has a bad dream, he doesn’t have a preference which one of us comes in and comforts him. My husband and I always see each other as a team in everything, finance, career, parenting etc. I think many men feel as if there is no place for them.

  13. Reblogged this on Being Daddy 101 and commented:
    Being Daddy is hard work, but can you imagine being mommy without the extra hands that being daddy provides? I am sharing this post because I am continued to be inspired to BEING DADDY, not just standing on the sidelines letting mama carry the load.
    There is a lot of great things out there for us dads to learn, so please enjoy this post and the many more to come.

  14. Great Post! I hope you don’t mind but I shared on beingdaddy101 because it relates extremely well with the message that I’m trying to convey to fellow daddies. Thanks for the wonderful post! As a new daddy I appreciate your understanding and willingness to let your husband be a part of your child’s growth.

  15. Well said. I think it’s very sad when the dad either is unwilling to help or the wife relegates him to babysitter status. Thankfully my husband is very willing to help and I *usually* don’t feel the need to do everything.

  16. Great read! I feel that I am so fortunate to stay home with my 3 kids. Right now, I’m living in the lap of luxury as my wife is on 4 months maternity leave. We love it as with our first 2 kids, she did not have any maternity leave, that was when we were both working full time. So when we moved for her career, it made sense for me to stay home with the kids rather than searching for a job that would ultimately just pay for their child care.

    So when I assumed this new role in a new town, my wife made sure that there was not too much on me, even though her new position was very demanding on her. I don’t know that most partners would know to do that for their spouse. Even when I was working full time, seeing what my wife went through; feeding, tending, changing and teaching our kids, I knew I wanted to be more than just a sperm doner. My job is the best in the world as I’m happy to see the milestones that many men wouldn’t see of their kids.

    It was very important to me to recognize that as we have a great relationship based on give and take, especially since we both focus on the giving. Whether it’s time, love, an ear or a meal, we always talk and make sure that our days are not consuming us.

    I can write this now as the house is asleep. Now we wait for the game changer when my wife goes back to work.

  17. We have a situation pretty much exactly like yours. I started out as a working mom, then chose to stay home last fall. So my son sees me more, but my husband is one of those guys who just dives right into fatherhood with enthusiasm. With rare exceptions, we share all duties. We both cook, we both change diapers, we both play with our son, we both kiss and hug him. When my husband wakes up for the day (he works nights and sleeps during the morning and early afternoon), he knows I have already been at the parenting all day, so he usually takes over the major diapering and such. There are a couple of little things that we each just sort of took over, for example, my husband is the only one who trims Simon’s nails…I used to be too scared to do it, so it just became his thing.

    I think the key is good communication between the parents, and the recognition that you are in the parenting adventure together as equals, no matter what circumstances scheduling creates.

  18. Great post!! I like when you said ” I don’t have to do everything, don’t want to do everything, and that I have a husband whom I was shutting out of the parenting role” me too, i try to do anything and everything, and i don’t like to ask for help. but yes, i have to share the loads, and he has been very understanding, and never refused my requests.

  19. I love this post, especially being able to read it from a dad’s perspective! After being the stay-at-home parent for the first six months of having our daughter, and now being a working parent, I’m able to see both sides of the coin of handling more of the parenting and home duties and now having a much more even split with who does what. The great thing about my situation is that my wife doesn’t work Fridays, but works Sundays instead, so she gets her chance to be at home on her own one day, and then I get it another day. It gives us each a chance to get our own mommy or daddy time with our daughter, which I think will only strengthen each of our relationships with her as she grows–she’s 14 months now.

    I definitely agree that dads, in general, need to share the load more. And and their spouses should allow and encourage, and sometimes push to let that happen.

  20. Great post. I’m a Canadian dad in Japan, which has got to be one of the most traditional parenting countries in the world. By that, I mean that the mother does everything, while the father just works and sleeps. Working hours are incredibly long, because if you don’t work long hours, you’re considered lazy, no matter if you finished all your work or not. Seems backwards to me. I try my best to help out my wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, though she does want to get a part-time job to help out financially, as well as to give her a break from the monotony of staying home all the time and not meeting anyone. I’m more than happy to take complete care of our daughter while she’s working. I think everything should be teamwork.

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