My wife had to travel for an official conference last week for 3 days. That meant that I had to take care of my daughter all by myself. I also had to take a day of leave from work since her day care was off. I believe this is to be completely normal for any working couple. But, whenever I tell share this with someone at work or in our community, the response I get makes it look like I am doing some kind of volunteering or social work.
One of my neighbours said to me last week, “So you are babysitting for the next 2 days?”
I was really taken aback.
“Excuse me? Babysitting? My Own Daughter?”
I wanted to say it aloud but I didn’t. I smiled and moved on.
I strongly disagree with this mentality of our society of underestimating fathers. Fathers are not babysitters. They are parents.
When both parents are working, there are bound to be occasions when either of them or even both of them have to take time off from work to take care of the child. We have had several such instances in the past 2 years and depending on whose schedule permits, we take the time.
My office schedule was a bit easier last week thus I decided to work from home. My wife has taken many such days in the last 2 years when her workload is easier. So the first thing here is sharing the load, not only in the baby-caring, but also in taking leave from office when required. I was reading somewhere that working fathers on average spend 8 hours with their children per week. Compare this to the enormous 50 hours per week spent by the working mothers.
I don't want to stress the numbers here, but it is evident that we dads have a long way to go in terms of sheer quantity of time we devote to our children. So, taking the day off when the opportunity arises to spend time with your kid is a golden chance to improve on that number.
Another thing that helps is treating the day as a playdate rather than a task which must be completed. I do the following things during my day-ins with my daughter:
1. Taking her out to the park and playing games with her e.g. Sand play.
2. Listening to music and dancing together.
3. Creating stories to keep her distracted if she becomes cranky.
4. Singing her to sleep.
5. If she misses her mum, get her to talk to her on phone.
6. Taking pictures of the day and ask her to participate.
In short, being a kid with her.
I am not doing anything extraordinary here, I am just being a parent. It amazes me when someone compliments me that I am a great father for doing these things.
I also sense hidden judgment for the mother when they say this. In a way it means that I maybe doing things beyond my duty, which should ideally be done by mother. I cannot disagree more. We fathers, however much we try, can never ever come close to what a mother can and will do for her child.
Spending time with my child is not a favour to either my child or her mother. If at all it is a favour, it is to me.
I take my child out to the park every evening. On multiple occasions, the neighbourhood aunties have asked me very innocently, a version of the following question:
“Is her mother not in town?”
I fail to understand this question. And I have some counter questions myself. Let’s list some of these:
1. If her mother is in town, can I not bring my child for a walk in the park?
2. Am I, as a father less capable of taking care of my daughter?
3. Why should mommies have all the fun?
It might seem that these questions by aunties are one-off, but this mentality is very rooted in our society and system. Expectations from us fathers are limited. We are expected to provide for (monetarily) the child and take important decisions in their life. That’s all.
We are not expected to “take care of” our children ourselves but just provide help to our wives taking care of them. I truly believe that we are underestimated as a group, us fathers. We are not babysitters; we are parents. We value the walks in the park with our children. We cherish spending hours doing silly things with our family. We treasure missing work to be with our kids.
We do not and cannot replace mothers in their absence. And I would like to believe, with due respect, that even the mothers can't replace us.