Parenting

Fathers Are Parents, Not Babysitters

(Shutterstock)

My wife’s job requires her to travel from time to time. While she’s away, our children and I miss her, of course, and we anxiously await her return. However, that’s not because we’re at a loss for how to conduct ourselves, nor do we struggle to maintain a standard of living that barely clears the hurdle of mere survival. In fact, while we do miss her, my kids and I manage to eat our fruits and veggies, take baths and brush our teeth, and accomplish the day to day tasks that are accomplished when she’s not gone. All of that happens because I am the father of my children, which means, obviously, that I am a parent and not a babysitter. I know how to take care of my kids.

Inevitably, my wife being away prompts well-meaning and kind-hearted people to ask, “Will you be ok without her?” Upon her return, the same people ask, “Did you manage without her? We didn’t hear from you, and were worried.”

In response to the first question, I generally smile politely and attempt to quell their fears for our well-being by ensuring them that we will, indeed, be ok without my wife. Responding to the second question is generally more difficult for me. To be specific, it’s harder for me to smile politely while reminding the person that our kids have two parents and that I am one them. Furthermore, both of my kids’ parents are well-adjusted adults. So, yes, while we missed her, we did more than manage in the absence of my wife; we, in fact, had some fun and still managed to not burn the house down.

I’ve spoken with other dads who share my exasperation with the seemingly universal belief that left to their own devices, fathers are considered a success if no one in their care ends up in the emergency room. The belief that dads are good-hearted, bumbling accidents-waiting-to-happen is simply not true and doesn’t help anyone.

Sadly, the stereotype holds a strong sway over many people’s opinions about fathers. Type the word “bumbling” into the Bing search engine, and “bumbling dad” is the first recommendation. TV show after TV show supports the stereotype. As a whole, society tends to believe that dads are incompetent as parents.

To be true, many dads, unfortunately, steer into the stereotype. However, I’m willing to bet that that’s more out of laziness than an actual lack of competency. Cooking and cleaning are not complicated activities. Making sure that children have finished their homework, taken baths, and brushed their teeth isn’t really that much of a chore. Unless, of course, the dad is selfish and sees his kids as an imposition on his “free time.” In that case, lack of ability isn’t the issue; personality flaws are the problem, and the dad in question should begin the changing of his ways by first asking his long-suffering wife and his children for forgiveness.

Outside of extenuating circumstances, including the selfish, lazy fathers above, there is next to zero reason why it should surprise anyone that fathers are able to care for their children in a loving, fruitful, and competent manner when the mom is away. Fathers are, after all, parents too. And as parents, fathers are just as capable as moms of loving and caring for their children.

Assuming that fathers are bumbling idiots and inadequate child care providers helps no one. Children need to see their dads as loving, concerned, and competent. Daughters need that image modeled so that they don’t marry a bumbling idiot out of the assumption that men are supposed to be that way. Sons need to know that they are being raised by strong, competent fathers so that they don’t become self-fulfilling prophecies. Besides the obvious—that moms shouldn’t shoulder the lion’s share of the parenting load—dads shouldn’t give the mothers of their children any reason to worry whenever she is away for an extended period of time. Dads also shouldn’t give their wives any reason to view them as the less capable parent. Parenting is a team effort, and fathers and mothers should make sure that their children are aware of this and are aware that both dad and mom are capable parents.