It has become clear that not quite everyone understands what being a Stay-At-Home Dad is all about. From now on, because I have seen it on other blogs, I will be using SAHD in place of Stay-At-Home Dad as it is much easier to type and research that I have just made up has proven that using acronyms is far more efficient. This is why the Army uses so many of them, because as we all know the Army is all about efficiency (that’s snark). I have encountered people out and about when I am with my daughter who are still shocked and amazed at a man staying home with his kids. I have answered questions pertaining to my future plans of going back to work. I also encounter the occasional ramblings of those who think being a SAHD is like being a single guy in the dorms i.e. sit around all day and play video games, sleep, and pretty much do whatever I want as I have no real responsibilities. Man I wish! So over the life of this blog I will periodically make note in a series of posts detailing what being a SAHD is and is not to me. I feel that over time my ideas will change and it is necessary to fine tune my opinions as Olivia grows up. Which is why a blog is perfect for this sort of thing.
I would like to start this off by detailing one aspect of what being a Stay-At-Home Dad is NOT:
Being a Stay-At-Home Dad is not BABYSITTING. This is one I have received more than a few times when I am out. And by a viewing of other blogs by dads, this is not uncommon. I take Olivia everywhere. She goes wherever I go, because, well, where else would she be? I try to go out and do a Daddy-Daughter breakfast once a week with her to our favorite breakfast place. I have taken her with me to get my haircut. She goes to the mall with me if I need to go. I carry her through the grocery store (she really hates sitting in those cart seats). And one common question I receive whether it is from the hair stylist, cashiers, or just random patrons at the restaurant who think its totally okay to just walk up on a random guy and his kid and start interrupting their meal to coo at the baby (hint: it’s not), is “Are you babysitting today?”. And I always tell them the same thing: “Yup. Today and every other day.”
This usually throws them, like they don’t understand. An older gentleman during our breakfast asked me this question and I gave him this response. He was dumbfounded. “But…work?” he asked me. “This is my work,” I told him. Again, flummoxed. He honestly didn’t know what to say after that and he just continued on. Perhaps it’s a generational thing and a man who has his own grandchildren as he told me, just doesn’t quite understand it in today’s society. I mean, it was uncommon 50 years ago obviously so he may just not have caught up with how families are working today. Yet I have received this same line of questioning from much younger people. So I can’t really say it is generational.
But it’s this idea that a man is only babysitting his kids that irks me. I asked my neighbor about this the other day and we talked about that idea. I asked her if anybody ever came up to her when she is with her two year old son and asked her if she was just babysitting for the day. “Of course not,” she replied. Of course not. Why would they? When people see women with their kids, they accept it as norm and know they are taking care of their kids. But if a man is alone with their kids, no matter if it’s a weekday or weekend, they are merely babysitting. Or “watching” them.
I am sure many dads have gotten this at some point. However, being a SAHD this is literally my livelihood. Maybe some dads are just watching their kids for a while before they can take them back home and pawn them off on Mom. But I don’t get to do that. I am not merely keeping an eye on my daughter all day long until Mom comes home. I am raising her 24 hours a day. I am in charge of her development. I take her out with me so I can help with her development. When we go out to eat it’s so she can be in a public setting, get use to being around people, and learn how to control herself in an unusual environment. I am not letting her tag along so I can eat. We talk about what is going on around her (well I am talking, she does a lot of listening and pointing). She watches the waitresses as they work. She looks at all the people as they come and go. She is actively learning her environment. Or as I would say from a military standpoint, she is developing her Situational Awareness or SA.
When my neighbor and I discussed my concern she immediately brought up the notion that this kind of thought process is sexist. And maybe it is. Well, it definitely is but I don’t really harp on that. But it is important. According to Pew Research Center, the number of dads who stay at home with their kids has risen to over 2 million (Pew Research Center). Some of those dads were not prepared to stay at home, but because of mitigating circumstances they were thrust into that position. Imagine how they perceive a question like that when they are out with their kids. They may already be feeling less than adequate because of their failure to keep a job in a tough economy, and now they are degraded even more by being called a babysitter. Hell I chose to stay home and it pisses me off.
The thing I don’t understand is why people immediately go the babysitter route when they see a dad with his kids. If you saw a mom and dad together with their kids you wouldn’t ask them if they were babysitting them. If you saw mom with the kids you wouldn’t ask it either. But if it’s dad that is the go-to thing. Why, though? What is it that makes people think dads are only babysitters? We are parents. We are caregivers. Nobody is paying me 10 bucks an hour to watch my kid. I sure as hell don’t get to just dump her on my wife, wipe my hands clean and say “She’s all yours, see you tomorrow”. Although sometimes Olivia makes that decision on her own.
This isn’t a question that can be answered lightly. Some people just don’t see men as primary caregivers. They are suppose to be breadwinners. Mom is suppose to stay home. That’s just how it is. I guess I have never really looked at it that way. My mother was the primary caregiver and the breadwinner. I saw that you could be one or the either, or both. So for me it was never an issue of the man having to be one thing. Seeing a man be a SAHD was just not a big deal. And deciding to be one wasn’t either. Let’s be honest, we call ’em Deadbeat Dads. I don’t remember the last time I heard Deadbeat Mom. There are different expectations placed on Dad. Sometimes it’s just that he be there, somewhere. And when a normal working dad is out with the kids on the weekend, it’s always just assumed he is “giving mommy a break” from her normal daily tasks.
It is what it is. I know it’s cliche to say that but it’s the truth. The number of Stay-At-Home Dads is rising, which is a good thing in my opinion. Hopefully it is out of choice as opposed to consequence, but nonetheless, dads staying home with their kids is a positive. This stigma of being only a babysitter, though, has got to go. We aren’t babysitting anybody. She is my kid. It is called parenting. What is so damn difficult to understand about that?