Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why It's Not Daycare

I am definitely aware of language. I think about the words I use, and I think about the words used around me. Various experiences throughout my life have enforced this, and I think it's a good thing.

And so begins my rant on "Daddy Daycare," fathers who "babysit," and "Mr. Mom." If you think I'm oversensitive on this, if you think I'm crazy for having a degree in Women's Studies, I would suggest you stop reading, because I've been pushed over the edge and I'm frustrated.

It's not daycare when a father cares for a child. It's parenting. Get it straight. When a man cares for a child alone, he's not pretending to be a mother. He's being a father.

I recognize that for many, these phrases are cute. They picture a man, often a boyfriend, husband, or partner, caring for a child, being sweet, affectionate, and gentle. However, if we think about it, comparing a care-giving father to daycare or a babysitter is a tremendous insult to their role as a parent, and implying that a father should only act in these ways when the mother is not able is ridiculous. If we accept that this sort of care-giving is only for rare occasions when daycare is needed, we are perpetuating the idea that a disproportionate amount of child-rearing should fall on women, and, if I dare say, we are letting less involved fathers off the hook. These phrases call back to a time with very fixed, inflexible ideas of domestic roles and gendered responsibilities, and this is not okay.

I read an essay by Matt Logelin, a widow whose wife died twenty-four hours after giving birth to their only child. He described the surprise he encounters when people realize that he, a man, can dress their daughter, care for her, and raise her alone. When his wife died, people actually asked him if he was going to give Maddie to someone else, presumably a woman, to raise.

In the essay, Matt said he was simultaneously assumed to be incompetent and praised for the smallest of feats. He said, "Society also mythologizes the good, single father. A man who steps up to his role as father is looked at in awe. Mothers? It seems that most people think nothing of the remarkable work done by these women. They’re just doing “their” job, right? Women are expected to be good mothers. Men are expected to be, well, men."

People do not expect men to innately know how to care for children and when men show themselves as capable, people are surprised and impressed. On the flip side, mothers are expected to carry the wealth of knowledge necessary for raising children, along with patience, kindness, and energy. The learning curve and expectations are pretty steep.

I think about the number of families in our lives with parents who parent equally, and I'm not talking about who goes to work and who stays home. I'm talking about parents who, in the early months, split night duty, feedings, comforting, and all of the tasks that come with child-rearing. I think of men who are single parents. I think of gay men in our lives who plan to adopt and will eventually be tremendous partners; their kids won't have a "mother," and they will be loved and nurtured. These men are not providing daycare, and they're not playing the part of "mom." They're parents. They're fathers. To imply any different would be selling them gravely short.


  1. I love this. I had friends who, when she, the stay-at-home-mom, would eventually convince or cajole him, the "breadwinner" dad, to parent the two kids alone for a few hours, would refer to this as babysitting or "watching the kids." Finally, one day another friend of mine who is perhaps more of a co-parent to his daughter said to this "babysitting" father, "Dude. It's not babysitting. It's parenting." I couldn't agree more, for all of the reasons you suggest.

  2. Excellent! And I love that you were a women's studies major. I think I am too in a much more minor way. People at my church always praise my husband for what a great dad he is. I am so thankful for him and I hope the other men take notice!