My partner rarely joins me on outings with my friends. This is for a few reasons. One, he's largely uninterested in most of the ways we choose to spend our time. Two, we like to have "one on one" time with our respective friends. Three, someone usually has to stay with our two small children. Every now and then, while I'm out, someone I don't know very well will say, "Oh, your husband is babysitting? That's so sweet." I still don't quite know how to respond when someone says my partner is babysitting. I mean, not only is it a completely absurd thing to say, but I don't even know where to begin.
Do I joke about it? Do I fly into a righteous feminist fury about gender roles and the diminished expectation we, as a society, have of male parents? Do I start an earnest and boring education campaign? Do I smile and ignore it because, "I know what they meant"? I find my answer usually comes at an intersection of most of these options, to varying degrees of wit or incoherent word-jumble.
How did we get here, you guys? How did we ever reach a point where a man caring for his own children is a kindly favor that would otherwise be worthy of monetary compensation? How do we move past this nonsense? Because dismissing "fathering" as "babysitting" sells everyone short and, honestly, families deserve more.
So the next time you're informed that your male partner is oh-so-sweet for "babysitting" his own children, here are some responses that, hopefully, will make the other person think twice before saying it again.
"I Know! And All Out Of The Goodness Of His Heart!"
That's right. He doesn't do this because of a deep emotional attachment to the children. He certainly isn't doing this because he's legally obligated to provide for their wellbeing until they're adults. No, it's because he's being so damn nice to me, to whom he also owes absolutely nothing. I'm so tremendously grateful, you guys.
"Well He Should Be Sweet For $18 An Hour!"
"Which is crazy, by the way, since I'm pretty sure he's on his cell phone most of the time he's here anyway. Besides, my kid is so well-behaved and laid back. Honestly, I should be paying him way less, but this is the market rate right now, so whatever."
[Writer's note: Please, for goodness sake, don't talk about your sitters like this. Trust me when I say I know it hurts to pay so much for childcare, but your sitter is almost certainly living in the same city with the same living expenses as you. So either adjust your attitude or, if you really feel they're not adequately performing their responsibilities, get a new sitter. But it's still sort of funny to adopt this kind of attitude when talking about your partner in order to stress the point that they're not a babysitter.]
"He's A Good Kid"
Another good way to highlight that other people are infantilizing you partner is to go over-the-top with it yourself. Condescendingly talk about the father of your children the way you would describe an over-earnest neighborhood kid of questionable competence who mows your lawn. You know: the one who misses entire sections of the yard and never gets the edges with the weed wacker? But they're just so cute and happy to have some responsibility. (Besides, you're friends with their parents, so you don't want to make things awkward.) Take the same tone when talking about your partner — half-charmed, half-annoyed.
"He Was Actually The First Babysitter I Ever Used. I Brought Him With Me To The Delivery Room!"
I don't always ask my babysitter to cut the child's umbilical cord, but when I do, they're a pretty special sitter.
"I Can Give You His Number If You Want"
When they laugh at your joke, press the matter. "No, really, I know he's looking for more work. He's really trying to build up his client base. I honestly can't recommend him enough. Ooh! Maybe we can start a nanyshare! I bet that would be a great move for all of us. Seriously, call him!" Take this as far as you want, including passive aggressive texts throughout the week asking whether or not they've gotten in touch with your partner about babysitting yet.
"I Don't Know. I Feel Like He Might Be Slacking Off Lately, So I Installed A Nanny Cam."
I highly recommend subtly gesturing to a tchotchke on your mantle while saying this, then gently pressing your finger to your lips.
"Yeah, Well, We're Sleeping Together"
Be as creepy as humanly possible about this without, you know, getting graphic. Just make a bunch of lecherous faces. When your partner walks by, turn to whoever you're talking to and wiggle your eyebrows. Mutter things like, "I hate to see him leave, but I love to watch him go." Basically act as like a pervy boss on Mad Men and I'm sure they'll get the hint.
"It's Going To Be Bittersweet When The Kids Get Older And Don't Need Him Anymore"
"I mean, once they hit 12 or so they probably won't need a sitter. They'll be trusted to be by themselves. Still, I imagine he'll come to visit every now and then. They've grown so attached to him over the years, you know. And, of course, I'll write a glowing referral to whatever family he wants to go to next."
"Oh He's Not The Babysitter. I'm His Handmaid."
Hey, if people are going to make assumptions based on presumed and unnecessarily rigid gender roles, like "men can't be nurturing and if they are it's some behavioral aberration," one up them by presenting an alternative, even more rigid gender role. Be sure to meet their slack-jawed confusion with a pious "Under His Eye."
"Some People Are Actually Calling Them 'Fathers' These Days"
Damn Millennial snowflakes. Everyone needs a special "identity" to "adequately describe the important role they play in their own child's life."
Back in my day kids didn't call their male parents "Dad." They called them "Sir." If you were lucky, "Sir" would shake your hand on your 10th birthday when you took your first job down in the coal mine and it would be the happiest moment of your life.
"He's Not The Babysitter"
I know this is apparently not getting through but we have to keep trying. Say it in song form. Scream. Bang on pots and pans. Keep at it until people finally get it.