I keep hearing a phrase pop up time and time again from male friends, colleagues and just in general – I’m on babysitting duties tonight, so I can’t do X or Y.
Dads are not babysitters! Are they? In this month’s Diary of a First Time Dad, Stu has a few things to get off his chest! His cathartic musings lead to some dad blunders to avoid…
Getting a few things off my chest
One of the most fascinating things about people is the huge number of things which can set our teeth on edge, grind our gears or generally rub us up the wrong way. My despairing partner, and indeed my parents, would doubtless reel off a long list of the trivial things which can ruin my day.
Whether it is something stacking the dishwasher randomly (though I’d strongly argue solid dishwasher loading skills are one of the defining features of a civilised society), people not saying thank you when you let them pass in a corridor, a bag on a seat of a packed train along with many more far too numerous to list, there are many, many things which can grate me far beyond their real worth. People have recommended I try breathing exercises, but it also makes me angry when people breathe loudly, so that’s hardly going to help.
Really unique – there’s no such thing
So, in summary, there’s probably a fair argument that I’m not always the poster child for mindfulness. It gets worse. As somebody who studied literature, albeit so long ago that most classics authors were probably still alive, I’ve been cursed with an irrational fear of misused words; malapropisms. It’s all fun and games when Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses mangles languages, but I come out in hives when someone asks for an eXpresso (there is no X in eSpresso) or, even worse, says something is ‘really unique’. Something is, after all, either unique or not….
Dads are not babysitters!
Why am I unburdening myself with this? On a blog about being a new Dad? Apart from it being cathartic (thanks for listening!), it’s because I keep hearing a phrase pop up time and time again from male friends, colleagues and just in general – I’m on babysitting duties tonight, so I can’t do X or Y.
Babysitting. Your own child or children. Not parenting, but babysitting.
Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? I can’t say hand on heart that it enrages me, but it does stick out and seem out of place, which got me to thinking about some other classic missteps of dads – some mine, some more general – to go along with the babysitting.
I’m sure a lot of mums reading this will raise a smile or a knowing eyebrow about how us dads have a bit of a tendency to pop in, do a fairly simple task and then expect if not awards then at the very least praise lasting for days or weeks. I’ll hold my hands up as being as guilty of this as any man, though for me it is less about parenting than DIY. Any small household task completed and I’ll be doing victory laps of the house for days to come! So what are some of the other traps dads can fall into, by accident or design?
Dad traps to avoid
NEVER complain about being tired. Just don’t do it. Rule number one. You may think you’re tired. You may actually be utterly exhausted. But in the majority of cases, it’s often the mum doing the majority of the chasing around and feeding. Before I can hear the angry tapping of keys, I know this isn’t the case for everyone and every family set up, but there is a broad truth here. If you’re a dad who is the primary carer of your child or children, we’d love to hear your story for our This is Family series.
The Mickey Flanagan paradox. There’s a very funny sketch by Mickey Flanagan talking about how he’s promised his partner he’ll be home on time with a takeaway but gets waylaid in the pub with his friends and fondly, deludely imagines his partner at home, devoid of food, happily thinking ‘I bet he’s having a lovely time. I’ll make myself a sandwich. I’ll make him one too in case he’s hungry later’. Particularly with younger children (and I’m speaking from current experience here), entertaining them for a whole day without help can be exhausting as it is joyful. So if you say you’re going to be home at 6, then expect a frosty reception if you wander in at 7. In fact, 6.03 is playing with fire. Mum needs a break. Mum needs to pee. Mum needs to wash the chewed rice cake out of her hair. If you’re going to be late, make sure the reason is really, really good.
A little learning is a dangerous thing. Yeah, even that quote is usually mangled. It’s not a little knowledge, but learning. I’m a riot at parties, as you can tell! Here’s why it can be dangerous in the parenting context. Being really involved with the whole pregnancy is wonderful and laudable. Learning what your partner is going through at each stage is admirable. Reading all the books you can on feeding, sleeping and everything else to be a support? Superb. But… stay in your lane. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen dads wade in and start explaining breastfeeding and pregnancy to women, without a shred of expertise – just access to Google and a head full of opinions. Don’t be that guy. Don’t even be friends with that guy.
Be a dad, not a babysitter
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as dads, we’re all going to get it wrong a lot of the time. And there’s nothing wrong with that. None of us are perfect. But the ones above are less about trying and not getting it right, but maybe not being empathetic enough to the mothers of our children.
So for all the babysitters out there, this year’s mission is to be the best ally to the mother of your children you can be; be a dad not a babysitter. That doesn’t mean every can or wants to take on primary care roles. All family set-ups are different and we celebrate all of them. But, if you’re there and the little one is making straining noises, be the first to jump up and change their bum. Do the bits you can, when you can, without being asked – and enjoy doing them. Trust me, doing the right thing is also the most fun thing you’ll ever do.
Happity wants your parenting stories!
As always, we’d love to hear your parenting stories and musings too. If you’ve got a story to tell then get in touch.