“I don’t like babysitting,” my dear husband said about a month into our new lives as parents. There was a schedule change, and he had to spend a few unexpected hours watching our infant solo. It was inconvenient and a pain in the butt, and I would have been aggravated if it had been me.
But it was the word he used—it was all wrong. And one month postpartum, I did not have the calm, well-reasoned reaction that I would have liked. The rage came quickly, followed by tears.
After talking it through (and consulting with many outsiders who all agreed with me), he realized that it was the wrong word. Or so I thought.
Last night, he used it again—quickly taking it back. “I know you hate it when I say that,” he said.
I can’t blame the hormones this time, but the rage was still there—for his use of the word ON TOP OF the fact that he knew it made me crazy.
1. “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
to take care of a child while the child’s parents are away
I don’t call it babysitting when I’m watching my own child. Period.
2. The Remove
I think this is what brought the hormone tears on the first time around. When you use a term like babysitting, you’re removing yourself from your relationship with your kid. Not consciously, of course, but it’s there in the word. Babysitting is a job people do to make some extra cash. It is usually done by teenagers. There is often pizza and texting involved (ok, so parenting sometimes involves those things too). Babysitting is much more closely related to petsitting or housesitting than parenting. If you say you’re housesitting your own house, people will ask you when you’re due to check in at the mental hospital.
3. The Battle of the Sexes
I have to say here that my husband and I have a very equal parenting balance, but I thought it was important for him to understand the broader social context. I’ve often heard women say that their husbands are “babysitting” the kids while they “snuck” out for some fun times. I don’t think I’ve EVER heard a man say that about his wife when he’s out doing golf or making beer or dude-ing it up in some way with his guy pals.
The use of the (wrong) word shows a lack of responsibility and a lack of expectation. It’s a part of the larger issue—the fact that women are expected to be the care-givers and men are expected to make bank. In a culture that is increasingly full of stay-at-home dads and equal partnerships, this concept is outdated at the very least. The incorrect use of the word “babysitting” is a hold-over from a different era. We’ve got a lot of these little minefields that are wrapped up in our daily language (and actions), and I think we need to start killing them softly so we can get on with our lives.
Ok, stepping off of my soapbox to go shopping for some actual soap. Later tonight, you can find me petsitting my dog Steinway, housesitting my house, and babysitting my kid.