I Refuse To Babysit My Children

Shawn Henfling is tired of people calling every dad with his kids a babysitter.

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By Shawn Henfling

I haven’t babysat my children in almost ten years. I won’t. Babysitting isn’t my responsibility. I’m their stepdad, not some sixteen-year-old girl making 9 dollars an hour. My job is to work and provide for them in every way. I simply refuse to spend a few hours every week in some misguided effort to spend “quality time” with my kids. Screw that and screw everyone who believes otherwise. I will not conform to the accepted societal notion of what fatherhood is supposed to look like. I’m not some bungling idiot who cannot be trusted to do the laundry, cook a meal or change a diaper. Ok, so I wouldn’t trust me to change a diaper, but that is irrelevant to the conversation.

No father should ever be labeled a babysitter. Collectively we are better than that, better than some misguided notion of fatherhood. We, single dads, stepdads, adopted dads, and biological dads are all just one thing: dads. I haven’t babysat in so long because I started being a parent instead of some place holder only necessary when mom isn’t around. We get a pretty bum rap in public and in the media. Somehow, a dad actually being a dad gets looked at as some kind of aberration.

Traditional notions of fatherhood and masculinity have left parenting to the moms. Dads are relegated to the sidelines, pushed into the fringes with responsibilities that have not changed as society has evolved. Fifty years ago, we were the disciplinarians and the breadwinners. Now the media portrays us as fools and idiots, unfit for the simplest of tasks. Dads are just big kids that need to be kept in check by their more responsible and mature wives. We are more than we are made to appear.

The other day a dad came into our store with his kids in tow. His kids were well behaved and quiet, despite us being the kind of store little boys (and big boys) go nuts over. A coworker, who knew the man, greeted him with “So, you’re babysitting today huh.” I know I winced and I could see the comment stung the man. It wasn’t only that the comment was painful, but that it came from another dad only added to the burn. I know he meant nothing by it, but the comment was unwarranted nonetheless.

The notion of dads taking active roles in the lives of their children has become so foreign that many look upon them with suspicion when they witness it. When women take their children to the park, nobody bats an eye. If a dad sits on the bench to watch his kids play, people eye him with suspicion and watch their own children a little more closely. If a man smiles at a child in public, he’s assumed to be a danger. I’ve personally been glared at as I wave to small children even in the company of my own. We are conditioned to see every male with an interest in children as suspicious and dangerous.

There is an uprising, a change happening before our very eyes. Dads are moving from the shadows into the light in a tremendous movement. People like Oren Miller, who recently passed from cancer, have inspired fathers everywhere to take charge in bringing about change. Us dads, the ones who make an effort, are more than just putting in our quality time. We are active participants in the lives of our children and deserve to be treated as such. Our voices need to be heard and our faces seen. We are not babysitters. We are not just filling in for mom while she’s busy. We are parents and deserve to be treated as such.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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