My husband never babysits — and it doesn’t bother me one bit.
Allow me to explain: Following an extended maternity leave, I’m about to return to graduate school to complete my master’s degree in English literature. Naturally, people have been asking me about what I’m going to do for childcare. But since I was able to schedule all of my classes in the evening, my husband will be home by the time I leave for school.
“Great, so hubby is babysitting!” comes the usual reply. No he isn’t. He’s parenting. And calling him a “babysitter” insults this hard and important work that he does.
It is true that the vast majority of our baby’s care and other household duties fall to me, and I think that’s perfectly fair — given that I am home while my husband is working. Though he may not have the privilege of spending as much time with our son as I do, when he is home, he does everything that I do with the baby (minus the nursing).
Jewish law and tradition support an active role for fathers.
Most Jews are familiar with the dictate of pru u’revu, to be fruitful and multiply. The 19th century German rabbi and scholar Sampson Raphael Hirsh contended that the dual wording implies a dual obligation: “Be fruitful” applies to having children and “multiply” applies to raising those children. This particular commandment, by the way, obligates only men, not women. Furthermore, the Talmud, in tractate Kiddushin, lists the obligations of a father to his children. The parameters of these responsibilities are subject to much discussion and debate, but it is clear that fathers have a primary obligation to raise their children; at the very least, this means teaching that child Torah, life skills and a trade. When my husband is with our son, he is doing his job.
Too often it is women who refer to men as babysitters, and such language does all women a disservice. When women are mothers and men are babysitters, the mother becomes the primary parent; the father becomes at best the secondary parent, and at worst the less competent parent. Why should a man bother to parent if his wife, her friends and, all too often, popular culture have made it clear that she’s better and more suitable for the job?
This is not to say you can’t have primary and secondary caregivers; as a stay-at-home-mother, of course, I am the primary caregiver. I am not, however, the primary parent. My husband is just as good of a parent and just as important to our son as I am.
Which is why he never babysits.