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Who's your daddy? Or babysitter?
Oct 26, 2013

Who's your daddy? Or babysitter?

As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home.

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In


A little while ago I wrote on the subject of 'Where are the real role models and mentors'. In it I spoke about advice I give to young women about to become mothers and wanting to continue their careers-that if they are in a relationship they don't have to be the only one responsible for all of the parenting duties.  Fathers are parents too, and are capable of taking on more of the doing and thinking that goes with parenting.

I wanted to tell a story in that piece but didn't. But I will now because I think it highlights a societal problem about the expectations on mothers and the different expectations on fathers-when it comes to duties relating to the children.

When my first born was very young we were at a family gathering and she was a bit unsettled. My husband took her off for a walk, for as all parents of young babies know, a stroll in the pram over a few bumps puts a baby to sleep faster than you can say 'phenergan' . An older relative of his told me that I was so 'lucky' that my husband was such a great babysitter. I instantly bristled and pointed out that he wasn't babysitting his own child; he was being a father. And in fact enjoying it. As opposed to babysitting,  which is a job.  And not a very well paid one. What was I doing, I asked, when I was caring for my daughter? It was a short conversation because the subject was changed quickly so as not to offend any people in the older generation.

That was 20 years ago.

I was reminded of that this morning when I was reading the paper and saw this:




I am quite sure Prince William doesn't regard himself as a babysitter of his own child.  Nor does the Duchess of Cambridge.

Yet why is it that in 2013, fathering is still being reduced to 'babysitting' in the press? And what are the wider ramifications if this subtle,  unconscious bias is prevalent in our workplaces?  That those in senior roles believe that looking after children (and everything that goes along with that)  is still fundamentally womens' work?  That a father who leaves work to collect a child from care is 'helping out' his partner?  I do believe that men do not generally seek to display a willingness to take on parenting duties because  it might be perceived as a weakness, and hazardous to their careers  — that it is their partners, the mothers of their children who should be doing these jobs. That they don't need to 'help' in any way — especially not with the 'babysitting'.

Sheryl Sandberg, in her book 'Lean In - Women , Work and the Will to Lead' devotes a whole chapter (chapter 8 if anyone wants to read ahead) to the topic - Make Your Partner a Real Partner.  She describes an occasion where a group was asked to write down their hobbies and half of the men in the group listed their children as one of their hobbies.  'For most mothers, kids are not a hobby.  Showering is a hobby'.  She also cites Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who, when asked what men could do to help advance women's leadership, replied 'the laundry'.

It's all well and good for us to make sure our relationships are equal — we also have to make sure the organisations we and our partners work for recognise that as well.  

Looking after one's children is part and parcel of being a parent regardless of gender.  So is doing their laundry.