He’s Not Babysitting – He’s Parenting!

I often read blog posts about the challenges (for ‘challenges’ read ‘bombshells’) experienced by new mothers. It is physically, emotionally and spiritually draining.  Childbirth changes you in ways you never previously suspected.  You feel everything more intensely and your propensity for feeling guilty increases a thousand fold.

I’m not sure who looks more perplexed here!  Mat and Caitlin in 2008

But there is one key skill, I think, that all new mothers need and that many fail to master.

No, I’m not talking about putting a nappy on one-handed whilst drinking a cuppa and cradling the phone beneath your chin.  I am not talking about the motorised instrument of torture that is the breast pump.  (It’s ironic that you are expected to ‘express’ milk, because there was nothing very speedy about mine!).

I’m talking about the ability to ask for help – and accept it.

Because, let’s be honest, offers of help are not always forthcoming.  Everyone is so busy with their own lives and particularly if you are a stay at home mum, you will most likely find yourself home alone with your new, albeit magical, plus one.

I saw on Twitter the other day a dad complaining that he was congratulated for ‘babysitting’ his own child when, as he so rightly put it, he was parenting.

There is, I think, a temptation for new mums to immerse themselves completely in motherhood to the exclusion of their partner.

Very little is actually written about what it is like for new dads and it must be very frustrating to find that, having done midnight runs for curry and gherkins, listened endlessly to birth plans (which are usually jettisoned as soon as labour begins in earnest) and planned the first bike rides, country jaunts and trips to the seaside, they find themselves rather surplus to requirements.

And then, if they are left in charge of their newborn son or daughter, we congratulate them for ‘babysitting’.

I have done this myself and I think it’s because new mums feel it’s their mission to single-handedly ensure the baby thrives – and that only they can do it.

As a new mum, you may become consumed with a perfectionism you never had before.  Nappies must be put on just so.  Baby must be laid down like this.  And on it goes.

There is sense in this because, at least in my experience, creating a routine that works for all the family is vital.  We become obsessed with baby’s bowel movements and when they will ‘sleep through’.  Every ounce of their weight is recorded.  We wait, anxiously, for the first toothless smile.

But, at some point, you  have to let go, for your sanity and your health and also for your baby.  This is even more important, of course, if your partner is not around to support you both – and a time when you really need your family and friends.

For those of us lucky enough to have a partner on hand, as mothers we need to let them in and share the experience and learn by doing.  That is not meant to be patronising. It is the same logic used in delegating in the work place. A team is stronger than a single individual.

And if we don’t encourage dads to get ‘hands on’ and acknowledge their input as ‘partners’ in both senses of the word, then we play into the hands of the dyed-in-the-wool sexists who still refer to looking after baby as ‘women’s work’; the sort of people who think a man’s role in the birth process is to have a stiff whisky.

If we don’t encourage dads to play an equal role then we will only have ourselves to blame if they regard their input as ‘babysitting’.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, there is no shame in asking for an hour out for a coffee, or in asking for help with some of the routine household tasks (ironing, putting a batch of washing on etc).

When we’re stressed, we somehow think people can read our minds whereas a short list of things that need to be done and some basic instructions is far more useful!

If we involve our partners in childcare and we ask for help from friends and relatives, our experience in those first few challenging months may be even more memorable – for all the right reasons.

We do dads a disservice when we deny them the opportunity to create their own memories with their newborn child.

And we do ourselves a disservice when we won’t ask for help at a time when we really, REALLY, deserve it.

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13 Comments

  1. August 24, 2015 / 8:11 pm

    It took me a long time to learn to ask for help – until my third child, I think – from anyone other than my husband. You are right that a lot of mums feel they have to do everything or it might look like they are failing, when in reality, people are desperate to help. I hate it when people say dads are babysitting too. Like you say, it's called being a parent! x

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:01 pm

      The pressure tends to come from other women too, I find.

  2. August 25, 2015 / 2:53 pm

    I rely on Spencer heavily, as soon as he walks through the door from work I'm handing him Aria. I don't like when people refer to the father's as babysitters, I've had a few times when I'm out and people have asked if Spencer is babysitting. I usually reply to say no, he is at home looking after his daughter.

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:02 pm

      Great ripost Leanne. I'm going to try that one!

  3. August 25, 2015 / 7:40 pm

    I am a single mum of four, so have got used to just getting on with it. I do crumble though, and retreat to cry behind a closed door at times! Kaz x

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:03 pm

      It must be really tough. Mat is away an awful lot so I feel like a single mother some times but I only have half your brood x

  4. August 26, 2015 / 11:10 pm

    I still tell hubby he`s babysitting if i have a night out.I should rephrase it!

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:03 pm

      Good plan. I have the occasional night out but usually we pay for a babysitter and go together. Too expensive to do very often though!

  5. August 27, 2015 / 1:48 pm

    It's so easily done, I know I've done it. I go out every Saturday with my mum shopping as a break from having the lil one all week. My hubby watches him, but I constantly worry when I'm out and feel guilty for leaving him as though my hubby can't cope….which he perfectly can! I think it's because mums spend so often with their children that it's hard to ask for help and let others watch them.

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:04 pm

      Regular breaks are so important for your sanity, aren't they? I should really arrange a regular break so I've got a weekly treat to look forward to.

  6. August 28, 2015 / 4:13 pm

    i am SO glad that you've brought this up. it drives me MAD when women – in my opinion – belittle their husbands by saying they are babysitting or insinuating that no one can look after their kids as well as them. Now, I get saying babysitting when on a night out or what not as it's a joke, so I'm not on about that.

    • August 28, 2015 / 5:05 pm

      It is belittling to the men really, isn't it? And gives them an 'out' too. Mind you, I still have to come back and tidy up, sort dishes out etc!

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