In a recent article in The Atlantic, several academics attempt to explain why the way we refer to the work of fathers matters.
On the surface, language seems like a simple thing, but it’s actually quite complicated. People often fail to think about the language they use in general. I don’t mean the habit many of us have of failing to think before we speak; I mean, instead, that people very rarely weigh their words and make sure that each word means what they think it means and what they want it to mean. And of course, those words add up to sentences. Did that sentence have the exact meaning I wanted?
I’m no linguist, but having taught writing for years has helped me to think about these matters, and hopefully, I’ve managed to encourage some previous students to think about these things as well.
So why all this talk about language? Because it’s common for people to refer to a dad tending to his children as babysitting. But as the article points out, this in an inaccurate (and at times offensive) description.
The article (and a subsequent BabyCenter blog post) points out that when fathers care for children, they are not babysitting. Babysitting is something you do for other people’s children, but when you are caring for your own children, you are simply parenting. After all, when a mom is out at the park with her child, you wouldn’t call what she’s doing babysitting, so why should it be any different for dads?
This matters because we cannot break free of this particular gender imposed stereotype until we change the way we talk about what fathers do. If I leave my husband and son together while I go out for any reason (something I do frequently), I would never say that my husband is babysitting. He’s caring for our child. And the beautiful thing is, I know he can do it all…dinner time, bath time, bed time…Daddy can handle it.
To me, the idea that a dad is inherently incapable of parenting is an antiquated thought. So how do we change the way we talk about the work that dads do? It seems that we first have to change the way we think about the work that dads do. As moms, it’s easy to assume the brunt of the work and to swoop in when Daddy isn’t doing it the way Mommy would, but I think we have to start to let go of those assumptions. Let Daddy do the work, and let it become a normal part of society.
Once that happens, we won’t need to figure out a way to comment on the work of fathers anymore than we do that for mothers.
The authors of The Atlantic article suggest that academia needs to create language for the work of fathers, but I suggest that we as parents have to do that by normalizing dads as active and involved caregivers rather than characterizing them as the bumbling fool who steps in on the rare occasion that mom steps out.
As it stands, however, academia has yet to offer a framework to normalize the practice of recognizing men who share parental responsibities. King, Kobrynowicz, and Jakobsen all understood Kruse’s experiencesand offered similiar anecdotes, but the linguist, psychologist-turned-health coach, and women’s studies professor did not know of any research that extends past citing the problem.