US Census Bureau to Dads: You're No More than a Babysitter

BlogHer Original Post

The US Census Bureau has decided that fathers watching their children is “child care” but when moms watch their kids, it’s parenting. No, really. All of that “it’s not babysitting, it’s parenting” when daddy “watches” the kids has apparently been tossed out the window and set us back decades. And by us, I am not just referring to the women who are somehow deemed the “designated parent” when both parents are present in a household, but the men as well. Apparently they don’t matter.

I’d like the US Census Bureau genius who came up with this idea to show up at my house for a three-day period.

On a typical day in my household, I rise with my perennial 7:00am waking child. I get breakfast on the table, grab my cup of coffee and get to work. My husband then takes over, makes sure that teeth are brushed and gets the kids to school. After preschool, he makes lunch for our younger son and normally plays a game of Yahtzee! or whatever the four-year-old so desires. He reads a book. He answers a billion questions. He kisses boo-boos. He reminds our youngest son to let me work eight billion times. He helps with the tasks of reading, computer usage and coloring. He gets our other son from school and proceeds to break up the sibling arguments that begin as soon as they’re both in the door. He makes a healthy snack. He asks about days. He helps with homework. He chases them down the hallway like a big monster. He gives me a big hug when I finish my work day about an hour after our oldest son comes home, and then he helps me in the kitchen.

Of course, every third day, he goes to work for 24 hours as a professional firefighter, and I’m left to hold down the fort in his keenly felt absence.

But according to the US Census Bureau, I’m the “designated parent.” And he’s doing nothing more than providing temporary care.


This Is Not Parenting

And here I thought we were finding a balance for what works for our family, both providing the parenting care that our children need in our own ways. I can’t chase them like a monster, but I can tickle them until they squeal so loudly glass breaks. I didn’t realize that I was the designated parent just because I have a vagina. I thought, as we are both present and equally awesome, that we were the designated parents. Plural. Together. A team. The two of us making sense of the parenting world -- which rarely makes sense as it is. If we’re not a team, I’m screwed and so are the kids, because I’m going to mess this up on my own.

I just don’t understand how vaginas make a parent and penises make a babysitter.

I told my husband the news as I sat at my computer, working while he packed the boys’ lunches.

”Did you know that if you watch the kids while I’m working, it’s considered a form of child care. And when I watch the kids while you’re at work, it’s considered... well, parenting.”

He smirked. “Well, of course! Because society knows that no man is inherently capable of parenting. We don’t have an instinctual tug or love or any of that.”

We then joked that we should claim his time as “child care provider” on our taxes this year. I wonder if the IRS would agree with the US Census Bureau. My guess is that, when it comes down to the bottom line -- and the bottom line being money -- no. He is not a babysitter. He is not a form of child care. He is an active, involved father who doesn’t “step up” to care for his children: He just parents.

I get offended for my husband when these types of subjects come up. I get offended for my father, who worked midnights for the entirety of my schooling career so that he could get home in the morning with just enough time to usher us off to school, get some sleep, and wake up when we got home to shuffle us off to after school activities or make dinner with us or just... be... with us. I get offended for every dad I know who gladly spends time with his children, who doesn’t view it as “carrying his weight” or “providing care.” I get offended for every man who doesn’t want recognition for the work they do as a dad, but is lauded with, “Oh, it’s so nice of you to watch the kids when your wife works.” Or goes out. Or steps away from the kids for five seconds.

I get offended for every woman who has made the decision to work, in whatever fashion. I get offended for every woman who has made the decision to stay home with the children. I get offended for every family juggling their work schedules, their budgets, their hopes, their dreams.

If we want fathers to be involved, to do more than just create a child, then why do we keep telling that they are not just as vital to their kids’ lives as the mother? If we keep running PSA’s about how “anyone can be a father but it takes a special kind of man to be a dad,” why do we then tell these “special kid of men” that they’re not quite cutting it, that they’re not really doing anything more than the teenager down the street does on a Friday night, texting from the couch while the kids hang from the chandelier? Why do we act surprised when men just give up the fight and disappear; if they’re not valued, if their time and effort isn’t ever respected, how can we expect them to care?

The good news is that there are men -- dads, fathers, papas, whatever you want to call them -- that do care. They do more than provide child care. They do more than babysit. They do more than “watch the kids.” They parent. They love. They cherish. They teach. They are dads. Thank goodness for each and every one of them.

Reaction around the blogosphere seems equally ticked off:

  • Cassandra at Villainous Company shared her thoughts as a grandma whose son seems quite like my own husband.

    One of the joys of being a grandma to two very active little boys has been watching the close relationship they have to their father. My son is a police officer and his wife works from home. They really do share parenting responsibilities, and I'm immensely proud of my son's involvement in his children's lives. There's nothing unmanly about his parenting style: men do most things differently when caring for children and their perspective on parenting is usually a net positive.

  • Chris Routly at The Daddy Doctrines thought he was a stay-at-home dad until he found out that the US Census Bureau took that title away since he makes income as a freelance writer.

    The fact that I have XY sex chromosomes means that when I am acting as primary caregiver for my own children, while my XX chromosome’d partner is at work, I am just one more available kind of “child care provider.” I am not “parenting,” but merely providing a service to the “designated parent” (my wife), not unlike a nanny, au pair, or daycare center. I think the lesson here is that I need to ask for a raise.

  • Shannon at The Feminist Mystique points out that everyone should be upset by this change.

    Setting up the survey this way makes it difficult to track changes about who is doing what in families at a time when parental roles are rapidly changing. And it should offend parents. Not just women, who are assumed to be the "designated parent" and whose care giving isn't considered work, but also men, whose parenting is considered to be nothing more than baby-sitting.

What are your thoughts? Are dads no more than child care providers?


Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is an editor, writer and photographer. Her husband is a dad.


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