I hear it pretty much every time I’m out and about with my son: “Aw, is dad babysitting today?”
And the answer is NO! It’s not babysitting. It’s called being a dad. There is a big difference every father should know.
Once upon a time, I was a babysitter. One summer, when I was ten, from 8am to noon on Saturdays, I watched our neighbors’ kids. There were two of them, and they always slept in, so by “watching our neighbors’ kids,” I really mean I was playing Nintendo 64 in someone else’s living room. Then we’d eat breakfast, play more Nintendo, then eat lunch. When their mom got home from work, she’d give me twenty bucks.
My point is, babysitters get paid. You know how many times my son’s mom (aka my wife) has paid me after a couple of hours hanging with our son? Nada. (On the flip side, I also don’t cut my wife a paycheck for the 40+ hours a week she’s flying solo while I’m at the office. So if she’s not a babysitter, I’m not a babysitter.)
Parenting isn’t a side job. It’s the job. And dads, I believe we’ve got the world’s best job, no matter what it is we do for money. But it goes way beyond the “do we get paid” question.
There’s a mentality in our culture around fatherhood that tells us some version of this: Men are bumbling idiots who lack the emotional intelligence, attention span, and tenderness to be good parents. For the most part, men tend to ruin kids, so parenting is best left up to women. This mentality grew out of a lot of pain. Sadly, some of us had dads who were distant, abusive, or just exhausted.
And even in so-called “good families,” ones that go to church and post neat family pics on Instagram, there’s still an understanding that men ought to keep their distance from their kids. The man’s role is to be the provider and disciplinarian—or something like that.
The only problem is, when we think our only job is to earn as much as possible and carry a big stick, we’re still acting as if the day-to-day mundane parts of parenting are someone else’s gig. We’re like a king who abdicates the throne—giving up the biggest authority we’ll ever be given in our lives.
When we think that way, we’re trading away something extremely valuable and important to our kids: our presence and our leadership. We may be physically here, wiping snotty noses, and buckling in car seats, but if we’re babysitting, hey, we can mentally check out. We turn what could be real quality time with our kids, into a game of “let’s see how we can fill the time.”
I think there’s a third way. A better way to be a dad. You don’t have to check your man card at the door to your own home. You also don’t have to accept the lie that you’re just going to screw up your kid if you spend time with them. There is a way to be a strong, fun, and safe dad.
You may or may not be into the whole Jesus thing, but there’s this interesting Bible verse that can give us a few pointers. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, a guy named Paul talks about the difference between “guardians” and “fathers.” He says, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers.”
To put that more simply, one father’s impact is worth ten thousand babysitters. I’m far from perfect at this fatherhood thing, but here are some ways to be more like a dad and less like a babysitter.
- A babysitter says what you can or can’t do. A dad tells you who you are. The average toddler hears the word “no” over 400 times every day. That’s a ton of negativity! Instead, using affirming, positive words build your kid’s identity. “Good job being brave!” “I’m proud of you for being kind.” Show your kid that you care more about them than their behavior. So many voices in culture are trying to tell kids who they are. A dad’s words are more important than ever.
- A babysitter fills time. A dad makes time count. Your kid, whether they can tell you or not, deeply desires your presence. One child expert put it this way: “Kids spell ‘trust’ like T-I-M-E.” You don’t have to plan out every minute or “entertain” your kid. It’s enough for you just to be present. (But if you need ideas, I have a few for you.)
- A babysitter has fun in the moment. A dad has a long-term vision. Babysitters don’t care if your kid eats tons of sugar and goes to bed late, because, at the end of the day, it literally isn’t their problem. They care about getting through the night. But a dad looks beyond to see what he can do in the short-term that reaps huge benefits in the long-term.
- A babysitter makes sure a kid survives. A dad makes sure they thrive. Babysitters can be passive as long as “no one dies” on their watch. But a real dad takes an active role by paying attention to what their kid is good at and giving them opportunities to be curious and grow.
- A babysitter always leaves. A dad always returns. No one has long-term resentment issues because their babysitter didn’t show interest in them. No one’s in therapy because their babysitter stayed late at the office and always missed their basketball games. You have a chance to make sure your kid never has to wonder if their dad loved them or noticed them or took pride in them. Always, always, always, come back to your kid.
Andy Stanley once said, “Your greatest accomplishment may not be something you do but someone you raise.” I love that. Parenting beats babysitting every day.
Because one thing’s for sure. No one ever changed the world by babysitting on a Friday night. But tons of men have changed the world by being good dads, day in and day out.
Dads, let’s ditch the babysitting mentality and embrace our real jobs as fathers.