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31st May 2024

‘We need to stop using the term ‘babysitting’ for fathers’

Sophie Collins


Have you ever described a man as “babysitting” his own child?

This seemingly harmless phrase raises a crucial question: does it imply that a father is a temporary caregiver rather than an equal partner in parenting?

Journalist Niamh O’Reilly has increasingly encountered this term and found that many of her friends are also aware of it. Speaking with Newstalk’s Moncrieff, she shared her thoughts.

“Not all Mums wanted to go on the record because some of these attitudes they were experiencing were from close family members,” O’Reilly noted.

She spoke about a personal experience to illustrate her point, explaining: “When my baby was about 13-weeks-old, very young still, I was invited to a hen party.

“I didn’t feel like going but I went anyway, and while I was there, the women kept asking me, ‘So, who is babysitting the baby? How is your husband going to manage? Isn’t he great, oh he’s brilliant, he’s going to do it all by himself.’ I was sat there agog.”

While O’Reilly said does not believe the phrase stems from ill intent, she still finds it problematic.

“I think we want to praise Dads and support them and tell them, ‘Oh, you’re great so they keep doing these things,’” she explained.

“But I don’t think we have to necessarily do that anymore because society has changed.”

O’Reilly reflected on the evolving role of fathers, saying: “Even in my own lifetime, my Dad wasn’t allowed in the room—it wasn’t the done thing. Men weren’t included in antenatal visits and courses and scans, whereas now they’re active partners through the whole thing.”

Advocating for normalising men’s involvement in childcare, she urged: “Let’s stop pointing at Dads pushing a pram and going, ‘You’re brilliant, you’re like a lesser spotted unicorn, go you!’”

“Let’s just have it be a normal part of society and a normal part of parenting, and I think that will help equality in the long run.”

By reevaluating the language we use, O’Reilly suggests that we can foster a more inclusive approach to parenting.