Some years ago, I was sitting on my front steps watching my two youngest as they drew in chalk on the sidewalk. This was a pretty usual thing. Wife-mate and I would come home from work, she would need time to make dinner, and so I would take the kids out front, or maybe to the park about a block away, and watch them for a hour or so to give Wife-mate a chance to make dinner without interruption. Sometimes I would take something to read with me, sometimes I would take the football to throw with my son, sometimes I would just watch them. It was a nice, relaxing part of my day and, now that my kids hang-out with their school chums until dinner time, I miss it.
Anyway, I was sitting there one day when a fellow came by, looked at my kids, and asked me, “Baby-sitting?”
Now, to my mind, “baby-sitting” means taking responsibility for someone else’s kids. I am responsible for my kids all the time, night and day. The word “baby-sitting” only makes sense when there is some time when you are not responsible, ergo parents are never “baby-sitting.” This being self-evident to me, I answered the man, “No, they’re my own kids.”
Again he asked, “Baby-sitting?”
Baffled by his meaning, I just shrugged and answered, “I guess.” He walked away and I thought it over. Probably to him, watching kids was women’s work, and represented an imposition when he had to do it. Or maybe he conceded that watching his own kids was his responsibility, but found the task onerous or inconvenient. Either way, this was diametrically opposed to my own attitude. I loved watching my kids. I miss it now that they’re old enough to do things on their own.
After that run-in I began to notice that the “baby-sitting attitude" was common. And not just among men. I began to notice how many parents were constantly looking for chances to get away from their kids. How they were always hiring baby-sitters, dropping their kids off for play-dates, scheduling sports, lessons, a myriad of activities that would keep their kids busy for a few hours.
I guess the ultimate example of this was when my son was about five and needed some serious dental work. I stayed right with him throughout the procedure, even though he was out with gas for most of it. While the dentist worked from one side, I sat on the other, holding his hand just in case he came to. When it was over, he wanted me to pick him up, and I was right there to do it. Just before we left, the dentist thanked me for sticking around. He said that most parents went out for coffee when he was working on their kids, and that it made it a whole lot easier when the parent was there to comfort the child.
Naturally, I was appalled. What kind of parent would go out for coffee when their child was facing something so potentially traumatic as dental work? Hearing about this probably made me even more conscientious than before.
Another aspect of this is the “do as I say, not as I do” problem. The best way is to lead by example, and I would never think of asking my kids to do something that I, myself would not do.
My parents used to send me to Sunday School when I was a kid. I hated it, balked at it, and, eventually, they gave up. Years later, when I was in high school, my dad asked me why I hated Sunday School so much, and I answered, “You never went to church; why would I like Sunday School?”
He didn’t get it, and evidently, most people don’t. For when I had kids of my own, and my first daughter was up for first confession, I asked her catechism teacher if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the parents to go to confession at the same time so as to give the kids a good example. She thought this was a bad idea, “since it would take too much time.” When I suggested that at least I could set an example by confessing right before my daughter, she agreed to that. After the event, however, I was approached by some very angry parents who resented what I had done because it caused their kids to ask why they didn’t make confession. (Wow! That’s when I decided to find a more traditional parish.)
I don’t mean to brag here, but once in a while someone will ask me how I got such great kids. My answer is always the same, “I’ve dedicated my life to it.” Really — it’s not hard to know what your kids need, it’s just hard to keep at it and do those things all the time.
The reason I bring this up is because of something good I heard about the other day. My best friend and her husband just had their first baby two months ago. They were taking baby Liam out for his first trip in the stroller. After the dad carried the stroller down the front steps, he began to push it. His wife offered, “I’ll push it if you want.”
“I can do it.”
“Well — I wouldn’t want you to feel emasculated, you know, pushing a baby carriage.”
He stopped dead. “This is my son, I’m proud of him! Why would I feel emasculated showing him off to the world?”
I think baby Liam is in good hands, don’t you?