Mom watching kids = Parent. Dad watching kids = Child Care Provider

Mom watching kids = Parent. Dad watching kids = Child Care Provider

Ask a dad who has spent even a small amount of time out alone in public with his kid (or kids), and he’ll probably have an anecdote about how somebody asked if he was “babysitting” that day.

It’s one of the more annoying little digs at the importance of fathers-as-equal-parents that probably happens unconsciously, but it happens a lot. I’ve learned to usually shrug it off, but it’s always the sort of comment that makes me shake my head.

The truth is, the vast majority of people know that such a question is, well . . . dumb.

Most, even those who are not parents, would say (or think) the same thing in such a situation: “When a dad is taking care of his own kids, it’s not called ‘baby-sitting.’  It’s called ‘parenting.'”  That’s just common sense, it seems to me.

The U.S. Census Bureau apparently disagrees, according to a recent New York Times post:

When both parents are present in the household, the Census Bureau assumes for the purposes of its “Who’s Minding the Kids?” report, that the mother is the “designated parent.” And when the designated parent is working or at school, the bureau would like to know who’s providing child care.

If the answer is Daddy, as it was 26 percent of the time when these numbers were last released, in 2005, and 32 percent of the time in 2010, the Census Bureau calls that “care.” But if Mom is caring for a child while Dad’s at work, that’s not a “child care arrangement,” but something else. Parenting, presumably.

“Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home,” said Lynda Laughlin of the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. “We try to look at child care as more of a form of work support. “A mother, said Ms. Laughlin, is “not only caring for the child only while Dad works. She’s probably caring for the child 24 hours and so Dad is able to go to work regardless.”


I mean.



It’s bad enough that, by their definition, I am not even a “stay-at-home dad” at all, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau you only count as one of those if you have gone 52 weeks of the previous year without making any income. In fact, just looking for job, even part-time or freelance work, means you’re no longer a “stay-at-home dad,” you’re just an unemployed member of the “work force” and acting as temporary “primary caregiver” in the meantime.

(If you ever wonder why the number of stay-at-home dads is seen as so low, this is why. By this self-reported definition, the Bureau reported only 174,000 stay-at-home fathers in the U.S., perpetuating the idea that dad-as-primary caregiver is a rare thing and making those who do it out to be some sort of aberration. Yet, by their own numbers, they also reported that fully one-third of fathers with working wives regularly acted as primary caregivers for their children. One third!)

So let me get this straight . . .

The fact that, in addition to caring for my two boys full-time, I do a little bit of freelance work on the side and have produced a couple of children’s books — that have netted me enough money to treat myself to a grande Java Chip Frappuccino (no whip) — I am not a “stay-at-home dad,” but simply acting as “primary caregiver” at times.

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.


  • This totally makes me want to set up a dependent care FSA and pay you to watch the boys with pre-tax money.


  • I am also a stay-at-home dad and I get what you are saying. It is perceived as so unusual that some people won’t even let their kids come over for play dates. Apparently a man can’t be trusted to watch over kids. Only women are trustworthy. Frustrating.


  • Someone in a census bureau says “Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home…,” thus skewing the way statistics on that very issue get recorded. Someone needs to learn a few basic statistical skills.


  • […] Clearly, the numbers in the Census do not accurately represent how many dads are stepping up as caregivers for their children. Then again, the Census has shown itself to be struggling with how to count care-giving dads in other ways too – I’ve written before about how according to the US Census Bureau mom watching the kids is &#822… […]


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