When Bobby Wants His Daddy

Last night Sean held Bobby while I finished unloading the dishwasher with Sally. Sean then asked if I would hold Bobby so that he could put butter on some bread. I went to take Bobby, but Bobby instead threw his arms around Sean’s neck and moved away from me. Sean smiled and held Bobby closer as I offered to butter the bread.

When Sally was born, Sean wasn’t sure what exactly to do with her. My schedule was more flexible, so I ended up caring for Sally the vast majority of the time. It wasn’t that Sean didn’t like playing with her, particularly once she was big enough for peek a boo, but rather that he just wasn’t comfortable caring for her. He was always afraid he would break her, I think. Having already helped raise more children than most women will in a lifetime, I didn’t have this problem. Sally had an obvious preference for me that didn’t disappear until she hit preschool.

With Bobby, though, it’s different. Sean is confident with Bobby in a way he never was when Sally was a baby. In addition to having already gone through everything once before, Sean and I have also been splitting Bobby’s care more evenly than we did Sally’s. Bobby has become a bit of a fixture in Sean’s office, where he is much adored. The result is that Bobby is comfortable with Sean in a way Sally wasn’t as a baby. This means I can run an errand on the weekend without worrying about how well Bobby will be taken care of, and without fielding constant calls with questions from Sean.

I cannot sing the praise of egalitarian parenting highly enough.

I wrote recently about child custody, and that one question judges look at is which parent was more involved in the child rearing. My goal has long been to have the honest and true answer to that question be that we are equally involved. I want it for Sean, and I want it for me, and I want it for Sally and Bobby. After all, Sean gains the benefit of truly being there for his children’s milestones and forming a strong bond with them, I gain the benefit of sharing the stresses of child rearing with a partner I love, and Sally and Bobby gain the benefit of having a daddy who is there for them and invests in them.

Of course, we’re not perfect. Sean works several evenings a week, leaving me to watch the kids. Furthermore, we not infrequently find ourselves on autopilot (we both grew up with stay at home moms). There are many things we have had to relearn, such as when I realized that when we had to leave the house I was getting both children ready to go and getting the diaper bag ready and stocked while Sean … only got himself ready. But we’ve been relearning these things together, learning to truly work as a team and to see the children as equally the responsibility of both of us rather than as primarily my responsibility.

Egalitarian parenting also means letting go. It stung a little bit when Bobby preferred Sean over me last night, at least until I realized that I wasn’t thinking about how Sean must feel every time Bobby prefers me over him (I have the milk, after all). Egalitarian parenting means not assuming that, because I’m female, I automatically know how best to care for children, and not seeing myself as the primary parent and Sean as my accomplice. It means trusting Sean and not micromanaging him. It means not seeing me as the one responsible for the kids and Sean as some sort of glorified babysitter.

But it’s worth it. Every time I watch Sean with Sally, whether he’s teaching her why ice formed on the puddle from this morning or why the moon changes shape, whether he’s helping her pick out a new outfit or getting her a drink of water in the middle of the night, or whether he’s watching dinosaur documentaries with her or showing her how to write her name, my heart melts. And when I watch how much Bobby adores Sean, with his gummy smiles and happy squeals (Bobby’s, not Sean’s), I can’t help but smile. We’re a team, Sean and I, a team with two junior partners.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Michael

    Thanks for this story, it mirrors very closely what happened in our family. Our first son was quite ill when he was born so our first-time parent anxiety was turned up to 11. We rarely let our son out of our sight and handled him like he was made of spun glass. As my wife had the maternity leave and I had to go back to work it was natual that our son became much closer to his mother than he did to me. Even now (he is nearly 5) our relationship is a little “cool”.

    Along comes son number 2. He doesn’t get nearly so much of mummy’s time because she has to deal with his very demanding elder brother. So the new baby spends much more time either amusing himself or playing with me.

    As a result, when I come home from work there’s one person in the house who yells “Daddy!” and runs to the front door to give me a welcome home hug!

  • Christine

    I’m glad that you and Sean are having such a good experience in parenting!

    I must say, that as primary caregiver (and soon-to-be official SAHM), the times when our daughter clings to her daddy & doesn’t want me are really special. Not just because I need the break, but because I’m glad that he gets to be an important part of her life too, even though he needs to finish his degree and (later) hold down an outside job.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    One of the major things I think is having one kid first. Learning that kids don’t break easily helps, I’ve head. The first kid is usually much more difficult and scary because of that, but when they get to a certain age it’s like “I guess I didn’t break them, so I don’t have to worry so much that I’ll do it.”

  • RaeBrownie

    Love this! My husband and I sometimes “fight” over who gets to snuggle our baby. ;) it’s so fun seeing how close our son is to both if us. People often comment how good my husband is with him and I always say well yeah he’s his father!

    • Michael

      Heh. Slightly OT but it’s like when I am looking after the boys on my own. People say “so you’re babysitting?”. Er, no, I’m looking after my children.

  • luckyducky

    I think the preference is as much about personality as it is about parental availability. I’ve been the more available parent because of career paths but my husband has always been a very engaged caregiver. My first didn’t consistently show preference for one of us but my second — I swear if it didn’t have to do with nursing, which he was very interested it, he was not interested in me if dad was around. And it extends to other female vs. male caregivers. As an infant, he snubbed my mom (the grandparent who seeks out babies) for my dad (the grandparent who waits until they can engage in a conversation) and been pretty consistent about that ever since even though grandma is the one with the cookies and grandpa will probably make him sit in time out for something.

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    As someone who was doing it 28 years ago: this. A hundred times, this. Why is it even a question?

  • Lucreza Borgia

    If I had a $1 for every time a mother told me that her husband was some incapable babysitter for the sin of not doing things her way.

  • Little Magpie

    Sorry, I know this isn’t terribly deep, but I just want to say…

    “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” :)

    • Monika

      Seconded

  • Monika

    To Libby Anne (off topic but hopefully of interest) have you seen the debate that has blown up about breastfeeding in public n Australia? A respected morning show host (David Koch) who is a father of 4 came out against and has caused something of a stir. You reminded me with your comment about milk for Bobby. I understand America is normally quite conservative on this issue so I would be interested in your perspective. I did a lot of breastfeeding in public (for convenience not politics) but I live in a progressive area so never had a problem or comment.


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