“What I Learned Caring for My Baby While My Wife Works Nightshifts in the ICU” originally appeared on Adam’s Notepad and The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
My wonderful wife, Nicole, is one of the greatest ICU nurses in the world. She’s too modest to admit that, so I will go ahead and put it out there. She works very hard three nights each week taking care of patients with high acuity (she taught me that term — it is a very nuanced term, it turns out). That means that three nights each week, she is out helping save lives from 7 PM to 7 AM.
When people hear about Nicole’s schedule they often ask the same question. No, they don’t ask what led her to such a heroic profession. They don’t ask her how she works such crazy shifts and remains so kind and patient outside of work. They don’t usually ask about the perils of transitioning from nights to days when she is off work. People used to ask those kinds of things, but they haven’t been the typical questions since Jude’s birth.
The question that comes up these days often goes something like this, “Who babysits Jude while you work?” When the asker is told that I take care of him, the follow up question is often a puzzled, “Your husband babysits your son?”
That the man would take responsibility for caring for the baby is surprising to many. I had no idea that such an arrangement would appear to be so radical, and at first I was kind of frustrated by those who saw it that way. Of course I babysit my son. Who else should do it in my place? Why would I want for someone else to do it? Why on earth would I want to give up these precious moments with him if I don’t have to?
Sure, it would be easier to walk into Scranton if I didn’t have to first strap on a (very girly-looking, damask print) baby carrier. To my surprise though, I don’t mind being the guy walking around my apartment complex parking lot with a baby wrapped up against my chest. I actually kind of like it. Seeing those big eyes staring up at me as we walk the dog is priceless. Plus, I’m proud of my son. I want people to see him, even if I look silly in the process.
Frustration with people over the issue seemed natural. That is, until I realized I may have agreed with them.
One evening while Nicole was working, I was pushing a stroller around Lowe’s. Jude had gone with me to the home improvement store to help me price power tools (they are far too expensive, in case you were wondering). As we strolled the aisles, I started to think about how great of a dad I must be. After all, many are shocked to find out that I take care of Jude by myself, and all of the other men appeared to have left their babies at home. There I was, babysitting my boy with a little help from Eddie Bauer (a fantastic product of a stroller). Maybe it was true. Maybe I am special.
But just when Eddie and I were about to get enormous egos, I had a realization. I was not babysitting Jude, because dads don’t babysit (I guess I had seen this somewhere and subconsciously tucked it away). Babysitters typically get paid. Babysitters go home when the parent returns. I was not babysitting. I was simply doing my job. I was simply being a parent.
When Jude is left in Nicole’s care, no one calls that babysitting. Why is it that when the baby is left with the dad people think that it is so commendable? Where is the commendation for the mom? I guess it’s absent because society sees moms as responsible for doing their job of caring for their children. Unfortunately, we often seem to ignore the other side of that coin: Dads are also responsible for caring for their children.
As our culture laments the absence of so many fathers, I fear that we fail to recognize that many of the fathers who are present in homes are actually pretty absent as well. Could it be that part of the reason that we see such failure on the part of some fathers is because we expect so little from them? I know that I have only been a dad for about 20 minutes and it is easy for me to say, but it seems to me that an involved father being a novelty is a pretty sad commentary on the family.
So, yes, I do keep Jude while Nicole is working, and sometimes while she is not. That should not make me special. If it does, then shame on the fathers of this world. Dads, we apparently have a serious PR problem. A father taking care of his child on his own should not be seen as an innovation. We can and should do better.
Our wives should not be expected to carry the load of parenting alone. It’s not fair to them or to our kids. And fairness aside, if I may say so, it’s pretty foolish to push it all off on them anyway. Doing so will cause you to lose out on the incredible blessing of taking care of your child. I may only have about 20 minutes worth of parenting experience, but they have been some of the best minutes of my life. Believe me when I say that these moments are blessings that you do not want to forfeit.
More from Fatherly:
- The moment I realized I’m capable of caring for this kid without killing him
- How I stopped freaking out when my wife accidentally got pregnant with baby no. 4
- How my son’s autism helped me understand my own Asperger’s