Male babysitter? Why some people freak out

I wasn’t trying be subversive when I hired a male babysitter this month. But it is apparently something that few parents would do.

Most are too spooked by Jerry Sandusky and the endless parade of other child molesters in the news. These creeps are almost always male, and they almost always find a way to work with kids. So parents aren’t being paranoid about the stranger danger that surrounds our kids. It’s a very real and totally frightening phenomenon.

Still, here’s what I’m wondering: Have our fears turned us into a bunch of sexists?

Just about every parenting forum across America has hashed out the question of male babysitters. (The opponents always vastly outnumber the supporters.)

John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted, and the father of a 6-year-old who was abducted and murdered in 1981, famously warned parents against ever hiring a male sitter.

Even our new sitter, whose mom I’ve known for years and a man whose caring and kindness aren’t in question, came prepared for doubt. He showed up on his first day with a photocopy of his driver’s license, one for me and one for the school where he would be picking up my younger son.

“Just because. People want to be sure,” he explained.

And when we sat down at taekwondo class later that day to watch the kids’ routine, he kept offering, “Ask me anything, anything you want,” just in case I was harboring reservations.

I’m convinced that he’ll offer me his fingerprints and blood sample this week.

It’s no wonder. At the kids’ old preschool, the only male teacher confessed to me that he definitely felt a little more monitored and scrutinized because he was a guy.

The other teachers almost never let him take a child to the bathroom by himself. Parents often assumed he was another parent. “Because why would a man be working here in the classroom?” he told me.

When it comes to kids, we are pretty close to being a society that has demonized men. And this isn’t a totally unreasonable reaction. In one government study of sexual assaults on children, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 96 percent of the offenders they studied were male.

So, if you’re going to strap your child into that car seat even when you’re driving just a few blocks, why wouldn’t you look at that 96 percent statistic, remember what you saw on the evening news and say “no, thank you” to a male babysitter? All it takes is one undetected pedophile to destroy a child’s life, right?

When I introduced our new sitter — who grew up in the District of Columbia, goes to school in Maryland and works at his church’s Sunday school — to the teachers and parents at the playground, I got some raised eyebrows.

“Oh. Wow. How did you, ah, find him?’” one parent asked.

Funny, when we went through this routine with the new babysitter last year — the blond, female foreigner (well, Canadian) who was in town for a museum internship — not a single eyebrow arched.

But a man?

I began explaining how much I like him and how long I’ve known him to anyone who would listen. “Wanna see his driver’s license?” I almost asked.

I know the statistics. I spent almost two decades at crime scenes and digging through documents in courts and social service agencies. I know what horrors men are statistically more likely to perpetrate.

And no one would blame me for not hiring him. Sitter City, one of the nation’s largest babysitting agencies, lets you specify “male” or “female” in your sitter search. Try that kind of sexism in most fields.

I can’t say whether I would have hired my sitter if he’d answered an ad and was a stranger to me. I can say this: My boys have thrived with him in charge.

The homework wars have disappeared because my older son is so eager to impress the sitter with his work. They all speak Star Wars. They go to the park and throw balls.

I can’t say that I would’ve chosen Nacho Libre as a movie to watch with them. But what the heck? The luchador masks they got from Dad’s Mexican business trip needed a raison d’etre. And I do love Jack Black.

Here is the real problem when we err on the side of statistics. By telling the millions of men that they cannot be trusted with children, we are reinforcing gender stereotypes at school, at home and at work.

If men can’t take care of kids, women have to do it. And that’s holding us back.

So tell me, would you hire a male babysitter?

© 2013, The Washington Post

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    Smartphones can help fight AIDS

    Coming in third may mean a bronze medal at the Olympics, but in Florida, data shows that three is not a cause for celebration. The Sunshine State ranks third in the nation for the cumulative number of AIDS cases, and it’s the third worst state for physician shortages.



    Border crisis overshadows trade progress

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines recently by ordering 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. This bravado comes at a price: $12 million a month. Perry plans to send the bill the federal government. That’s one way to finance your presidential campaign ads.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">ON THE EDGE:</span> An Israeli reserve tank stands near the Israeli-Gaza border as frantic efforts were underway on the diplomatic front to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.


    This is a fight Israel did not seek

    The current conflict in Gaza was not of Israel’s choosing. Israelis, like all civilized humans, are shocked and saddened by the loss of innocent life and the destruction of war. While Israel had done everything possible to avoid large-scale armed confrontation, the immediate and lethal threat to the lives of its civilian population left the government with no choice but to defend its citizens.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category