Men don’t have a culture of readily sharing our feelings. As children, we are told that “big boys don’t cry” or “suck it up already.” Consequently, we hide our pain and march on through the mundaneness of life like good soldiers.
If we suppress our feelings long enough, bad things tend to happen. It’s unfortunate that society doesn’t treat a man’s mental health with the same equal amount of attention as it does a woman’s health.
A simple Google search on the words “mom guilt” and “dad guilt” reveals 2X more results for “mom guilt.” Yet, I argue that dad guilt might be much more common than mom guilt.
On the front page of Google, you will even find an article from a website called Motherly entitled, “Is “Dad Guilt” Even A Thing?” The story’s purpose is to marginalize a father’s feelings about parenting.
The author concludes, “26 percent of dads pull the hide-in-the-bathroom trick to shirk parental responsibility. Just every now and then. When the shrieking gets too loud. When the man caves are overrun by toys. We get it. And we’ll let you in on a little secret: The pantry works pretty well, too.“
What about the remaining 74 percent? I’m disappointed there isn’t more recognition about what dads have to go through as well. Let’s raise awareness.
Dad guilt is the feeling of shame and failure to fulfill parenting responsibilities. Every moment spent outside the house at work or with friends is time away from raising the child. The more time not spent being a parent, the more guilt a dad may feel.
The simple reason why dad guilt is more prevalent than mom guilt is that stay at home moms outnumber stay at home dads by a ratio of 4:1.
If you are the one spending the most time raising your children, then logically, you should have less guilt for not raising your children because you are.
Rather, the guilt felt by stay at home parents may be from not maximizing their education, wealth, and power. But let’s not confuse parenting guilt with career guilt.
Working fathers with a stay at home partner face two constant stresses:
1) Making enough money to provide for a family on a single income. The stress of knowing that you are the only income provider can be immense. Before having children, it was likely that both partners worked. Once a child is born, not only does the family lose one income, the sole income earner must now provide for three people, not one or two.
2) Being a good enough father. The pull of always needing to provide for your family while also desperately wanting to be a good parent is challenging. One day you might have to decide between going out with your colleagues for dinner to build better relationships in order to get a promotion or going home to spend a precious couple of hours with your child before bedtime. On another day you might be required to go on a business trip for a week, thereby missing your daughter’s recital.
No doubt, these two constant pulls are the same pressures faced by working mothers. However, in this post, we are talking about dad guilt because articles discussing mom guilt already outnumber dad guilt articles 2:1.
One day over beers, I was talking to a friend who is facing tremendous dad guilt. He’s a senior executive at a firm that keeps wanting him to do more and more.
“Sam, I’m cursed. The more I do, the more my firm wants me to do. It’s extremely hard for me to walk away from these professional opportunities thrown my way. On the one hand, I have a chance to earn millions in the next several years if I keep grinding at my current pace. On the other hand, my daughter is only three once. I’m afraid she’s going to tell me one day how much she resented me for never being home.“
Another dad chimed in.
“There’s no way I can quit my job or work part-time to spend more time with my son because my wife doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for years. If I don’t work, we don’t eat. It’s that simple. But after 23 years in the business, all I want to do is take a break for a while. I should have married rich!“
Then there’s me.
I’ve suffered from survivor’s guilt ever since I was 13 when my friend passed away in a car accident. He was the coolest guy I knew at the time. Every weekend, we’d skateboard together across Kuala Lumpur. I’ve often asked, why him and not me?
Due to suffering from survivor’s guilt, I delayed having children for longer than desired because I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to properly provide for my family due to money issues. Further, I didn’t want to have children and then seldom see them due to my rigorous work and travel schedule.
In order for me to overcome dad guilt, I felt I first needed to be financially independent so I could dedicate as much time as possible raising my son until he went to school full-time. In retrospect, I didn’t need nearly as much money as I thought to raise a child. It was just this psychological burden that weighed down on me since I was a kid.
For those working fathers who are experiencing some type of dad guilt, here are some thoughts on how to overcome this gnawing feeling.
1) Give it time. Your guilt will slowly fade away because your child will naturally become more independent and not want to spend as much time with you. Your child will make new friends, get addicted to electronic devices, and find other things to do. By the time your child becomes a teenager, they might want nothing to do with you. Further, your desire to be an ever present parent will naturally fade, or perhaps ebb and flow, the longer you are a parent.
2) Be the commander for 100% of the weekend. The more time you spend with your child, the less guilty you will feel. If removing guilt requires spending 10 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday and all your child’s waking hours after you come home from a stressful day at work, DO IT. The hours won’t last forever because your child will eventually go to school full-time.
3) Lock your phone up. Parents who suffer from guilt often say, “Quality time is better than quantity time.” It’s their way of rationalizing not spending as much time with their children. Hopefully, quality time means quality time because it makes a massive difference in connecting with your children. Don’t be like many of the nannies I see during the day ignoring their wards because they are on their phones. When you are with your kids, make it a goal not to check your phone for at least one hour at a time.
4) Focus on individual time. 1X1 time with your child will help you feel better about your lack of quantity time. Further, your partner will also love you for giving her a break from her parental duties. Start with 15 minutes at a time, then increase your endurance in 15-minute increments until you can get to at least one hour of 1X1 time. The easiest 1X1 time I’ve found with my son is going for a 1-2 hour walk together around the neighborhood or going to the playground.
5) Pay for help. If your dad guilt stems from feeling like your spouse is overworked, then the clear solution is to hire more child care help. The extra expense may cause more financial stress and require you to work harder to make more money. Therefore, you must weigh which type of stress is more important for you to alleviate, financial or parental, then spend accordingly. Again, remind yourself the extra cost doesn’t last forever.
6) Tell yourself that everything will be OK. There are many children who grow up without fathers and turn out fine. You just being there after work and on weekends is more than some households. Here’s what Obama said about his routine of stopping his workday at 6:30 pm so he could have dinner with his family.
“I know how important it is to have a dad in your life because I grew up without my father around. I felt the weight of his absence. So for Michelle and our girls, I try every day to be the husband and father my family didn’t have when I was young.”
You should remind yourself that you’re crucial to your family’s happiness due to the income you provide. Without you, your family cannot have the lifestyle it currently has.
You will inevitably feel some sort of guilt. If it’s not the guilt of spending enough time with your children, it’s the guilt of not protecting your children from a fall or an accident. We just have to do the best we can.
The fear you aren’t doing enough will never go away. Even if you are able to be a full-time parent, you will experience another concern: What if my kid turns out rotten despite all my time and effort? There are simply no guarantees a parent’s efforts will make a difference.
I hope this article helps raise awareness that plenty of dads feel parental guilt as well, not just moms. Let’s not pressure fathers to keep quiet about their feelings.
If we can allow more men to open up about their struggles and encourage more women to be sole income providers, I think we’ll help dads and families everywhere improve their overall well-being.
Readers, do any of you suffer from dad guilt? How do you cope and what actions did you take? Why do you think dad guilt is not talked about as much as mom guilt if most men aren’t stay at home dads? Why do parents who don’t suffer from dad guilt simply say “don’t feel that way” as if a feeling can be so easily controlled?
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