My wife gave me this a while back:
And on some days, it’s my favorite coffee mug. I’ll even pull it out of a dirty dishwasher and hand wash it just so I can use it that morning.
If I feel like I did something awesome that morning or the day before, I gotta go with the “Best Dad Ever” mug. Maybe I was able to clean the girls room before they went to bed (because as we all know, once the girls are down their room becomes an impenetrable fortress, and going in there for any reason other than to get them back down is strictly forbidden). Or maybe they just slept through the night and I’m somehow taking credit for that. Maybe we went on a big outing that wasn’t a total disaster, or maybe we’re just making waffles.
On those days, I love this mug. But there are other days when I don’t like it at all.
Because some days I don’t feel like the best dad ever.
My wife was the one who suggested I write a post about “Dad Guilt.” “Mom Guilt” certainly gets more press (when I Googled “Mom Guilt” I got 567 thousand results, “Dad Guilt” got closer to 10 thousand). And to be fair, I think Mom Guilt can encompass a broader range of issues. After all, moms are the ones who actually have the baby and everything that goes along with that, and there are a host of other challenges that women face that can contribute to Mom Guilt (postpartum depression, traditional gender roles and income disparity, to name a few).
Respectfully, I’d like to side-step those issues for today’s post and stick to what I know, which is this: I’m a dad, and sometimes I feel guilty about falling short in that role.
Most of the things I feel guilty about fall into a few, broad categories:
Prioritizing convenience for me over experience for them.
I remember coming back to work shortly after my first daughter was born, and talking with a co-worker of mine about the challenges of having a newborn at home. An empty-nester herself, she gave me the following advice:
Keep them dry, keep them fed, and don’t worry about keeping the house clean. It’s been years since my kids left; my house is spotless now, but I’d give anything to have my babies here making a mess again.
And the thing is, I know she’s right. I know that kids are messy, that they’re supposed to be messy and that this is a relatively short window in my life and I should focus on embracing it and being present.
But I don’t always do that. Sometimes, a lot of times, I’m working or doing dishes or putting away laundry instead of playing with my kids. And worse, sometimes I choose activities for my kids based on how convenient they will be for me, as opposed to how stimulating it might be for them. My wife made a “sensory bin” for the girls which they love, but when they play with it they usually make a big mess. I almost never get the sensory bin out for that exact reason.
Also, we live in a condo. It’s a tight fit, and I know I should be trying to get my girls out of the house whenever I can. But sometimes I just don’t. Going outside is a whole thing, and parking them in front of the TV is easier and allows me to get some work done. It’s nice to have my to-do’s checked off at the end of the day, but when I think back to how I accomplished that it often feels like lazy parenting.
I usually take the bus home. Often I’ll be faced with a decision in the late afternoon to either shut down my computer and catch the bus, or keep working and catch the next one, with the understanding that if I wait for the next one I won’t see my kids until tomorrow morning.
The thing is, I don’t feel guilty about having to stay late to do work every once in a while. Things happen, and sometimes the work I do is time-sensitive and things just need to get done. Paying bills, after all, is a big part of being a parent.
But I really feel guilty on the days when I procrastinated at work, and now I’m faced with a task that needs to get done by the end of the day, a task that I could have started earlier. I’ve definitely missed a few bedtimes because I just didn’t prioritize correctly, and that’s a bummer.
Not wanting to be with them
This is probably the saddest one and also the most difficult to articulate. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like hanging out with my kids.
I can feel incredibly guilty about this. We’ll be doing something that, on the surface, should be a beautiful family moment and I’m just not there. Maybe I’m annoyed about something at work or at home or maybe I’m just really tired.
Or maybe I’m just really mad at my kids. Because that happens. And it sounds so silly getting mad at a two year old whose been arguing with you for fifteen minutes about how she wants her banana peeled but man, in the moment when they’re crying non-stop about absolutely nothing and you’ve tried everything and don’t know what to do you can get really, really mad!
I remember the first time I ever yelled at my daughter, just straight up yelled at her. And I remember she smiled at me at first, thinking it was just another one of our jokes. But I didn’t smile back; her smile faded and she started to cry, and it makes me feel terrible just thinking about it.
I dunno. I usually try to end these on a positive note but the reality is that Dad Guilt is a thing and it sucks.
And I don’t think that feeling bad about making mistakes is, in itself, a bad thing – especially if it motivates us to improve.
I guess the best “solution” I can think of is this: if you’ve identified an area where you want to improve, take a minute to pause and detach. Try to study it objectively (getting feedback from a spouse can help with this) and come up with a plan to do better. Then do it.
And then forgive yourself.