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Understanding Dad Guilt

dad guilt

Ever since I became a mom I have been hearing about Mom Guilt. Mom guilt is something all moms know all too well. Skipping a soccer game to stay late for a work meeting, giving your kid an iPad so that you can get an extra hour of sleep, or when your gourmet dinner consists of take out containers.

Thankfully we have each other and are able to surround ourselves with a community of moms who have been wallowing with us and uplifting us when we need it. But recently I witnessed my husband experiencing something that I would equate to the mom guilt that I frequently feel. Dad Guilt.

Is Dad Guilt even a thing?

Similar to mom guilt, this is when a father feels they are not able to fully juggle their professional and personal obligations, leading to them feeling bad about not meeting the demands of both. Let’s face it, parenting is not always 50/50. It is a combination of ratios that change daily depending on the situation and circumstances. Trying to get to 50/50 is like trying to catch a unicorn – rare and hard to believe. Dads find themselves sometimes missing out on things due to work commitments, or not carrying their share of the weight of parenting duties. 

Why did I find this so shocking?

The more I think about the concept of dad guilt the more I feel bad for not realizing that sometimes my husband struggles with juggling all the balls of parenthood. In our family, we are equals. Or well, we try to be. My husband I both work full time and we both travel for our jobs. Yet it is usually me who complains about feeling overwhelmed by motherhood.

My husband stands in the background and lets me project the times that I struggle onto him. I should have known that at times he also must feel like juggling it all is too much. For him, taking time to breathe and relax means not giving me the time I need to process all of the craziness of life.

I first noticed this about two weeks ago. It was something so simple. My husband and I had both been busy chasing the kids around all morning. Dirty dishes were in the sink, our lawn looked like a jungle, and our kids were half naked running around the house. A typical Saturday morning.

I remember that just when he had two seconds to breathe the baby needed to be changed. I told him that I could do it and I would do it, but he was persistent noting that I had already made breakfast and was in the middle of cleaning the house. The truth is I wouldn’t have minded doing it and he definitely needed a minute to just relax, but I could tell he felt if he didn’t do this task he would be falling short.

The second time it happened was early one morning. Our alarm clock, also known as our kids (because who really needs an alarm clock when you have a three year old and a nine month old), was going off earlier than normal and our bedroom seemed to be party central. I got up and told my husband I would take the morning shift with the kids. About 20 minutes later my husband came downstairs. I could tell all he wanted to do was go back to sleep but he was getting ready to go out of town the next day and didn’t want to feel like I was in this by myself.

 So, how can you help your partner with dad guilt?

  • Take notice of your partner’s feeling and emotions. Too often I have missed an opportunity to help my husband because I was so focused on me. Yes, it sounds selfish but as a parent you spend so much time thinking about your kids that when there is time to focus on yourself you might not always share that time.
  • Work with your partner to show mutual continued appreciation for one another. Make sure you both know that you appreciate what the other person is doing.
  • Set up a schedule that provides both you and your partner one day per month where you take time for yourself. If that means lying in bed all day and reading a book – great – or for him it could mean a marathon day at Home Depot.
  • Enjoy the moments you have with your kids. Life will pull you in different directions. For my family, I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. So we need to take advantage of every moment that we have with one another. Take pictures, act silly, and celebrate every part of those moments.

The truth about parenting is that some days are hard and there needs to be balance. On a daily basis I could find a thousand things to feel guilty about, but the key is to not let that overwhelm you. My husband and I will never be perfect parents and we never want to be – it is those imperfections that provide humor, wit, and empathy into our family and we are thankful to have each other to navigate through this together. 

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