One of the fun things about giving up on retirement is preparing for upcoming job interviews. I probably gave over 300 interviews myself when I was working in banking from 1999 – 2012.
One of my favorite interview questions is asking candidates about a blind spot of theirs they eventually realized and how? The question's purpose is to see if the candidate has enough self-awareness and humility to be a good colleague.
Given my life has been dominated by fatherhood since the birth of our son in 2017 and our daughter in 2019, I've come up with my own blind spots that I'd like to share. Perhaps some fathers who think they are doing a great job have these blind spots as well.
The goal of this post is to help fathers align their actions closer to their beliefs. In addition, by recognizing these blind spots, fathers can develop better relationships with their partners.
Quality Time With The Kids
On a very basic level, I believe there is a positive correlation between the quality of fatherhood and time. The more time fathers spend with their children, generally, the better they are as fathers and vice versa.
Of course, there are various levels of quality time. If a father is on his phone for two hours while at the playground, that time spent isn't the same quality as two hours of fully present interactive play.
Since 2017, I've committed to spending 4-to-8 hours a day on average with my children.
For 18 months during COVID we homeschooled our son, which meant we spent closer to 12 hours a day with him. The hours started declining once my boy went to preschool full-time at age 4 and our daughter started going part-time 2-3 days a week at age three.
By putting in the time, I felt like a good father. My kids would never be able to say I wasn't there for them. Meanwhile, I like to joke that if there ever was an ugly custody battle, my wife couldn't accuse me of being an absentee father either. Whoo hoo!
But here's the thing. If I'm spending 4 hours a day with my kids because they have school, that means my wife is spending 6-7 hours a day with them. And if I'm spending 8 hours a day with them because they are at home, then she is spending 12-13 hours a day with them.
A Father's Blind Spot #1: Making The Wrong Comparison
Over the past six years, I started thinking I was one of the best fathers in my circle of friends. Since most had day jobs, I had more flexibility to spend time with my kids.
If my wife and I had an argument or I was feeling guilty for not spending enough time with the kids one day, I compared myself to other fathers at work to feel better. A Pew Research study highlighted that 63% of fathers feel like they don't spend enough time with their kids.
However, if my wife and I are truly both equal stay-at-home parents, then I've got the wrong comparison. Instead, I should compare my efforts against my wife's efforts, which is 50% – 100% greater a day on average.
Imagine working in a group project and consistently working 50% – 100% more than your classmates every day. And then your teacher commends your classmates for a job well done. You might feel a little resentful!
Fathers might really believe we are doing more housework than we truly are. While I often get to sneak away when the kids are doing something unpleasant, like fighting, my wife will almost always be there to oversee the situation.
There’s no such thing as equality of care between two parents. However, the difference in care time probably shouldn’t be so large.
Thinking I Have The Magic Touch
When my daughter turned two, I started regularly taking both kids to the playground. This way, my wife could take a load off, especially after difficult nights when our daughter didn't sleep well.
During our 2-3-hour outings, the kids would always play well together and never fight. When I'd say it was time for us to go home, they would comply without whining. When I told them to finish their snacks they would. They would never cry.
But once they returned home for the handoff back to Mommy, I noticed they'd instantly become whiny. Suddenly, the little angels turned into defiant rascals.
Thinking this was just a fluke, I kept taking them out by myself and closely observing their behavior. Each time they acted great with me. And each time they returned home they turned into little hellions.
I was thinking to myself, man, I must have the magic touch! Give me the father of the year trophy! My wife needs to speak with more authority and confidence in order to get the kids to comply. She needs to learn my special ways!
A Father's Blind Spot #2: Not Doing Enough Of The Hard Stuff
After further outings, I came to realize why our children act out more often when they are with Mommy than they are with me. These two things below made me realize I'm not as good of a dad as I thought I was. See: Dunning-Kruger Effect
So why are my kids more difficult with my wife? Two reasons.
1) They love their Mommy more.
They love their Mommy more because they spend 50% – 100% more time with her. She's the night's watchwoman who comforts them if they have night terrors. She is the main person who bathes and feeds them. Mommy also has more warmth and love when they get hurt or are sick.
As a result, they vie for her attention the most. They are constantly battling to be held and loved by her. And when they each can't have Mommy's full attention, they get frustrated or upset.
Whereas with me, because I spend less time with them than my wife, I'm more of a novelty. Just like how they are better behaved in front of teachers, they are better behaved with me because I'm not always there for them.
In a way, they take my wife more for granted because they are together so often. And we tend to hurt or frustrate those we love the most.
2) I'm doing more fun stuff with the kids.
On our solo outings, I'm usually taking the kids to the zoo, playground, or the mall. Given we're doing fun things, of course they are going to be better behaved.
Mommy, on the other hand, is always the one to accompany them to the doctor's office or the dentist. I'm almost always sitting in the car on standby, a relic of COVID-19 limiting pediatric appointments to only one parent.
My wife is also in charge of feeding them a balanced diet of vegetables, meats, gluten-free grains, and fruit. I, on the other hand, am a cheeseburger lover, which they also love to eat! As a result, of course they will be more compliant if I'm feeding them something more appealing.
Finally, my wife is also mainly in charge of making sure the kids put sunscreen on, trim their nails, and brush and floss their teeth. Neither of our kids likes to do these things, so they whine and object more with my wife.
Fatherhood Is A Work In Progress
I have overestimated my efforts and abilities and underestimated my wife's abilities and efforts.
If I had to do what my wife does every day and night, I'm sure I would lose my cool more frequently. I also know my kids would stop listening to me as much because they'd take me more for granted.
Based on realizing my blind spots, my goal is to do more of the non-fun things with the children. A more balanced distribution of responsibilities is more appropriate. I will also endeavor to be more patient and less critical.
It's important to constantly remind ourselves we are doing the best we can.
Uncommunicated expectations may be the leading cause of divorce.
One partner expects the other partner to do something, but the other partner doesn't because they have no idea. As a result, the partner with the expectations starts to grow resentful of the other partner's lack of action.
Hence, another goal as a father is to communicate more clearly about my expectations for my wife and listen carefully to her expectations of me. I'll also regularly ask her where she thinks I can do more. Then we'll find common ground that's best for both of us and the children.
The Stress Of Being The Primary Or Sole Breadwinner
Whoever is the primary or sole breadwinner in the household may feel more financial stress. Therefore, it's worth being more appreciative of them from time to time.
Managing family money, for example, can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Since neither of us has a steady paycheck, retirement benefits, or healthcare benefits, I feel the stress of ensuring our finances are strong enough to take care of our family. I’m sure I’d feel a different kind of pressure if I was still working in finance.
During the 2022 bear market, for example, I was feeling more stressed given we were losing lots of money. Even though we had a diversified net worth to better protect us from downturns, it still felt bad to lose so much progress.
As someone who writes about money every week, I may feel worse than the average person during bear markets who don’t pay as close attention. After all, the first rule of financial independence is to not lose money! Once you have enough, your goal should be capital preservation in order to protect your freedom.
Today, I feel less stress due to a recovery in the stock market. However, there will always be a constant pressure to provide until the kids are independent adults.
For Future Fathers Out There
For men looking to start a family, have some financial goals before having children. The cost of raising children can put a strain on your relationship. Getting your finances in order is one less thing to worry about.
Try to always be supportive and less critical of your partner's efforts. When you’re frustrated, remind yourself that you didn’t have to go through pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and recovery! Bickering is an inevitability when you're tired, frustrated, and feeling guilty. Give each other reset passes.
Finally, constantly communicate your silent expectations. When in doubt, spell it out. It's unreasonable to expect your partner to be a mindreader when they are juggling so many things.
Fatherhood is hard! But it's also an incredible journey. Happy Father’s Day!
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Any fathers out there think they were doing more or a better job than they really were? How did you realize you weren't doing as much as you thought you were? Once you realized the situation, how did you change, if at all? What have some of your struggles been as a father?
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