Do you have parental guilt? Welcome to the club. The vast majority of articles already address mom guilt. Therefore, I'd like to discuss more about the dad guilt epidemic. After all, it takes two to make a baby.
Unfortunately, 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.
Not Taking Dad Guilt Seriously Is Wrong
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.
What Is Dad Guilt And Why Is It More Common?
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. Because more dads are working at a job most of the time, dad guilt is more prevalent because more dads are away from their children.
Examples Of Dad 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.
Men Sharing Their Dad Guilt Stories
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.
Ways To Overcome Dad Guilt
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 while playing with your kids.
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.
If you want to go a less expensive route for childcare, consider hiring an au pair. An au pair is usually 50%+ cheaper than a nanny on an hourly basis. An au pair is a fantastic way to have a cultural exchange and more dependable help.
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.
7) Overcome the dad guilt if you are an older dad by calculating the numbers
After experiencing some dad guilt thanks to a younger dad who joked I was so old to be a father, I crunched some numbers. I realized that being an older parent who is more financially secure could be the best thing ever!
I compared the younger dad's amount of time he spent with his son to the amount of time I'll spend with my children. I calculated that I will end up spending over 2.5X more time with my kids because I can afford to spend more time with them.
Upon calculating how much more time I can spend with my kids, my dad guilt faded away!
Dads, Do The Best You Can
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?
Related posts about being a dad:
Reflecting On Being A Stay At Home Dad For The Past Two Years
Raising A Child Millionaire Is No Longer Necessary
Solutions To The Loneliness Epidemic
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 60,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. Check out my Top Financial Products page for more great products to help you make and save money.
Pick up a copy of Buy This, Not That, my instant Wall Street Journal bestseller. The book helps you make more optimal investment decisions so you can live a better, more fulfilling life. It will also help you become a better dad as you build more wealth to provide for your family.
48 thoughts on “Dad Guilt Epidemic: Ways To Overcome Feeling Like A Bad Parent”
As a stay at home dad with two kids, spending 90 percent of all available time with them I still feel like I am a horrible father not doing enough in all areas. Even though the kids are happy and I get endless complements on my fine job. Community support is not their as no one takes a stay at home dad seriously, which does hurt the opportunities for the toddlers to make same age friends, and networking with the every other weekend fathers is fruitless as they all think they are child experts and can not stop themselves from providing useless in some cases I think horrifying advice. So far in my experience if kids are happy or not comes down to one attribute regardless of a persons sex which is called patience. This gets me to my next point, with so much modern acceptance of different gender types and identities, why are men still looked down on by society for being a full time dad just because they identify themselves as male?
To me, being honest with myself when it comes to parenting is important. Very early on (even when I first thought about having kids), I told myself when I become a dad, I will put my kids first above all else.
I am living my life with that priority in mind. Does that mean I spend 24/7 with my kids. Of course not! But I have structured my life to be able to spend the amount of time I think is necessary in order for me to be a good dad to them.
Some dads might prioritize differently. People have to live their own life. There is no one size fits all to life or to parenting.
Sam, I see your Dad guilt and raise you a generation – how about Grandpa guilt? I’m living it right now. I had 3 kids and was the sole provider with my wife staying at home. I never felt a lot of Dad guilt because I knew she was a fantastic mother and I was doing well in my career and providing for the kids. There were times where I had to work too many hours but it was usually project-related and there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so I felt it was manageable and I could still spend adequate time with my family for the most part.
Now in my early 50s, two of my kids are through college and married. The last one is halfway through and the rest of his college is fully funded via his 529 plan. You’d think I’d be relieved to be nearing the end of the financial responsibilities of parenthood, and I am. However, I now have 2 grandkids and there will likely be more on the way in the future. So far, my kids in their 20s aren’t rocking it financially – they’re doing OK, but I’m skeptical about their career upside.
A little voice inside my head is telling me that I have to be prepared to put my grandchildren through college. Not fair!, I tell myself – that should be their parents’ problem. Another voice is telling me that I may be underestimating my kids and their spouses. But deep down I know my earning potential could probably fund their college educations if I dive back into my career for another 5-10 years. I’d rather just hang it up and retire early, but I’m not sure I’m going to let myself do so. The thought of being in my late 60s and watching my grandchildren struggle to pay for college and/or go deeply into debt when I could have done more to help makes me very nervous.
That’s a nice raise! I read your situation and I can’t help but feel happy for you.
Being a grandfather so young seems like a wonderful, wonderful blessing! I can only HOPE to live that long to be a grandfather. I’m talking another 30 years from now, which would put me at 72.
I want to be the best grandfather possible who will baby sit my grandchildren if my son and wife have to go to work full-time. I think I’d feel rejuvenated and have a new lease on life if I became a grandfather at 72. Where am I not thinking clearly here? Are you not thrilled to have grandchildren b/c of your children’s financial situation?
I’d love to ask some follow up questions:
* Doing OK sounds OK to me. Why do you think your kids can’t help pay for their kid’s education?
* If they aren’t doing well financially, are you sure they plan to have more kids?
* What are some of the things you would have done differently raising your kids?
* Do your kids expect you to delay your retirement to fund their choices?
I say retire early if you want! Explain to them your situation. I don’t believe adult children who love their father would want to put him through years more work to take care of them.
Sam, it is a wonderful blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I absolutely want more grandchildren. To clarify, only my oldest child has kids so far. My middle child is married but no kids yet. To answer your follow-up questions:
1. “Doing OK” might have been better phrased as “getting by” with respect to my oldest child’s family. Neither of them have settled on a career direction yet and they seem to drift from idea to idea. Currently they are an enlisted military family, which has provided some stability in the short term because it was a 5 year commitment, but they do not intend to have a military career and intend to move on at the end of that commitment.
2. They might be done having kids or might have one more, but I expect my other 2 kids will probably eventually bless us with additional grandchildren.
3. I’m not sure there is anything significant I would have done differently raising them. They all have their own personalities and are good people. But not all good people do well financially.
4. I don’t think my kids have any expectation of me delaying retirement to help them. It’s not something we’ve ever even discussed. But I also don’t think they’re thinking ahead much to college expenses at this point, as they have more immediate goals of buying a house and college seems a long way away.
Loach – if you are passionate of your work and the financial reward has the potential of helping your grandchildren future then this is win-win situation.
Humans are much more biological than we are consciously capable of understanding ourselves.
Guilt and regret are the culture layered over the biological foundation.
Your biological is telling you that this is not cool to financially take care your grand children, but you are torn with the culture value.
If you have an option of doing something else that you cannot wait to get out of your bed every morning and take on exactly where you have left yesterday and advance it forward, and has the potential of make more money then execute it (Financial Independence is the gateway to the galore options).
Otherwise, just take care yourself and your spouse and move on without any lingering of guilt.
Scientists will never find an animal species that take care their grandchildren – in so many ways, we are animals!
Can Uncle Guilt also be a thing?
My nephew’s father died last year. No life insurance at all, and his wife had no job or any real savings. She had to sell the home they had just bought a year earlier. I can’t imagine how she’s saving for his future.
My parents are the ones with the most means to save for his college as my dad has pensions, annuities, and IRA money that o think pays him more as a retiree than what I make working. But they’re the grandparents and shouldn’t be relied on to singlehandedly pay for their grandson’s college. The other set of grandparents consists only of a woman with cancer caring for her 30-something year old druggie daughter. There’s only one other set of aunts/uncles who are normal people with stable jobs, homes, and kids (he works in carpentry and makes pretty good money). The rest of the family is on various levels of speaking terms with everyone else, and/or addicted to something or other.
I don’t know exactly how many people are thinking about this kid’s college, but I figured someone had to get a head start on it. So I started a 529 plan for my nephew. I’m only putting in $25/paycheck as the kid has an aunt and uncle and a set of grandparents with better contributing potential than me (and because his mother is the one responsible for funding his college), but I couldn’t do nothing at all. I think the contributions should total up to somewhere around the $11,000 range by the time he hits 18. That will probably pay for, like, a textbook or something.
So yeah, Uncle Guilt?
ARB–Angry Retail Banker
Loach, Thank you for your post and I feel your pain brother. I’m 38 yr old dad of three recently rationalized Regional Sales VP, and sole provider for family. Seeing your story seems like a possible future for me, like a ‘Christmas Story’ ghost of the future if I don’t do better for self and family. I am just struggling to feel anything other than hopeless, numbness, or anger. I have had adjustments to stronger medications, I run, I meditate, I try to tell my spouse where I am. The struggle is daily. I didn’t know Dad Guilt was a phrase or thing until today. My wife has said that I give my career the best of me and my family the worst. I withdraw more and more. because I feel I say the wrong thing or don’t say anything when I should have. I’m trailing off here, but thank you for your post and good luck.
As a boomer it seemed perfectly normal for me, the high income earner, to work while my wife, a school teacher, retired to care for our kids. I don’t feel like I missed a thing because I was at work. My job was providing the financial means to allow our family to function like that. And I got to spend plenty of time with my family, in my opinion. I never felt any guilt for how we did things, it worked after all. They are all good self sufficient adults now. However you can only do so much, even the best raised kids can make terrible choices as young adults that destroy their lives. Fortunately mine have not, but it would be the height of hubris to take credit for that. I’ve seen friends’ kids spiral into oblivion, its one of the risks of parenting. Those parents are the ones that struggle the most with guilt, even though I don’t think they are generally at fault.
I take issue with your use of the word guilt Sam. I believe guilt is when you do something immoral, unethical, or illegal. In the case of your friends death I can understand you feeling regret, anger, or remorse but it isn’t guilt because YOU did nothing wrong.
I think it also applies to Dads guilt. Are you doing anything immoral, unethical, or illegal by going to work to provide for your family. I would say no and add your doing what a man is supposed to, provide and protect his family.
If were going to talk about mental health I think its important for people to realize that feeling guilty when your actually NOT guilty of doing something wrong is a useless exercise.
How would you survive the feeling of my friend’s death then if it is not survivors guilt? How should I be feeling? Or what is the term used to describe the motivation not to waste life because of what I experienced through my friend?
Sam, I think the best term would be sadness. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad in that situation. It will always will be with you. That is life. Guilt is kinda a paralyzing word. We all know ways to overcome sadness. You can dance, exercise, listen to happy music. There are literally hundreds of things to do to overcome a moment of sadness. Contrast that with guilt. How does one overcome guilt in a situation where one isn’t guilty. It’s impossible. Ask your son or wife or your readers if you should feel guilty for living. No one would say you should.
Your motivation to not waste your life is real. You feel sad your friends life got cut short and you’ll be damned if that happens to you. That’s a sign of a person who has compassion, empathy, and motivation. That’s not a sign of guilt.
Murderers, bank robbers and the like are guilty. People who survive a tragedy are not guilty, just unlucky for having to live and deal with it.
My guilt comes from having two kids late in life. I have a 9 month old and a 2.5 yr old. I wonder if it’s fair for them to have a father that’s 50(their mother is in her late 30s). Will I be there for them when they get married, have kids and guide them as young adults? I try to balance this guilt by being appreciative that due to my age I’m in a much better place financially, mentally and emotionally than if I had them when I was younger. I also feel I got a lot of things out of my system, such as backpacking around the world, working long hours and going out to eat or drinks whenever I wanted in my younger years. Now, I feel completely satisfied being at home with my kids. Being older has also given me an incentive to workout more, eat healthier and practice gratitude so I can be on this earth as long as possible. Perhaps without children I wouldn’t care as much about my health.
I feel the same way! I wish I had my kids five years younger, so I could be a part of their lives for five years longer.
The only solution to make up for lost time is to try to eat better, exercise more, and live longer than I was supposed to. And of course spend more time with them as much as possible.
It doesn’t take too much to catch up on last years by doing the math. I’ll have to create spreadsheet for how much more time to spend to make up lost time.
Let’s say you’re a working father who sees his kid 3 hours a day. If you can up the quality time to 6 hours a day, Then after one year, you will make up for one hour of lost time.
Guilt and regret are feedback from our past action and behavior. It is a psychological confirmation that we would like to do better in the present time if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, many of us will continue with the same action and behavior because we have been conditioned into a lifestyle that inspires us to jump up from our beds at the first hour of day light.
A lifestyle framework is required to guide our day to day action and behavior to eliminate the guilt and regret loop – in awhile, chasing after our individual passion.
The framework ensures time and resource are properly distributed in essential areas of day to day living.
Any extra time and resource are for me to invest in things that are inline with my individual gift and talent – the things that can not wait for tomorrow when I lay down in my bed at night.
There is not any space in a life that is full of passion!
Can you talk specifically about your time as a parent and how you dealt with regret and past actions? I am definitely trying to think ahead in the future and take action now to minimize regret. But I’m wondering about some specifics you have for the topic at hand. Thank you.
In the last statement of my comment – it meant to say “there is not any space for regret and guilt in a life that is full of passion”.
I crossed the financial independence mile marker in the summer of 2012 after ten years of executing the game plan.
The detail of the game plan composed of three critical areas of my life – financial, relationship and health.
In each of these areas, I set up KPIs (key performance indicators). The KPIs ensure stability in the path toward growth and progress.
For example, in the financial area – the KPI is the financial independence target. This must be a personal number using the financial tools and the financial capability to calculate. The financial capability mentioned here is my personal stat that has been in execution all along.
Here is a brain tease – the majority of the readers on this site do not know this personal number. Many of them are looking at someone else number. Hence, their failures are similar to the workout and diet enthusiasts.
In the health area – the KPI is my physical and mental health. Am I excited to get out of my bed every morning and physically take on the day to day challenges? The obstacles and huddles that are preventing me from getting to the financial independence target in the specified time.
In the relationship area – the KPI is the number of friends and family I would like to have in my life in the financial independence journey.
There is no such thing as a perfect executed plan!
After ten years in execution, armed with the KPI, I clearly see that the relationship area is lagging behind. I lost many friends and family members. Not because I neglected this area, as a matter of fact, I allocated an extraordinary of my time and financial resources into fortifying the personal circle of relationship.
Of little or no avail, many of these personal relationships were destined to fail. We grew apart!
As soon as I crossed the financial independence mile marker in the summer of 2012, I knew the ten years financial plan is at the end of its shelf life by looking at the KPI I had setup in the relationship area – I had out ran both my wife and my daughter.
In the last 7 years, I have redesigned the game plan with new set of KPIs in the three areas.
I allocated substantial more time and financial resources in my wife and daughter. Not because of guilt and regret due to neglect, but I came to the understanding that they are not built from the same genetics and experiences as I – and that they just need more of me in their lives.
As of now, the KPI signals that we are not drifting apart, but my wife and I are growing closer.
My daughter is four years behind her peers, but she is catching up with an incredible momentum (I realized that I am not giving you the parenting specific example, but more of the generalized relationship perspective). Fathering is the more specialized and sacred relationship, but if it is filtered though the scientific methods, it followed the same rules.
I woke up every morning with sense of jubilation greater than ever and a woody in my boxer that I have lost at the same financial independence mile marker (please forgive me of the erotic vulgarity here – it is a personal KPI in the health area).
In the last 20 years, every single day the framework forced me to passionately put everything on the table systematically in the critical areas.
As I said at the beginning – there is not any space for regret and guilt in a life that is full of passion!
The only time I ever experience dad guilt is when my daughter plays dolls. I live that life every day, I struggle to immerse myself into “playing house” or “tea time.” I see my wife jump in and she hops right into character and can play for hours. Sometimes I wish I could turn the boredom receptor of my brain off and trudge along but I cant, and I found myself dragging on her play-time experience by not being involved.
However, I found a way to make up for this through the introduction of board games. Teaching and playing board games to my daughter is one of my favorite fatherhood moments. It started out slow with the basics (candyland, go fish, etc.) but they quickly move up to some of the more entertaining classic games (ie Clue, battleship, etc.). And if you have been out of the board game world lately, there has been this resurgence in in tabletop gaming. There has been a bunch of quality new entrants over the last decade that i’d recommend.
Thank you about being so honest about being a dad to your girl. I can totally empathize about The boredom receptor and trudge that you speak of after the 50th time of doing the same thing on the same day!
It’s all about endurance as a parent, especially a stay at home parent.
Good thing your daughter had a mom! Yay teamwork.
Plan to go for a second? Do you feel you would feel the same if you had a boy pretending to play trucks all day?
My father was a busy internist and didn’t spend much time at home unless it was weekend or on vacation. But I definitely did not resent the fact that he was gone a lot because I knew he had an important job to do and he provided well for his family. It made the times that he did spend with me more memorable/special (boating on the lake, etc).
I chose my current job because of the lifetstyle it afforded. I left probably $40-60k on the table by choosing this particular job over another but what one me over was that I only worked Mon-Fri, 8:30-5pm with no call or weekends whatsoever. It is pretty much a unicorn job for a physician.
Funny thing is I am likely making more now than if I had chosen the originally higher paying jobs so it truly is a win-win.
Are you with Kaiser by any chance? I always thought they provided one of the best work-life balance for physicians. They literally have flexible office like hours.
I’m actually in the Southeast US, in a large multispecialty private practice group (about 70 physicians). For radiology it is great because it is essentially all outpatient imaging.
From the perspective of an adult…I realized really early on that my dad went to work to “provide a good living” for us as a family. I respected him and looked up to him- do not beat yourself up over the fact that you need to leave your family to provide an income. That goes for women also! Kids figure it out really soon…you need money to buy things! Even though my dad “worked outside the home”, he was there to listen to us and guide us…our mom- who stayed at home- not so much. So you don’t have to “stay home” to be the better parent in my book!
This one really hit home with me.
I made lots of mistakes in the parenting field…but I always truly tried to be the best “Dad” I could given the situations I was in.
First and foremost I became a parent too early in life. I was in college and at the age of 21 my daughter was born. This was when the first wave of “dad guilt” hit me. So what did I do? I left college, married my girlfriend and joined the Air Force in order to provide for my family. I eventually finished my degree and became an Officer in the USAF, but also added two sons to the fold.
Fast forward a few more years and I found myself in the middle of a divorce. Without going into detail, the ex- moved back to our home state and I also found myself as a single parent of a 9,5,and 3 year old. Huge bout with “dad guilt” during these times. Everything from questioning: Did I make the right choice (about the divorce)? Should I resign my commission? etc. It was a very dark and difficult time in my life and I’m sure I overcompensated with the kids and made some irrational parenting decisions, but I pressed on and “sucked it up” and provided the best I could. I bring this up here because I did try to have conversations with other divorcees with children whose souse had left them. However, I was the only male and rumors started flying that I was there to take advantage of some of the women during their time of despair.
Life eventually got better. I remarried a wonderful women who is now considered by my kids to be their “mom”. However, there were still plenty of “dad guilt” issues. For instance, at one point in my career I had to go to Korea for a 2-year tour. It was for my youngest son’s Junior & Senior year of High School. We DID have the opportunity to go as a family, but my son did not want to leave his school or friends. So I went alone! I did come home every 3-4 months for anywhere from 1-2 weeks at a time, but that time lost during some very crucial years of his life I VERY much regret to this day.
All of my children are grown and done with college now and I have an absolutely wonderful relationship with them. But I still find myself having “dad guilt” issues because of the choices I made. At the time, they seemed to be the right one and I know they do not hold it against me.
There are definitely some things I would do differently if I were given the chance. However, I will just keep on being there for them whenever they need me.
For what it’s worth, I also think you’ve done the planning for parenting very well and should be proud of yourself as a Dad!
Thank you for sharing your story Jon! You had to do what you had to do, and nobody should judge you for the choices you make. We all do the best with what we can. No amount of planning and hope can prepare us for life‘s twists and turns.
Things happen! All the time. Thanks for reading.
I’m a stay-at-home dad and it’s a different type of guilt. The only time I feel guilty is when I get mad at our son. I should be able to control my feeling better and be more patient with him. It’s better now that he’s school-age so we have more separation. Other than that, I feel good about being a dad. You just have to do your best. I’m way better than my dad was so that’s an easy comparison. He didn’t spend any time with us at all when we were kids.
Your example makes me wonder, does parenting really matter then? If your dad didn’t spend much time with you growing up and you turned out just fine, maybe we are spending too much time and energy parenting?
Perhaps absentee parenting is the Best way to maximize resources, minimize emotional strain, and to maximize happiness?
There’s also those of us who might have been better off without their fathers around* but were stuck with them. Children are very resilient and we often forget this. My siblings and I turned out fine.
I think in the situation I mentioned above, having the other parent be able to “carry the slack” is vital, as is a safe environment. We were fortunate enough to have both.
I once worked with someone whose father just disappeared when he was a toddler, only to return when he was a teenager as if nothing odd happened. No, he wasn’t in prison, so it was rather mysterious. My co-worker turned out fine and has great kids of his own.
* My father was best summed up as “a mean drunk.”
How does your ex coworker feel about his father now?
Good highlight on some kids been better off without their fathers. Overly the people reading this post and who are experiencing parental guilt or not those type of parents who would be mean drunks or belligerent or worse
To those that turn out fine, it’s not because their dads weren’t present, it’s despite it. There are kids those that show remarkable resilience even at an earlier age who can crawl through tough times without the support that’s deemed necessary by professionals.
Conversely, there are those that turn out to be utter failures despite their parents best efforts not because of their parenting and being present, but despite it if that makes any sense.
There’s definitely a larger factor at play than being present vs non-present, being a good parent vs bad parent. And I think it’s how we’re born.
My father was a businessman who pretty much worked 24/7 and never really taught me to do anything.
I like to think I turned out fine (stable job, stable marriage, decent values), but I always feel extremely sad and envious when I see my friends having an excellent relationship with their fathers. When they vent about how their dads are doing X, Y, and Z, I nod and listen but on the inside I want to just choke them because they don’t know how it truly feels to not have a relationship.
So what I’m trying to say is for your question, it’s impossible to answer as there are tons of variables, but if you were to take the two opposite sides, it’s almost always worse when you have an absent father vs someone who’s present but is imperfect (which is pretty much 100% of the fathers).
I have to respectfully disagree. The number of fathers out there that are more burden than aid is much larger than many suspect. I think the extreme cases are obvious (mean drunks, etc.) and usually associated with poverty, which makes people think that poverty is the problem when it’s likely just as aggravating factor.
In my father’s case, he was like you in that he never saw his father (although it was because he was dead), but that did little to motivate him to be a good father in his turn. It just gave him something to obsess over, instead.
I hear you. Seeing a fantastic parent child relationship into adulthood is awesome. It’s almost like the stuff of movies ain’t it?
I do my best to work on my relationship with my father. I call him every day or at least every other day. He never calls me or seldom ever says anything positive about the work I do. Guess that is expected as an editor. Even if I achieve some type of record, he will compare me or my work to someone who has done better.
When I visit, he sometimes makes me feel like a burden because I left sand on the steps or they had to wash the sheets. It’s weird, because I happily clean up after them when they leave and the resident thing. That’s what hosts do.
But I chalk it up to personality and generational differences. And I keep staying positive no matter the negativity.
I’m going to strive to be the most present and caring father to my son as possible. I think he’s going to have an amazing childhood! And I have my fingers crossed we are going to have an amazing relationship!
I lost my dad when I was 7 and my mom when I was 12. I ended up graduating valedictorian from a nationally ranked high school, high honors from a top university, had a stellar career and a family life. I think there’s too many factors involved to say one way or another. But not having parents pushed me to excel at many areas in my life. I started working and supporting myself while still in grade school. I’m sure others that grew up in the same situation may have had poor outcomes.
Sorry to hear about your loss Joe. I cannot imagine losing my parents when I was that young of an age. Who ended up taking care of you?
What were the various factors that made you work so hard in HS, college, and in your career?
My dad was loving when he was around and I had a safe childhood environment. He just didn’t spend much time with us. I guess as long as the intention is good, the kids will turn out fine.
I’m pretty sure we spend too much time and energy trying to be a good dad. It’s not all about the kids, though. The dads need to feel useful too. Some dads feel better by being a provider. I prefer to be a SAHD and work minimally. Everyone has to find their own balance.
Sam I so relate to this post! I am a divorced dad with 50% custody of my two kids. I love having them half the time, and have loaded my work schedule so that I do the vast majority of my work on the days I don’t have them. However, their school and music and sports schedules don’t care about my work schedule, and the absolute worst for me is when their school or music or sporting events occur on the days I don’t have them (my work days) and conflict with lucrative work opportunities (which happens A LOT!).
They’re extremely sweet and understanding kids, but in some ways that makes it even tougher because I just want to always be there for them: it’s soooooooo hard when they look at me and say, “It’s okay dad, I know you have to work.” It helps that I’m finally getting close to FI, because now it’s easier to justify turning down work than it used to be, but I still have to deal with “dad guilt” at some point nearly every single week.
The best strategy I’ve found is to talk honestly with my kids about which events are really important to them (and I attend those no matter what it costs) and which they don’t care about much (and I’m trying to learn to let those ones go and not feel guilty). But man, the guilt is a constant struggle!
Thanks for sharing! Good advice about explaining things and having an honest conversation. This is definitely the route that I plan to take. I want to use the method of explaining things thoroughly and highlighting the upside to doing something in the down side as well. Over time, hopefully my kids can make more informed decisions this way.
Splitting custody after divorce 50-50 sounds good!
Thanks for raising awareness! I think it’s important that men feel safe and able to open up about their feelings and emotions surrounding parenting and juggling lots of things. You’re right that most of the content on the web is focused on mom guilt and such and not so much on dads. Dads have their own needs, fears, and anxieties too! The more everyone can feel comfortable opening up and not feeling alone in their struggles, challenges, and triumphs the better!
I have two teens and had the same struggles over the years. Its a balance of not being overbearing, but not letting them take advantage of you. I was on the overbearing side and had to learn how to back off. Dont be to hard on yourself, there is no perfect way to parent IMO.
Were there any specific incidents you can remember where you were too overbearing that caused problems? How did you adjust?
Do you feel its easier or harder to let kids struggle as they get older because they are getting more knowledgeable and mature? Once you explain the pros and cons of one’s actions to a teenager, I don’t see what else we can do unless we want to lock them inside the house.
Well it depends unfortunately on the gender of the child. I have a daughter and a son. I found that same gender children, I had a built in expectation. My son is total opposite from me, which was part of my problem.
Were I dive in and tackle difficult situations, he tends to avoid. I didnt get it? why? WTF? get it done now. Being hes more passive, I had to take a different approach to get him to do things.
It took time, and yes its a mental struggle as they get older. They are becoming young adults and need the space to make their own decisions. Hope it helps! sounds like your a great Dad, based on even writing this article. Keep up the good work!
Ah yes, gender, personality, so many variables, who really knows! The only thing we can control is our attitude, demeanor, and effort.
My biggest girl comes from not trying hard enough. Deep down, I know how much I can push myself. And I think everybody feels the same way. If we don’t maximize our effort, the guilt can be tremendous.
We also need to consider single fathers. While single mothers get the benefit of social networks the mothers and women instinctively build amongst themselves, we are left to soldier on our own. While mothers call each other to set up playdates, or to take shifts so that the other can go out (whether with other mothers or on dates), the society conveniently forgets we men also do have our own social needs – whether it is professional networking or even going on dates. In my 8 years of single parenthood I’ve never heard anyone, whether in my family or in my circles, say “Hey, why don’t you go out this Friday night, I’ll watch your kid?” Or “Go to that networking event/after-hours work party – I’ll watch your kid!” Whereas everyone tries to set up single mothers with men or happily arrange babysitting shifts to let them go and network.
What’s your observation on this?
I’d love for you to write a guest post about your experience. As I’m not a single father, I don’t have the perspective to write thoughtfully about this topic.
Single parenthood is tough and I’m in awe by those who make it work. thx
Gene, I have a story.
When my daughter was four years old, she didn’t have many friends because she’s extremely shy and deals with selective mutism. So when an opportunity for her to have a play date with one or two of her close friend arises, my wife and I quickly jump on it as much as possible.
One day I got an email from one of the parents from the same preschool to bring the kids for a play date so I replied immediately to let them know that my daughter and I would be there.
When I got to their house, it was all moms except for me.
It felt like stepping into a Halloween party not wearing a custom when everybody else was jazzed up. Or going to a black tie event with basketball shorts on. You just knew and felt the dynamic completely changing and shifting for the worse the moment you made eye contact with everyone in the room.
I faked a smile, they faked a smile, we mingled as naturally as we can, but damn…
After that experience I was like why don’t dad’s just get together for these kind of play dates? Because that was one of the most awkward meetings I’ve had to endure as a parent (but hey, at least my daughter had fun).
Needless to say, subsequent play dates have all been attended together with my wife or without me LOL
Interesting take. I haven’t struggled with it as I feel way more involved than the average dad (much to my surprise), but there is a bias towards mom emotions being more important where I can imagine a lot of guys would be hesitant to bring up an issue. In any case, from your writing it sounds like there is no reason at all for guilt.
What’s the deal with it being 80/20 moms vs dads are stay-at-home, but then 25% vs 2% of couples?
Can you share your secret/methods? Are you a stay at home dad too? How would you benchmark your involved compared to the “average dad.” Thanks!
My secret is recognizing that as an engineer, I’ve reached my peak earning potential very early in my career (like 28) save going into upper management, which I know isn’t for me. Then I’ve set my savings rate at 50% for several years before having a child to relieve all financial pressure. I also work for a large, disorganized, global company that doesn’t value the contributions of any individual all that highly and treats its employees well but as ultimately replaceable.
The logical result is the personal power to dial career back and family up. I negotiated for and took 7 months “work from home” to be the primary caregiver of my first child from 5-12 months old. This created an incredible bond between us that has extended through today at 3 years old. Once he was ready to go to an in-home daycare and socialize with other kids, I leave work at 4pm sharp every day to take him to the park, give him a bath, eat dinner together, etc. This kind of makes me a bad employee, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is just the stage of life that I’m in, plus my employer still benefits from my skills and years of experience. I make it a point to be as efficient as possible during the limited hours I’m there, plus I could get fired and be fine for years. I also plan to dial career back up to 100% once the kids are older, which my employer will benefit from if they stick with me.
I used the language of comparison in my first post, but I actually don’t benchmark myself at all to other dads. I’m just happy with how I’m doing as a father vs my expectations going into it, and this is the key for me to a parenting experience of satisfaction and peace.