Whenever I’m surfing the web, reading parenting books, or talking to moms, I hear a lot about the guilt that working moms feel about leaving their kids when they go off to work. Moms from my Proud Dads, Inc. workshops have said they feel guilty when they can’t keep up the rigorous pace and unrealistic expectations they often set for themselves. Some moms feel guilty because they can’t chaperone school field trips, have to miss out on gymnastics meets, and don’t have time to help their child with math homework. One mom even shared that she felt guilty leaving the baby alone with her husband. “Why?” I asked. She told me that if something happened to the baby while under her husband’s watch, she wouldn’t blame her husband, she would blame herself for not being there to protect the child from getting hurt!
Another group of people who experience this guilt are dads.
That’s right, the guilt that moms feel when balancing work and kids happens to dads, too. Working dads, like working moms, can feel just as much anguish when they miss out on important events or even day-to-day activities with their kids. Most of the time dads don’t speak up because they’ve been taught not to show emotion or because they’ve been so completely excluded from the nurturer role that they don’t feel it’s their place to ask for a share in it. Here’s what they say:
“I want to work in order to provide financial security for my family and children’s future. But I also don’t want to miss out on spending time with them.”
“I do a lot of traveling. I’m concerned about how I’ll be able to stay connected and bond with our child. But more importantly, how am I going to deal with explaining to him why I couldn’t be there to watch his baseball game?”
In 1999, I participated in an ABC Fathers and Sons television documentary with our disabled son, Wesley. One of the other guys in the documentary was a dad who was a fisherman. I’m not talking about somebody who got up early on Saturdays and put on a goofy hat with fishhooks in it to smoke stogies and swat mosquitoes in an aluminum boat with his buddies, but a real-life professional fisherman who worked on a big fishing boat off the coast. His boat trips lasted several weeks each.
Talk about guilt! This guy felt horrible about leaving his son for days and weeks at a time and worried that he couldn’t be there for him. With a breaking voice, he related how his own father was never around to watch his sporting events because he was just too busy. “And the sad thing about it is that I’m doing the same thing to my kids,” he added. You could tell by watching him that he and his son really missed each other when they were apart.
I know a lot of fathers who are firefighters, military service personnel, police officers, sales reps, and doctors feel the same way when their jobs take them far from home, often against their wishes. Remember, these professions provide valuable services and products for other parents and their children. Like the fisherman, these dads can be too hard on themselves, and so can the people around them.
To help me stay in the mindset of team parenting despite all the challenges of balancing work and family, I like to remember this:
Hogan’s Slogans # 37: “Parents are not two people filling two roles, but two people filling one role.”
I see parenthood as a team effort in which the nurturing and providing both come into play. How each family divides up the tasks between two people varies depending on the situation. No matter how you and your husband are balancing things, one or both of you is likely to feel guilty if you see yourselves as falling short of your ideal, and no one enjoys feeling guilty. To assuage some of your own guilt, read Chapter 8 of the book. To help your husband with his guilt, try some of these tips:
- If your kids are young and waking up for school is not an issue, move bedtime to a later hour so Dad has more quality time in the evening with them. Then let the kids sleep in the next morning.
- Remind your children to show age-appropriate gratitude to whoever works for the things the paychecks buy them. Teach them to say, “Thank you Dad,” and “Thank you, Mom,” when they get new shoes or a trip to the water park. They need to know that new shoes don’t pay for themselves.
- Instead of using vacation time to take a trip, consider staying home and using it to be more involved with the kids. Let dad ferry them to their usual activities or camp out in the backyard with them. Or, spread vacation days out over the year so you don’t miss as many crucial activities.
- When Dad comes home and the kids make a beeline for him, step back and let them play rough.
- Get his input on household rules, chores, and other issues.
- Maintain family get-together times, like dinner on certain days of the month, and hold your kids to the schedule even if they’re in high school and think it’s corny.
Like moms, dads are doing what they can to balance providing and nurturing. Through my work, I’ve come to understand that men and women have a lot of the same guilty feelings. Just like working moms, working dads don’t have enough time to balance providing and nurturing, and your husband may end up feeling guilty, even if he doesn’t feel it’s his place to say so.
This is an excerpt from The Modern Mom's Guide to Dad: Ten Secrets Your Husbands Won't Tell You by Hogan Hilling and Jesse Jayne Rutherford. Cumberland House Publishing.