If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt heard of the two dreaded words. No, not Potty or Training. MUMMY and GUILT. You know, that feeling of being completely inadequate at all the ‘mummy’ things.
So you’ve shouted at your kids? You’re an awful mum. What do you mean you can’t buy every single toy your pride and joy desires? You’re a terrible mum. You can’t breastfeed your own babies? Why did you even have kids?
Social media, Topsy & Tim’s mum, and bloggers with their filtered-to-death family photos that portray the pinnacle of motherhood: they all make it worse.
But what about the dads?
We may not have carried our kids for all those months and given birth to them, we may not really know what a pelvic floor is, but are dads immune to feelings of mediocrity and inadequacy and guilt?
It seems like a topic only a few dads seem to be talking about, but if you do have these feelings, then you’re not alone. A recent study showed that 1 in 5 dads admitted to feeling ‘dad guilt’.
The study centred around the time spent with children – with dads feeling guilt at the amount of time spent at work and not being present for their children. Two-thirds of dads felt jealous of stay at home dads while 25% also admitted feeling pressure to keep up with the typical gender role of being the breadwinner for the family.
Dad guilt is a subject that has been bothering me for some time, but the guilt I’ve been feeling lately has less to do with my presence, but more to do with my actual ability to be a father, the so-called breadwinner, the man of all things, while maintaining the facade of being relatively normal. So I’m here to talk about these feelings and hopefully help other dads realise that there’s someone else out there who doesn’t feel like a great dad a lot of the time.
I shout. I get cross.
Anyone who knows me would probably say ‘You’re too laid back too get cross about anything’, which makes the fact I frequently shout at our eldest even worse. NJ is now eight and often I struggle to handle his defiance and stubbornness. A lot of it is for little things, such as refusing to turn the TV down, to turn the TV off, to brush his teeth, to put his shoes on, to put his coat on, to take his shoes off, to tidy his room, to stop teasing his sister. However, when combined into an endless cycle of refusal, back-chat and rudeness, I have to admit I shout, I lose my temper, I turn into Crap Dad for not constantly being happy and the fun-time-daddy I always expected to be.
I get frustrated when I can’t calm Jasperino, or when he refuses his bottle, or when he cries for no reason and is suddenly wide awake at 2am and has no plans on sleeping. NJ and Roo were so much better sleepers. I wonder what is the worse that could happen if I just put him down in his cot and leave him to cry. Crap Dad mode huffs and puffs, knowing that Jasperino can sense my annoyance but I still expect him to calm down and sleep anyway. When he finally does, I’m flooded with guilt that I have been frustrated with a baby.
They have to share me
Guilt strikes because I have to divide myself between Mrs Three Time Daddy, three kids, a dog, a cat, endless DIY, endless washing and a full-time job, and my fractions aren’t that good.
I can’t spend as much time with NJ as I used to. As the oldest, he had 4 years of uninterrupted 1-2-1 daddy time. It was awesome. When his sister Roo arrived it was awesome too, but my Daddy Attention was split. However, she is so unassuming and gentle and kind and grateful that she doesn’t demand attention, doesn’t need to be asked to do something a billion times before doing it, doesn’t get shouted out, and often she is forgotten about because she is so easy. Cue Dad Guilt.
Then Jasperino reduced Daddy Attention further and the feeling of constant busyness has gone up a level. I feel guilty when doing ‘important house jobs’ because I’m not spending the time with the kids, when I do spend time with the kids I feel guilty because the ‘important house jobs’ aren’t being done and they are going to grow up in a perpetually unfinished and messy house. I feel guilty that on weekdays I don’t see them enough because I’m at work and then on weekends I feel guilty because I stare at my phone too much or check the football scores or leave them to watch too much TV.
Repeat after me: I’m not Crap Dad…
With all the tears, the tantrums, the screams, the sleepless nights and the guilt, it’s easy for Crap Dad feelings to dominate, overwhelm and taint all the good times. I remind myself that I’ve been to every school play, that I’ve cheered NJ on at every sports day, that I’ve taken them to the doctors when they’ve been poorly and to A&E when we thought NJ broke his ankle. I’m there for bedtimes and night feeds, for stories and cuddles.
So, although dad guilt is a thing, I know of something much worse: not caring.
Whenever the guilt takes over and I feel like Crap Dad who is failing their kids, I remind myself that at least these things bother me and that is surely better than feeling nothing at all.