Mom guilt is defined as the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they’re failing or falling short of expectations in some way. While mom guilt is a widely known phenomenon, and many moms experience it. During a snow day this past week, I experienced a form of mom guilt… dad guilt.
That morning, I sat there sipping my coffee just waiting for some part of the caffeine to hit so that I had the energy to keep up with the kids. But on this day, the caffeine was taking longer to take effect. It’s funny how that works on the day you need it the most your morning boost seems to have no effect on your system.
As the third episode of Captain Underpants came on, I couldn’t take it anymore. I escaped downstairs into my man cave. I wasn’t at work but I could at least get some things done so this day wouldn’t be an entire waste. I also wouldn’t be faced with the constant interruptions at work so it made for the perfect opportunity to get some work in.
That’s when my dad guilt kicked in. I knew that my 3-year-old should be watching something more educational. He is the second child and therefore subject to watching the shows that his 9-year-old brother watches.
Before I knew it, the time was 11:30 and the kids hadn’t eaten breakfast. Walking upstairs, a mug of cold coffee in hand, I ask the kids if they are hungry.
“No, we had french toast sticks… in fact we ate the entire box!”
“You did what??? Well are you hungry for lunch then?”
“I want chicken nuggets!!” My 3-year-old said. Having been his lunch request for the last three days and I stood there at a crossroads. One we face every time we ask our kids what they want to eat, do we give them something different then what they want or give them what they want even though they have had that for lunch for three days.
“Ok Chicken nuggets it is.” I say unwilling to put up the fight of offering something else.
After the chicken nuggets hit the table I sit down next to my 3-year-old. Not much is said as we are both enjoying our respective lunches. But it was then that I felt guilty for sneaking downstairs to put in a couple hours of work. Feeling as though I don’t provide enough for my family, I felt as though I needed to work so that I could save my vacation days to be able to take a future family vacation… whenever that will be.
This was an unexpected day off work. These days are few and far between depending on the winter, and yet I felt conflicted between the need to work and the need to spend time with my kids. I knew that I would never be able to get this day back. I knew that I should have been able to close the laptop and go run in the snow, build a snowman, or have an epic snowball fight for the ages. We should have come inside and warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate while catching up on The Mandalorian. We should have been building forts with all of the cardboard boxes that were now starting to stack up in the garage. That is what we should have been doing things together.
Instead, I am faced with the dad guilt of working on what could have been a day off.
I knew at that moment, that’s what we should have been doing. I knew the moment I was scrolling through my Instagram feed later that night seeing so many dads outside having fun with their kids on this unexpected day off that I should have been doing all of that. Yet I felt the pressure to work on this day. I wondered what kind of stories the other kids would tell each other at school the next day and my kids would just say, “Oh we just stayed inside and watched Captian Underpants.”
I felt right there in that moment that I had failed my kids that day. While there are many times I feel like I fail them when it comes to personality traits they have inherited from me, this day I felt the dad guilt even more. As I laid to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but think of everything that I could have done better that day, not yelling at my son to stop jumping on the couch, or pointing to back upstairs while I was sitting in on a work meeting. Just before dozing off for the night, I vowed to myself to not let this happen again. I told myself that I don’t want my kids to remember me as the dad who was constantly working… but I was the dad who was outside throwing snowballs and sledding down the neighborhood hill, living life to its fullest.