The 60s are long gone, and the concept of the nuclear family where the father earns the money and the mother raises the children has all but vanished. These are modern times, with modern parenting struggles. More and more, father’s are expected to step up to the parenting plate and be involved from day one — and that’s a good thing! Men who take an active interest in their children’s lives are a wonderful thing, and can lead to kids being more confident and secure as they grow up.
Let’s get one thing clear before we start, though. This article isn’t meant to downplay the amazing work being done by mothers around the globe. Believe me, us men are sooooooo grateful for the time, energy, and sacrifices that women make when it comes to parenting our kids. But now more than ever, it takes a real group effort to raise a productive little member of society.
In this article, I’m going to talk about some of the struggles that dads continue to face. They might not all apply to every situation, and they are coming from a personal perspective of being a divorced dad with shared custody of three kids, but I believe most dads will be reading this and silently nodding their heads.
We’re Not Babysitting!
This might be the most annoying thing about being a dad. Any time I’m out in public with my kids, whether we’re just playing at a local park or running errands such as getting groceries, someone will inevitably comment “looks like you got stuck babysitting today, eh?”
No. Stop it. Just don’t.
Spending time with my children is not “babysitting.” The correct term is “parenting,” AKA the same thing mothers do. There’s no need to trivialize or reduce a man’s role in raising children by calling it babysitting. Or Daddy Daycare. Or any other dumb term. Just recognize that we are parents, out doing parenting things with our kids. It’s as simple as that.
We Need Sleep Too
It’s been a while since my kids were awake for late night feedings, but I can still remember the feeling of staggering around like a zombie on The Walking Dead for weeks at a time as my body tried to cope with a severe lack of rest. Look, we know that moms have it tough during those nights too, especially ones that are nursing. But men are affected too, and I’m not just talking about the ones who take feeding shifts with bottles.
We wake up when the kids are crying too. We wake up when the kid ends up in our bed. Our sleep gets interrupted plenty of times too. This almost doubles as a relationship tip, but don’t let sleepless nights turn into a “who’s more tired” competition. Try to remember that you’re supposed to be working together and supporting each other, not constantly comparing sleep schedules. But honestly, it’s not just mothers who struggle to stay rested.
The Responsibility Burden
I know I’ve already mentioned that it’s not the 60s anymore, and it’s much more common to have both parents in the workplace these days. And while that is certainly true (although not always), some societal pressures from those decades past still exist for fathers. Whether we like to admit it or not, we still face a pressure to adequately provide for our family. To be the “Man of the House,” which is a somewhat silly and outdated term when you really think about it.
There’s still this unspoken expectation that men should make the most money in a family, and be primarily responsible for the financial health of the household. And honestly, it’s can be overwhelming at times. Every time the car breaks down or an appliance needs to be replaced, fathers feel the budget squeeze and start to worry if they are doing enough.
No, We Can’t Attend That Last Minute Party/Game/Whatever
This one hit me especially hard, as I started my family a few years before most of my regular social group. So while I was working long hours and enjoying sleepless nights, my friends were going on spontaneous road trips to baseball games or to the beach or heading to bars for a night of consumption and questionable decisions. It’s not that I didn’t want to go with them — I was still the same guy as before — I just had different life circumstances now, and it was a tough balance.
After having to turn down a bunch of last minute offers to attend various events/parties/whatever, they eventually just stopped asking me — which actually kind of hurt my feelings. A few years later, my social circle began to have families of their own, and it felt like they suddenly realized what I had been struggling with. Gatherings are now more likely to be family friendly, and more planning time goes into bigger events so that the proper arrangements can be made.
The Father’s Day/Mother’s Day Conundrum
Let me see if I’ve got this right. On Mother’s Day, the proper thing for a father to do is take the kids so that Mom can get some much-needed R&R time. Maybe she sleeps in later than normal. Maybe she books a little trip to the spa or the nail salon for some pampering. After all, she deserves it!
Fast forward to Father’s Day. Now the proper Dad thing to do is set aside the Sunday afternoon to spend time with his family. At least, that seems to be the popular opinion across social media and the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen. But those things aren’t exactly the same, are they?
I don’t really care which way your specific family wants to go with these days, but either make them family orientated days, or give the honored parent a spa trip or a pass to go play golf or spend the day watching baseball or whatever. Just make it equal for both parents. It’s not asking a lot.
Babies Are Boring
I may get a little bit of hate for this, but it needs to be said — babies are boring! Sure, they are cute and dads still love them to pieces, but all they really do is eat, sleep, cry, and poop. They make a pretty lame buddy.
All jokes aside, this is a thing that a lot of dads I’ve talked to have gone through. While there’s a natural bond between mother and child, formed during the pregnancy and often continued via breastfeeding, men don’t have a comparable bonding opportunity. So we an struggle a bit until a child gets old enough to start walking and talking, which is when we can really begin to form a personal connection that is deeper than “it’s my responsibility to keep this little sack of skin rolls alive.”
When kids can start to ask questions, or throw a ball, or go down a slide by themselves — that’s when us dads can really start to interact with our children in ways that make more sense to us.
Girls Can Be Hard, But We’re Trying!
This probably isn’t a shocker, but boys are easy for fathers. Take them to a baseball game, teach them about cars, show them how to build a campfire. There are a ton of stereotypical “boy” activities that most dads are already great at. My son, by either luck or subtle influence, loves a lot of the same things I do — soccer, video games, playing cards, Marvel movies, etc. Spending one-on-one time with my son, or trying to relate to him in a meaningful way, is, well, pretty damn easy.
But I also have two girls, who are stereotypical girls through and through. They are mini divas, who love pop music (I’m a rock kind of guy), makeovers (umm what?), and ask me to put french braids in their hair (I’m working on it!). I’m out of my element with all of these things, but I’m doing my best to show up for them. Of course, their mother is a better source for most of those things, but we aren’t together any more and the kids live at both houses. So sometimes my daughters only have the option of asking me. And it’s going to get worse as puberty approaches.
The Stigma Still Exists
You’d think we, as a society, would be better than this by now, but apparently not. There is a stigma around fathers — especially single fathers, like myself — that is downright depressing. I’ve gotten dirty looks from other mothers because I’m hanging out near a public playground. I don’t really understand it, but apparently any adult male lurking around children must be some sort of creep and/or predator? Honestly, it makes me sad. But it doesn’t stop there.
All three of my kids used to wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and crawl into my bed. While it definitely made it harder to sleep, I cherished those cuddles. When my ex-wife and I were going through the (actually fairly amicable) divorce, my lawyer went out of his way to advise me to never let my daughters sleep in my bed, because it could be used against me in court. What kind of BS is that? The stigma of adult males being around children — even their own! — is an unfortunate one, and it’s more common than you think.
The “Dad Voice” is Sometimes Necessary
You know what the “Dad Voice” is. That booming, deep, stern sound that emerges from a frustrated dad who has already asked their child multiple times to go brush their teeth or turn off the TV for dinner time or pick up their toys. We don’t even really plan to use the Dad Voice, it just comes out sometimes. But you know what? It gets results!
For most dads (and all parents, really), there can be a fine line between friendship and discipline when it comes to kids. Of course you want your child to like you, but deep down you know it’s more important they learn the hard lessons and receive some pushback as they grow and test the boundaries. For whatever reason, many of those “tough love” or “bad cop” situations tend to land in Dad’s lap. Don’t worry though — it’s loud, but harmless.
We Feel Unsupported At Times
If you’re a mother, there’s a good chance you’re part of some Mommy Group on Facebook. Or have a groupchat with your Mommy friends where you talk about all things Mommy related. If you don’t have those things, there’s still a reasonable chance you’ve gone to your own mother for motherly advice. Or an older sister who already has kids of her own. Or something.
While those things may exist for dads, they are few and far between. There’s a general misconception that fathers will just “get it” or something. Couple that with the oh-so-true stereotype of men being reluctant to ask for help, and you end up with a lot of fathers being really unsure about their roles as a parent. Of course we want to be good parents, but it can sometimes feel like there’s no guidebook for fathers to consult. Then again, some mothers probably feel that way too.
We Can Show Our Love in Different Ways
Mothers are typically the more nurturing of the two parents, but that doesn’t mean us fathers don’t love our children just as fiercely. In a traditional-ish family structure, the mother may find herself doing more of the day-to-day and hands-on parenting, but please don’t overlook some of the bigger things that a father might be doing too. He might be working overtime so that the family can afford a bigger home, in a nicer neighborhood, with better schools. He may be trying to plan ahead for a college fund, even if the kids are still toddlers. Men aren’t the only ones who can think “big picture”, of course, but trust that most of us are doing what we can for the good as the entire family, and the future.
On a smaller scale, there are other examples of how dads show their love differently. We have a reputation for letting our kids try things that maybe their mother wouldn’t (“Hey dad, watch me jump over this creek!”). We’re not negligent, though. We see it as allowing our kids to test themselves and try new things, whether it’s a physical milestone or trying a new food or simply finally understanding their math homework. Sometimes a father’s advice boils down to “Go ahead and try. And if you fail, learn from your mistakes and try again.” That’s not a lack of caring. It’s encouraging a child to find their own strengths. And it’s definitely one of the ways we show love.
We Worry We Are Failing Too
Being a parent is stressful, regardless of whether you’re a mother, father, stepparent, or whatever other role you might find yourself in. That much is probably obvious. But you might not realize how deep that stress can go when it comes to fathers. We said it earlier too, but a lot of men aren’t eager to share their feelings. So we definitely don’t want to admit — to anyone — that we second guess ourselves constantly when it comes to being a dad.
Am I spending too much time at work? Am I spending enough quality time with the kids? Am I going to get all the bills paid this month? Have I been paying enough attention to my friends or significant other? Are the kids doing well at school? Are the kids making friends at summer camp? And a million other worries, both big and small, that invade our thoughts on a daily basis.
There’s a perception out there that fathers just exist in the background, letting moms do the heavy lifting when it comes to parenting. And while the roles are definitely different at times, everyone should try to remember that being a dad is just as challenging.