Managing the parenting guilt that comes with kids & work

Reading time: 5 min

“Dad, I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay with you.”

“My boy, Daddy needs to go to work.”

“Why?”

“So that we can have money for… everything.”

“Can you pick me up early then?”

“No, I have to work”

“Why?”

This is the occasional tearful exchange that I’ve had with my boys over the past few years. While it’s great to know that they prefer spending time with me over playing with their friends all day, every time this conversation happens, I end up starting my work day with a little bit of guilt in my heart.

Now I know that usually when someone uses the term “working parent”, they usually mean “working mom”, because we live in a world still stuck with patriarchal ideas of gender roles. Despite pretty much every couple I know being dual-income (including my parents), it seems like we only think that moms have to deal with the complexities of career versus family. That’s understandable, since women still take on the majority of emotional and unpaid labour in our households, while also increasingly taking on paid work too.

But since I am a modern man and father (excuse me while I dislocate my arm while patting myself on the back), I’m actively taking on more parenting and household responsibility (sorry, let me just catch my breath – blowing your own horn is exhausting!).

That comes with all of that working mom guilt too – yay!

There’s also so much logistics involved when both parents are working:

“I have to work late today. Can you pick the kids up?”

“I have a meeting on the other side of town first thing in the morning so you’ll have to get the boys ready by yourself.”

“What are we going to do for dinner tonight? Can you run out to the shops during your lunch break?”

“The school called – our kid is sick. Can you work from home with him today? I can’t, I have meetings and I took the day off the last time he was sick.”

“Can we ask your mom to pick them up?”

“Their concert is in the middle of the day. We have to be there. Can you take some time off?”

And that’s just when everything is ticking along smoothly.

When things get really hectic, that’s when the working parenting guilt ramps up which just ends up making you less effective at home and at work. You forget to pack your kid’s water bottle. You don’t pay attention to what they are saying because you JUST have to read this one last work email. You forget that tomorrow is dress-up day, so you get to work late because you had to magic together some sort of costume for your kid. You make fish fingers and chips AGAIN because you haven’t had a chance to buy groceries. You get stressed out and that makes you snappier with your kids than you should be.

“Ultimately, though, the best way to ease the pain of splitting your time between your career and your kids is remembering why you do it in the first place.”

And all of that makes you feel EVEN more guilty. It’s a terrible cycle.

Although I think that there are times when this is completely unavoidable, there are some things I do to ease the guilt and keep us all sane. Planning your life out is an obvious thing too. If you can make sure you don’t drop the ball, then you are probably going to be okay. For me, though, eventually something is going to slip because I’m human and a barely effective one at that.

I think weekends are especially important times to focus on. We try to spend time with each of our boys in a way where they know that they are the priority. Sometimes that means planning a really exciting, proper day out, and sometimes that means just cuddling in bed all day and taking it easy. I find that when we’ve had a really great weekend full of stuff like that, the working parent guilt subsides just a little the following Monday.

Ultimately, though, the best way to ease the pain of splitting your time between your career and your kids is remembering why you do it in the first place. Maybe it is out of necessity, the economy being what is, and you have to work to put food on the table. Maybe you want to show your kids all the options that they can choose for their futures. Or maybe you actually just like working out of the home, and when you do it makes you a better parent when you are home.

And let’s be honest. You can’t beat that first, child-free cup of coffee on a Monday morning at the office …

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AfroDaddy, a.k.a. Terence Mentor, is a place for parents, especially dads, to come together and share in the “duality of parenting” – the fact that being a parent can be fantastic, wonderful and beautiful, while simultaneously being exhausting, frustrating and awful. A husband and father to two boys born 18 months apart, AfroDaddy shares his unique view and experiences, while opening himself to new experiences, learnings and people. You can find him at AfroDaddy.