Moms vs Dads: The Double Standard of Missing Out on Kids’ Childhood

One of the reasons moms weigh the decision whether to resume working or stay home with the baby is the feeling that we’ll miss out on his childhood. I understand this sentiment—when I was pregnant, I wanted to find any way to stay at home with the baby so that I could spend more time with him. With most working people clocking in some nine hours at the office plus whatever commute they have, time seems limited when you only get to see your kid a few hours of the day.

Moms vs Dads: The Double Standard of Missing Out on Kids' Childhood

This discussion isn’t anything new. We moms discuss all this and more: Some women battle with working mom guilt. Others weigh whether to sacrifice potential career growth in lieu of being more available for our kids. And more of us struggle to balance motherhood and careers and having it all.

But this isn’t a discussion on staying at home versus working, or who exactly is “raising our kids” when we go back to work, or whether or not we could truly balance motherhood and careers, or even whether we’re really missing out on our kids’ childhoods to begin with.

Instead, I want to discuss the double standard: Why don’t we ask these same questions of dads?

The unfairness of missing out on childhood

The decision to go back to work or stay at home often falls on the mother’s shoulders, but in this era where women work just as much as men, we still expect men to continue working while women are the ones to decide whether they need to go back to work or stay at home.

Maybe a biological, evolutionary explanation is the answer. Maybe women are the more nurturing of the gender and therefore would feel more inclined to consider staying at home. There’s also the breastfeeding factor, and the hassles of pumping at work that may place more of the responsibility on a mother’s shoulders. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

But whenever I hear moms bemoaning other moms for missing out on their kids’ childhood or pitying working moms because someone else is raising their kids, I wonder about their husbands and think, “Does that mean then that your husbands are missing out on your kids’ childhood?”

We don’t tsk tsk when dads work and only see their kids a few hours of the day just as working moms do, yet we create this guilt  on moms and place the decision on ourselves when maybe we need to start including dads in this equation.

Someone has to work. Rare is the situation where both parents can avoid working for a few years. Perhaps the next closest arrangement is where both parents work from home and take turns in caring for the kids, as a former coworker of mine did. But more often than not, at least one parent brings in an income.

But why do we assume dads will continue to work regardless of having children or not? Why don’t dads debate whether they should take a sabbatical for a few years, or choose the path of homemaker while mom brings in the bucks? Maybe we’re still too fresh from the generations where dads work and moms stay home. Or maybe it really is that biological makeup that defines genders and drives women to want to be with their kids more so than men.

Nonetheless, we need to do a better job about balancing these expectations nowadays. When moms make a decision to go back to work or not, that discussion needs to include dads too. Maybe we need to discuss how both parents feel about going back to work, and which situation works best for both mom and dad instead of making this a “mom and career” issue.

Thankfully no one has yet to tsk tsk me about my decision to work or wonder how on earth I could be missing out on my toddler’s childhood (hint: I’m not). I’m pretty sure no one has ever wondered the same question of my husband.

I thought about this topic mostly from reading mom boards, and how easily we pity working moms for missing out on said childhood or burden ourselves with the decision to work or not, as if we are the only ones who should be weighing our options.

Maybe that’s why we hardly hear about “working dad guilt.”

Before we feel bad for moms missing out on their kids’ childhood, let’s consider whether we would feel just as bad for dads as well.

Do you think dads are missing out on childhood just as much as moms? Why is there a double standard with moms vs dads? Let me know in the comments!

Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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  1. says

    I have thought about this many times…dads do miss out on a lot while at work but somehow we are able to accept this as “normal”. I worked part-time and it was insane because I was close enough to home and school to try and do it all. Those years were very trying and sometimes chaotic but I did manage to make a dent in college savings. My conclusion…life and parenting is a balancing act.

    • says

      My kid’s not in school yet and I can just imagine how much busier we’ll be what with all the activities and going over homework will be. In my home, I too was the one that chose to work a flexible schedule so that one of us can be with our son more.

  2. says

    I had always wanted to stay at home, and my husband had the better income and benefits, but he does lament missing out. It’s frustrating for him that I can understand the kids’ speech so much better, and he misses those cute everyday moments (“Mommy, where does your lap go when you stand up?”). I try to IM him stories during the day; it’s not the same, but he appreciates it–and he admits that he wouldn’t have the patience to deal with the kids all day, every day. He really devotes himself to the kids when he’s around, but he says he’s always rather relieved to go back to work after a “vacation”.

    • says

      I think our husbands are the same. He does feel like he misses out especially when his commute is so long and we abide by an early bedtime. I would imagine that if either my husband or I made significantly more than the other, the. We would probably do the same where the one who makes more would work. I know sometimes this isn’t ideal for people as the breadwinner can commonly want to be the one to stay at home.

  3. Steph says

    I do think there’s a double standard. And my husband does talk about missing out on things because he works and I don’t. We try hard to maximize family time when he is home.

  4. says

    I think it’s really tricky. My husband and I would BOTH love to be home with our kids, but it’s just not possible. Last year he stayed home with our toddler, while I worked full time because I have a higher earning capacity. He loved it, and while I really like my job (I am a Kindergarten teacher) I felt like my kids were missing out at the expense of everyone else’s..This year I have stayed home (maternity leave at half pay…and a little long service) with our youngest two (5 months & 2), and my husband has worked nights at the service station so he has more time with the kids – our eldest boys are 10 & 12 and benefit from him being around, but he is always tired :(. I would love to stay home long term but just don’t know how we will make it work…we are trying to get home business off the ground so fingers crossed! It is a tough question.

  5. jninesworld says

    Hi!!! My husband is chomping at the bit to be a stay at home daddy. And I think he would do an amazing job but given that it is a man’s world he is more likely to be promoted and get a raise. It’s tough because my benefits are amazing but he brings home the bacon. Therefore, both of us work our asses off and hope that some day one of us can stay home with the baby. (Or if we win the lottery, both!).

    • says

      Kudos to you both for doing what you do, and for you hubby for being open to be a SAHD. Best of luck with your goal of one of you being home with the kiddo.

      And yes I can attest to the business world being male-dominated, sadly. Hopefully companies that recognize and promote women are on the rise.

  6. says

    That was actually one of the big deciding factors for us for my hubby staying home. We realized that he would be working more hours than me (I work 3 days at work and the rest at home) and would miss out on a lot more. Especially since as a mama, I think its easier for me to stay closely involved while working than it would be for him.

    • says

      Sounds like you guys have a great arrangement! Do you think that we being moms and women make us more likely to be more involved? On our facebook page, another SSBE reader and I discussed whether we’re inherently more likely to put in the time compared to our male counterparts because we’re women, as in we’re biologically more inclined to do so.

      • says

        I think its more than just a putting in time issue. I think kids are set up to want mama more when they are little. They’ve been in our tummies for almost a year and we’re the only environment they know. Then we nurse them and have the source of all goodness right there on our chests. Mamas have a cuddly, safe feeling for babies. Dads are needed too but in a different way.

  7. says

    Yes, I do wonder that. The first three months I was home with my son I kept saying to my husband how lucky I am that I’m not missing out on his infancy stage. Then I realized how insensitive I was being (he never said anything, it was the look on his face).

    The minute my husband comes home, he grabs Oster and plays with him. He misses him so much throughout the day. I send a photo every day to my husband so that he can see a brief moment in time. It’s hard for him, I know, to be away from the boy. I also know that he loves his job…I mean really loves it. So I think he would have a hard time giving it up to be a stay-at-home-dad. Both family and work are apart of him and he juggles it well.

    • says

      Right; I wonder how many dads would be a bit insulted when they hear moms talking about missing out on their kids’ childhoods. I imagine they might think, “Gee, I guess *I’m* missing out big time.” lol. That’s great your guy balances work and family. My husband seriously misses our kid too.

    • says

      I think about that too MaryAnne, and how back in the day, it was much easier for parents to include their kids with their work. Of course, we don’t want to go so far back that kids are employed instead of in school, but it would be nice if parents can actually spend their work days with kids some of the time.

  8. Kris says

    If I recall correctly from my college courses, men are statistically less watchful than women. This is more than definitely backed up by what I have witnessed. Beyond that there seems to be a definite difference in the amount of patience and self sacrifice men are willing to exert (I won’t say able because I have a feeling they COULD).

    It reminds me of a volunteer job I did where management told me they were always happy to get women because a woman sees what needs to be done and just does it. Where a man needs to be directed at every turn or simply stands around waiting for direction.

    We have a young baby and I can recall rather recently where we had gone to the dog park in separate vehicles to keep the dogs from trampling the baby. On the way home I decided to take the vehicle with the dogs so I could stop at the grocery store. I was probably 45 min behind my husband but our son had decided to be exceptionally ornery (not unusual for him). You’d think my husband had been through the 3rd world war by the time I made it home.

    So no, I don’t feel particularly bad for dads missing out because they simply aren’t suited to doing as good a job as moms to begin with. Call me sexist but if the shoe fits…

    • says

      Haha it’s amazing what moms can consider as ‘normal’ that dads think is catastrophic 😉 I haven’t heard of the research saying women are more suitable for the job. But I did read about microlending, and how women, when given the opportunity to borrow money to further a business, tend to take that money and invest it into her family. Men on the other hand are less likely to invest it into his family. I found that interesting for sure!

  9. says

    Yes! Thank you, Nina!

    My husband & I don’t have children yet, so of course we don’t have all of the answers and everything all figured out, but our *plan* is to both work once we do have a baby. I’ll get maternity leave automatically and he will ask for paternity leave if he isn’t still in college, and after that leave we would ideally like to work separate schedules so that we can take turns during the day and then all be together at night. I grew up in a home where my mother was there all of the time and dad was only home if he was unemployed. I missed out on valuable time with my father, and now that I’m married I feel like I’ll never really get back what I didn’t have as a child. I understand that mothers may be the more nurturing ones, but we should at least give fathers a chance to try and be just a nurturing! Fathers are a very important part of the family unit, and they are NOT there only to to provide for the wife & kids.

    Thank you again!!
    Shaylee Ann recently posted..Your Best // Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Shaylee Ann! Regardless of work or not, men shouldn’t definitely be held accountable for parenthood as much as mothers. I don’t really think working or not has much impact on how well a person can parent, but rather how engaged he or she is with the kids!