Over the last few years being a parent has brought me more joy than anything else in my life. It’s been such a wonderful experience that has caused me to look at the world in different ways. It has also been a catalyst for many areas of personal growth the most obvious of which is Patience. However, I have experienced one negative emotion about being a parent that most people don’t warn you about. That feeling is Working Parent Guilt.
The feeling of guilt can crop up in many ways as a parent. These situations almost always boil down to one of two themes: Lack of Time or Lack of Money. For me the guilt has been more centered on the Lack of Time as it is my scarcest resource. We are not wealthy, but we typically have enough money to cover our needs.
Through some investigating I found that guilt is a common emotion for present day fathers. Research from the Pew Research Center found that in their 2016 poll, 63% of fathers say they spend too little time with their kids, compared to only 35% of mothers. Also, only 39% of fathers said they were doing a “very good job” raising their children. Both of these statistics show that the majority of fathers struggle to find the time they feel is needed for their kids.
The interesting part about this research is that it also shows fathers are now spending more time with their children than at any other time in the last 50 years. In comparison to 1965, fathers today (2016) spend 3x the amount of time on child care each week. So why doesn’t all of this extra time feel like enough?
After reflection I found the real question is: Why doesn’t all of this extra feel like enough TO ME? This feeling has everything to do with me and very little to do with my kids. Both of my kids are happy and relatively social and well adjusted. I’m sure they would like to spend more time with me, but it seems to have very little if any negative impact on their actual well-being. On the other hand, I feel like spending more time with them would have a significant positive impact on my well-being.
This nugget of insight is great, but the real question is what actionable steps can be made to improve my situation. To attack this problem I used the same “Optimization” mindset that is useful across many FI type situations. What I discovered is that perhaps I could replace more quantity with more quality to get the same positive impact.
STEPS TO TAKE
An article titled “Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter?” supports this quality over quantity theory. The study found no relationship between the amount of time parents spend with their children and the children’s outcomes. In fact, one particularly harmful factor was when parents were “stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious”. So if I don’t push to eliminate my guilt that could actually have negative consequences.
My plan moving forward is to focus on maximizing the time I do have with my children by being more present. I am intentionally removing technology like TVs and cell phones from these settings to improve the communications. I am also being more proactive about planning interactive activities that create rich memorable experiences. My wife and I are typically home bodies, but I understand that sitting around the house will not suffice if I want to create long lasting memories. I am already developing a list of places to go (zoos, museums, beaches, etc) and activities to do (art projects, science projects, etc.) to start down this path. Even this process has boosted my mood as I look forward to completing these experiences together. So far the research seems to be right. Hopefully my drive toward quality over quantity will continue to minimize my guilt going forward.