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.

This discussion isn’t anything new. We moms discuss all this and more: Some women battle with working mom guilt. Others have to 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 (as Taiia My Brown Baby writes).

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 talk about the double standard: Why don’t we ask these same questions of dads?

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 there’s some sort of biological, evolutionary explanation to this. Maybe women are the more nurturing of the gender and therefore would feel more inclined to consider staying at home. 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 can’t help but 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 trap on moms and place the decision on ourselves when maybe we need to start including dads in this equation.

There’s no doubt that 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 actually 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 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.

Have you wondered if dads miss out on kids’ childhood just as much as moms?

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16 thoughts on “The double standard of “missing out on kids’ childhood”

  1. 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.

    • 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. 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”.

    • 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. 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. 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. 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!).

    • 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. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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. 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.

    • 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.

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