I don’t think there’s enough support for fathers and stay at home dads. Men also don’t share their issues and feelings as readily as women for some reason. As a result, I’d like to change this by sharing more fatherhood stories and raising awareness about what many fathers go through in silence.
After this post was published, Nature Will Dictate When Is The Best Time To Go Back To Work, a reader named Mike reached out to empathize with my situation. In the post, I had written about constantly being rebuffed by my then 27-month-old son, despite only wanting to love and play with him.
As a father to a three-year-old son, Mike told me he hasn’t been able to connect equally with his son as his wife has. When his son was born, he decided to quit his job indefinitely to take care of him. He was burned out from work after 10 years and thought now was as good a time as ever to take a break.
At about the 16-month-old mark, however, he noticed a change in his son’s behavior. No longer did his son latch on to him. His son started developing a stronger preference for his mother, despite she having stopped nursing at the 12-month mark.
As the months went on, his son’s ambivalence towards his father grew. At first, his son would want to play with him for two hours before calling for mommy. Then that time period shrank to one hour, then to 30 minutes, and now only to 5-10 minutes.
It didn’t matter if he greeted his son with a big smile and a bowl of his favorite yummy foods. He couldn’t capture his son’s loving attention for longer than 15 minutes. At least 60% of the time, his son would also end up crying while with him to the point where he’d have to go away to prevent a full-blown, head-banging meltdown.
This, in turn, put a strain on his marriage. He started getting jealous of his wife for receiving so much of their son’s love. They were also constantly exhausted and never had any alone time.
Mike felt like a tremendous failure because not only did he feel like an ineffective father, he was no longer providing financially for his family.
After 18 months of being a stay at home dad, Mike gave up and decided to go back to work. He didn’t want to get rejected everyday anymore. He would much rather face the stresses of work.
A Son Who Doesn’t Love His Father
Mike then told me something powerful, “I have a son who doesn’t love me, but a daughter who hopefully will. My wife is seven months pregnant and I’m praying things will be better the second time around.“
I congratulated Mike on #2. But I could sense his trepidation that his daughter may develop in the exact same way as his son.
It’s safe to say that a toddler doesn’t know what love is. Their minds are racing at 100 miles per hour, trying to comprehend emotions and all that’s happening in the world.
But when you are a father who gets constantly rebuffed over and over again, eventually you might feel that your child does not love you. You cannot help the way you feel. You just do.
As someone who put his career on pause for 18 months to spend every day taking care of his son, Mike wonders whether it was all worth it. After all, kids don’t remember much before the age of three.
Undaunted, Mike hopes that he should at least get a precious 18 months of bonding with his daughter before she, too, no longer wants to spend time with daddy.
What’s dangerous about how nature can create this lack of bonding dynamic with the father is that the father may want to spend less time with his children while young. If a child was always sweet and wanted to spend time with his/her father, surely fewer fathers would abandon their families.
Take a look at this chart by KidsCount.org highlighting the percentage of children under age 18 who live with a single parent either in a family or subfamily. It does not discriminate between single moms or single dads.
Roughly 34 percent of all children in America live in a single parent household. The data somewhat makes sense since the national divorce percentage is somewhere around 40 – 50 percent.
Below is research by the Pew Research Center which shows that roughly 21 percent of children under 18 live with a solo mother, up from 12 percent in 1968
Below is a further break down of the percentage of children who live with a solo mom by race. I assume the differences may be associated with a household’s economic situation. Another Pew Research Center analysis found that 30% of solo mothers and their families are living in poverty compared with 17% of solo father families and 16% of families headed by a cohabiting couple. In comparison, 8% of married couple families are living below the poverty line.
I never understood how a father could abandon his wife and little one. It made no sense to me why couples would divorce before their kids even entered kindergarten. But I absolutely understand why now!
Kids are exhausting. They create a wedge between parents. Resentment grows when there is perceived or a real imbalance in workloads. And it certainly doesn’t help when a hard-working, loving father, can’t receive the same amount of love back from his children.
It is only natural to want to spend time with people who want to spend time with you. If a child, for years, rebuffs his father’s love, maybe the father might become more distant. Maybe the father might even leave.
By the time the child comes around to realize how great it is to have a father, it may be too late.
Men Are Trying To Be Good Fathers
Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of men who feel the tremendous pressure of being main breadwinners, great husbands, and terrific fathers. It’s just not talked about enough.
A dad guilt epidemic is spreading because most fathers are not stay at home dads. As a result, they are constantly struggling with the guilt of working too much and not spending enough time with their children.
There must be some truth to the sayings, “mama’s boy” and “daddy’s girl.” My hope is that Mike’s son and my son will one day realize that having a doting father is awesome.
But until then, we’ll keep our heads down and focus on being the best fathers possible. I’ve slowly seen my son show more affection as he gets closer to three. I’m hopeful his affection will only continue to grow.
For fathers out there who feel like they aren’t connecting with their young children or making a difference in their children’s lives, here are some bullet points to consider:
- The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” No matter how ineffective you feel as a father, your presence, guidance, and love makes all the difference during the early years.
- It is natural for your child to bond more with mommy in the first three years given the biological connection. A child will gravitate towards the parent who spends the most time, provides the most love, and provides the most food.
- Sooner or later, if you are a good parent, your child should come around to appreciate your presence. You must hold on long enough until he or she does. Don’t give up. Give your child at least seven years to come around.
- While waiting for your child’s affection, keep busy by being a provider in other ways. You can always improve your household’s finances and provide for a better living environment. The separation of tasks is important.
- Ask mommy to encourage your little one to spend more time with you. Not only will she welcome the relief, it may encourage your child to open up more. You’ll also feel better that mommy is trying to balance the love scale.
- Don’t look back and regret not having tried your best. Even if your son or daughter turns out to never show the affection you want, at least you’ll know there was nothing more you could do. The same goes for having a child who doesn’t do well in life. The only way you can avoid letting guilt eat you up is by trying your best at parenthood. If your best isn’t good enough, then so be it.