Dads Suck At Being Moms

December 20, 2010 in Fatherhood Insights  

Dads Suck At Being Moms

The last few days have been tough — sick kid, got better, then got sick again… It’s been a long time since he’s had a normal night of sleep, which means it’s been a long time since he’s been enjoyable.

This weekend it got even worse, and I discovered something about myself as a dad. I was at the company xmas party when I get the text from my wife (she went home early. #cigars): “He hasn’t stopped crying, I need you home now.” Well, sh!t.

It ended up being a looooo000ng night. Half drunk dad sobering up at 2 in the morning walking his wide awake 2 year-old around a dark downstairs, holding it up because it’ll start screaming like a banshee if it get’s put down, or if dad tries to sit, telling it stories, whispering, trying so hard to get it to tire out.

It takes several hours, but by 3am I’ve got him in his bed and he’s only crying a little bit… the kind of cries that turn into sleep. And he sleeps. For 3 hours. And I’m up again with him.

It’s been a long weekend. You’ve probably been there before.

The New Dad Trend

The sum total of watching my son this weekend has been that I feel pretty much like a bad father. I could barely handle it. I could barely survive the incessant screaming and wining and unhappiness and unhappy-ability of my son, my sick lil’ 2 year old who doesn’t know what’s wrong except that he feels like shit and wants it to stop and the crackers aren’t helping.

I’m not supposed to be this bad at fathering… it’s not supposed to be this hard. I’m one of those “new dads”, the ones who are changing the face of fatherhood.

New dads today are, generally speaking, more involved in the child rearing than previous generations of dads. There are several articles about this switch. Not only are many new dads today coming out from under the emotional aloofness of their own fathers’ fatherhood, but the economy has forced many dads into staying at home with the kids.

New dads are arriving on the scene these days with this internal compass, a knowing, a pressure, that they need to be involved with the kid, with raising and diaper changing and feeding and breast-feeding, etc.

There’s The Trend, And There’s You

This weekend I wanted to make my sick son feel better; I didn’t know how. I wanted to put him down to sleep; I didn’t know how. I wanted to engage him and help him play and enjoy himself the best he can; I didn’t know how. So I just ended up holding him and walking around for 18 hours.

I’m wining like a little bitch about this, I know, but there’s a point. My picture of fatherhood, my model or definition of being a dad, is constantly changing as I learn more about myself, about marriage, and about kids. Today I feel very much the difference between moms and dads, between women and men, and that signal is seriously messing with my “new dad trend” picture.

I don’t think I could ever be as “good” as my wife in the sick-kid scenario — she’s so naturally confident, creative and experienced when it comes to the nurturing, etc. She’d get exhausted and it wouldn’t be easy, sure, but she’s got some internal tools in her belt that were built for this kind of thing.

I, on the other hand, just have this hammer. [SMASH!] It doesn’t mean I don’t have to watch my son when he’s sick, or give up when I don’t feel good at something, it simply means I don’t have to beat myself up when I’m not a natural at something.

Dads Are Horrible Moms

There’s being present and involved, and there’s being present and involved. What I’m trying to say here is:

Hey, new dads, you’re going to want to be really in the grit with your kid and wife, raising your kid, proudly wearing spit-up, engaged, connected, with a proven track record, etc. But you may have some moments where you’re trying and trying to be good at being with your kid and you keep failing, reaching the bottom of yourself, of your energy, of your hope, and you’re left with a lightly sleeping kid and a whole lot of despair about being a dad, about whether or not you’re cut out for this.

When you get there, just re-group, reset, and be honest with yourself: You make for a shitty mom. And that’s how it’s always going to be. You bring different tools to parenting [SMASH!] and you gotta play to your strengths. Right now you may have an infant and you don’t know how to breast feed, or you may have a toddler and you don’t know how to survive the suicide hours… whatever it is, don’t beat yourself up for hitting your limits, for not fitting perfectly into the “new dad” model.

This isn’t an excuse for you to fail, dads. This isn’t your “babe, i just can’t handle that right now” card. This is just a manly slap on the back for when you hit the bottom of yourself as a dad. Walk it off, be yourself, team up with mom, and play to your strengths. [SMASH!]

photo credit: don.reid

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

Aunt Esh December 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

“This weekend I wanted to make my sick son feel better; I didn’t know how. I wanted to put him down to sleep; I didn’t know how. I wanted to engage him and help him play and enjoy himself the best he can; I didn’t know how. So I just ended up holding him and walking around for 18 hours.”

Ah, but you did know how… because you did exactly what HE needed at that moment… and that’s being a good new dad! xoxoAE


Tyler December 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

I agree with Aunt Esh. It is at those moments you described as feeling most like you were a bad dad that you were truly a good dad. And that’s coming from one of those “new dad” stay-at-home “internal compass” guys.


ChopperPapa December 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Those ‘new dads’ would have had the same challenges and struggles as you did. Any if them that tells you they enjoy this part of parenting, well, they don’t. I have two kids, been solo most of both of their lives and there are times when, quite frankly, I wanted to drop kick them off of the deck for any number of reasons. It’s part of it, we’re human, and with toddlers they can’t always pick up their head and give you a diagnosis of what the problem is.

And believe me, things that your wife is bad at, you’re going to be or are great at. That’s teamwork.

Keep the faith!


Metroknow December 20, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I have a little Dad-hack/ trick for you (and this not professional advice – but it worked for me particularly with our kids as infants (not sure I tried it in their 2’s, but still)):

Ear plugs.

When I was going to college I worked as a cabinetmaker. One of the things I quickly discovered was when I used the table saw – the industrial, finger-eating insanely powerful cabinet saw, to be exact – I discovered that when I didn’t use earplugs I was very intimidated by the sound of the saw. I got nervous, which lead to potentially disasterous mistakes. When I put earplugs in, suddenly I was much more confident, and less rattled. I could still hear, see, and operate the saw, but without the amped up fear factor. Excess fear became respect for the saw.

When you are holding an incessantly crying infant the trick works too. When you’re holding an otherworld-sounding holy-crap-this-is-a-possessed-screaming-child in your arms, and you just can’t find what to do to help sooth them, I found that putting in earplugs while I rocked them 100% took the edge off. I felt way more able to handle it because the volume was much lower. Adrenalin dropped, and I got my head on straight.

I should mention that earplugs are also not an all or nothing deal – you can adjust them so that the sound is just below your audio pain threshold. You can still hear things, it’s just not as piercing.

Good luck man. The bad news is the sleep thing comes and goes with the wind and the tide for the next few years. The good news is you get better at it the more you do it. :)


Portland Dad December 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm

It is those rough weekends that the parenting rubber hits the road. You feel inadequate, less than is necessary and then feel guilty for no longer wanting to be that idealized version of DAD you held so tightly. When you try to be mom you will always fail but a lot of the things that I do for the boys my wife can’t do as well and I am super thankful that we are in this together.


Lars December 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm

You had a hard weekend, and that’s just though. Really, really though. It can make you doubt everything. But, you pulled trough, because you have to – and sometimes in parenting (and in life), that the only thing that keep you going: you have to.

You say it proves you (and dads in general) “suck at being mums”. I don’t agree. Mums have as much of a hard time with this stuff and fathers.

However, it does sound like you care around that “fix it meme” that so many men were brought up with. You see a problem, you want to fix it. Your kid is unhappy or in pain, you want to *do something* that will make it go away, fix the problem, make the kid have a good time. Your wife is sad and down, you probably want to fix that too. Well – the “fix it meme” is a good thing to have picked up when it comes to cars and roofs and unhappy customers, but with people, not so much. The trick is to realize that you can’t “fix it” when you son is like that. You can hold him and be there, that’s all. That’s exactly what he (and your wife) needs. You son is not looking for a knight to come slay a dragon (and rush back to the party). He’s looking for a dad to be there with him for 18 hours straight.

Maybe the reason you wife appears to be doing better is that she knows this. She probably was not brought up to be a “fix it” person. And notice that even then, the needed you to be there.

It’s so easy as a man to fall for the “oh, women are just better at this stuff” line. In my experience it’s not true. Men have to accept that sometimes it’s no fun, sometimes it’s long hours and unhappy kids, and that often there’s no brilliant fix. Men have to accept that being a father is very different from being the knight on the white horse.


new dad February 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Your wrong I’m a great mom and I couldn’t go with trying to do everything in my power to make my kids life the best and the happiest it could ever be .


ThatGuyKC March 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

Seriously love this. I’m staying home w/ my daughter today because she’s sick. Linked to this post on my blog.


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