The Inner Struggle of Dads on Family Days
If there is no struggle, there is no progress – Frederick Douglass
In traditional one-income families, such as ours, family days give us Dads an opportunity to take a break from our work and to spend time with our wife and children. Overall, these days can be very positive. They allow us to bond with our family. They help us temporarily forget about work problems. They serve as well-deserved breaks from everyday routines. And, they give us opportunities to actually have some fun!
At the same time, however, family days can also be challenging for Dads. One challenge for Dads is that family days require a lot of energy. Most Dads get a taste of this during the week, to some extent, at family dinners or when they’re helping put the kids to bed at night. For my part, I’ve almost always been present for evening meals and bedtime routines. But, in the last two years, since I started working from home, I’ve also taken on a few extra responsibilities during the week. I now help homeschool our two youngest boys. I look after all our finances. And, I also assist my wife in resolving sibling feuds.
As much as we might help out during the week, however, the energy required of us Dads on family days is a whole other matter. There’s the work of planning. Making sure we have something to do. Figuring out how we’re going to do it. And, ensuring that there’s a schedule in place so it can all be done. Then there’s the bigger work of actually executing our plans. Getting the kids ready. Meal preparation. Child preparation. Transportation. The list goes on. Amongst all this, there’s also the ton of little things throughout the day that need to be done: diapers to change, spills to clean, clothes to wash, drinks to be poured, and young ones to be carried and cuddled. All of this work is a bit more manageable for our wives. But, at the end of the day, most of us Dads are lucky if we’re still seeing straight.
Equally as challenging for Dads on family days is stress. There are a few things during family day that can get my stress hormones moving. The biggest is the morning routine. Getting the younger children ready. Serving breakfast. And, then cleaning everything up. While my wife seems to handle these tasks quite fine, I’m usually stuck in my tracks trying to figure out how to shut off my fight or flight response. Another one is helping our kids transition from one thing to another. From activities to mealtime. From mealtime to nap. From nap to another activity. From the house to the vehicle. From the vehicle to the house. Just thinking about all these transitions is enough to get my heart beating faster.
Another challenge on family days for Dads can be an underlying sense of dissatisfaction. This can arise when doing mundane tasks throughout the day, such as changing a diaper, or getting kids dressed. But, it can also occur with more engaging things like having a one-on-one discussion with an older child, playing sports with the entire family, or going to an amusement park. Moms will admit that they feel dissatisfaction with a lot of these activities too from time to time. But, it can be a bit more common and intense with Dads on family days.
Dads have a tough time admitting that they struggle with exhaustion, stress, and dissatisfaction on family days. It makes us feel guilty. It makes us feel incompetent. But, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge these kinds of struggles. And, we shouldn’t feel guilty or incompetent because of them. The truth of the matter is that we experience these challenges on family days not so much because we’re horrible Dads, or because we have no clue about how to parent. We experience them, in part, because we are out of our element. On family days, we’re in the less familiar place of domestic life doing less familiar domestic activities. When we do things we’re not used to or skilled at, when we give more than we normally do, when our egos receive less attention than they do at work, the natural result will always be struggle in some shape or form. That’s just the way it is. And, there’s no way around it.
Of course, we can always lessen the intensity of our struggle during family days, to some extent, by trying to cultivate more patience, endurance and love over the long term. But, even with this additional help, we will never be able to get rid of our struggles completely. They will always be a part of our family day experience, just as they will always be a part of life.
Unfortunately, sometimes Dads can find themselves not just struggling with challenges on family days, but habitually stuck in them. We’ve all likely experienced this at some point in our lives. In these instances, however, it’s helpful for us to remember that there’s always hope for improvement. If we’re willing to put in the time and effort to help ourselves, anything is possible. It’s true that this can be a very difficult mountain to climb. It requires a change in thought. A change in our beliefs. Discipline. Prayer. Effort. Energy. Perseverance. And, a sincere attempt to be honest with ourselves about our internal state. But, we shouldn’t look at it like this. In many ways, we will never be able to climb this mountain fully. As Dads, and as parents, we will always experience struggle and failure to some extent. There will always be ups and downs. The better way to look at it is to see that our main job is not to reach the top of the mountain, but merely to climb it. In other words, our only task is to try. This is a more reasonable and accurate standard of success. And, this is something that all of us Dads can do no matter where we are in our struggles with family days or with family life in general.