(Guest post by my husband, Nathan Reiter)
I know it’s not the same, but it’s hard to leave. Backing out, seeing their faces pressed against the window, as I continue to move about my day, pretending as though life will freeze right there and wait for me to return. Ten minutes in, I read the text, “What time are you coming home today?” and my stomach immediately begins to sink. It doesn’t sink because I don’t want to come home; it sinks because the text means it’s starting off as another difficult morning.
Before having children, my wife and I always talked about sharing the parenting load, both physically and emotionally. And honestly, we do a pretty good job of it. But there’s something I truly can’t shake about being the one “working” full-time, feeling like I’m not helping at home during these physically demanding years, and asking if there are ways I can help from a distance when I know full well the answer to that question.
I’m not trying to conjure up any sympathy claiming I have the harder side in this relationship. I am fully aware that my wife is working harder than I am in a day and receiving significantly less compensation, praise, or gratitude. But it is hard— in a different way.
It’s complex…as a family, we’re committed to equality and breaking gender stereotypes, yet here we find ourselves—my wife working both part-time in her chosen career and full-time at home taking care of our girls while I drive away each day (so much for breaking down the patriarchal systems). And I won’t lie, I struggle with this.
My head is constantly filled with a barrage of questions:
How can I truly support my spouse in the ways that would make this stage more “equal” or restorative for her?
Is it okay for me to make additional plans to hang out with friends from time to time?
Would she want a date night tonight or does she just need alone time?
Do my girls ask about me when I’m gone?
Am I reinforcing the idea that only the husbands work and the wives stay at home?
As a dad in today’s society, I’m aware that my parental involvement is much higher than in decades past. I can’t help but think I’m not alone. I can’t be the only one with all these thoughts and questions and wondering if I’m doing right by my family. I’m learning that “dad-guilt” is a thing, too.
I want my girls to know they can grow up to be anything they want to be. And I just want to know I was present enough to show them how insanely bright and special they are beyond any doubt.
I know deep down that I am a good father. I can’t discount the nightly “horsey-rides,” the multiple book-readings, the just sitting with them and listening to the things they really enjoy and care about, and the before bed snuggles.
It’s just that sometimes the evenings and weekends don’t feel like quite enough. And I hope I’m as missed as I feel like I’m missing. And when my 4-year-old picks up her magic wand for another dress-up session, I do hope that at least sometimes, she makes a wish to “bring Daddy home early today.”