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Is There Any Such Thing as 'Dad Guilt'?

Father and son playing in grass
Photograph by Getty Images/OJO Images RF

I found a gaping gender divide recently in my very own household. I stumbled into it when our daughter started attending a very social preschool. Once school started, my inbox was inundated with invitations from the other mothers: Anyone want to do yoga? A new cooking class started if you care to join us! Play date at the park after school—everyone's invited. I suddenly had new social invitations, which felt more like obligations that I had to contend with almost every day. It was a dilemma.

If I said no, I worried that our daughter would be ostracized because I wasn't doing my part socially. If I said yes, I knew I would end up frazzled and behind with my own work. Either way, I worried about the potential downside of my decision.

I kept telling my husband how stressed I felt about balancing our new social obligations with our already existing commitments. He listened compassionately, but he didn't understand. After all, these new social obligations were my territory. What did he know? I was the one who already knew every mother's name, her profession, and whether she was into yoga or spinning. My husband knew the name of only one other father, and that was because they knew each other before school started.

The final blow came last week. Tuesday night was the Moms' Club dinner that I was unable to attend because we had an out-of-town guest visiting. I waited until the last second to click my "no" response on the Evite. The morning after the dinner, I saw the moms animatedly rehashing the fun night and chatting about all the free champagne. It seemed like every mother attended except for me. Again, there was that familiar fear that my failure to show up for the mom's stuff could have some trickle-down effect for my daughter.

He never had to wring his hands in worry about how his social decisions might affect our children.

That same week, the Dads' Club hosted its fall get together at a sports bar. I asked my husband if he was going. His answer: "What Dads' Club?" Not only did he not know about the event, he didn’t know that the Dads' Club existed. When I looked up his event on our school calendar, I realized two things: 1) There was no RSVP for the event because it was simply "show up if you want," and 2) only a handful of dads ever attend.

Oh, the unfairness! Do you think my beloved gave a second thought to missing the Dads' Club event? He never had to wring his hands in worry about how his social decisions might affect our children.

I have heard other mothers complain about the differing social pressures on mothers and fathers. The common refrain is "Dads have it so easy." It's hard to argue with that generalization when it comes to socializing in a school community. When my email pings, I brace myself for the cascade of guilt that will follow if it's something that I am not able (or not interested) in doing with the other mothers. My husband never anticipates that one of his emails will result in the crushing guilt about whether his actions are adversely affecting our daughter's social life.

And if you ask me, that's not fair. Just once, I want him to worry about declining an invitation to join a fitness boot camp or get a group manicure. I know it will never happen, but I still long for more gender equality in this area. I won't hold my breath, but I will continue to send him copies of all the emails I get so he can appreciate the magnitude of the issue.

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