Thriving in fatherhood (and leaving 'dad guilt' in the past)

Let's talk about the elephant in the room, dads. That nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach, the voice that whispers "You're not doing enough" every time you scroll through social media or see another dad at the park. It's the dad guilt monster, and it feeds on a potent cocktail of societal expectations, self-doubt, and the very real love you have for your kids.


We all want to be the perfect dad - the one who's always there for bedtime stories, coaching every soccer game, and somehow magically conjuring gourmet lunches for school. But the reality? It's messy, it's tiring, and sometimes it feels like we're constantly letting our kids down.

This constant guilt can morph into shame, a feeling of inadequacy that can leave us feeling paralysed and disconnected from our families. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even withdrawal from our parenting roles altogether.

But dads, there's a way out of this cycle. It's about identifying your values and building a sustainable approach to fatherhood that works for you, your kids, and your family dynamic.

What are your dad values?

Before we tackle the guilt monster, let's get clear on what truly matters to you as a father. What kind of dad do you want to be? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Quality time: Do you value spending concentrated, one-on-one time with your kids, even if it's just for a short period each day?
  • Work-life balance: Is it important for you to be present at every school event, or is a healthy work-life balance more crucial to your well-being as a father?
  • Emotional connection: Do you prioritise open communication and fostering a strong emotional bond with your children?
  • Discipline and guidance: Is setting clear boundaries and providing consistent discipline a core value in your parenting style?
  • Teaching life skills: Do you value imparting practical life skills and encouraging your children's independence?

There are no right or wrong answers here. The key is to identify the values that resonate most with you and your vision for fatherhood.

Taming the guilt monster with CBT

Once you're clear on your values, it's time to address the distorted thinking patterns fueling the guilt. Here's where cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) comes in.

CBT is a form of therapy that teaches you to identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Here's how it can help you silence the dad guilt monster:

  • Identifying triggers: What situations or events typically trigger your guilt? Is it missing a school play, or feeling overwhelmed by work demands? Understanding your triggers is the first step towards managing them.
  • Challenging negative thoughts: Once you've identified your triggers, challenge the negative self-talk that follows. For example, if you miss a soccer game, instead of thinking "I'm a terrible dad," reframe it as "I missed an event, but I'll make it up to my child next time."
  • Focus on your values: When guilt arises, reconnect with your core values. Remind yourself that being a good dad doesn't mean being perfect, but rather living your values in a way that works for your family.

Moving beyond the guilt: Building a sustainable dad role

CBT equips you with tools to manage guilt, but it's also about building a sustainable approach to fatherhood. Here are some tips:

  • Set realistic expectations: Let go of the pressure to be the 'perfect dad'. Focus on being present and engaged in the moments you do have with your kids.
  • Communicate with your partner: Talk to your partner about your values and expectations for parenting. Work together to create a system that works for your family.
  • Set boundaries: It's OK to say "no" sometimes. Setting boundaries with work, social activities, and even your kids allows you to be more present and engaged when you are with them.
  • Practice self-care: Taking care of your own physical and mental well-being is crucial. Schedule time for activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, exercising, or spending time with friends. A well-rested, happy dad is a better dad for his kids.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection: Change takes time. Don't get discouraged if you have setbacks. Celebrate your progress and remind yourself that you're becoming the best dad you can be.

Remember dads, you're not alone

Time to do something about the way you've been feeling? Don't waste another day and book in today for your free consultation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol BS8 & BS2
Written by Tom Holland-Pearse
Bristol BS8 & BS2

Tom Holland-Pearse: Qualified therapist (9+ yrs) in NHS & private practice. Empowers individuals to navigate life's challenges & build emotional well-being.

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