Making Time: Dad Guilt
Trying not to feel bad when you can’t be there

“Daddy, when you coming home? I don’t feel good and want to cuddle.”

My heart sank to hear those words from my 2 1/2 year old. I was out of town at a conference, and it was only the first of 3 nights I was going to be away. I had connected on a video call with Adam to check in and see how he was feeling, and that was the first thing he said to me.

The night before, Sarah and I had alternated between holding Adam around steam near the shower and cold outside on the front step to help deal with a cough that sounded more like a baby seal than our little boy. We had spent that morning at the doctor’s office with him getting treatment as he cuddled on my lap fighting a fever and visibly not feeling well. We waited for test results to see what exactly was going on, and how we could make our little guy better and take away his pain. And yet I knew as we sat there that I was going to have to leave him for a business trip right after we found out what was wrong.

As a parent at that moment, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there for them before. It doesn’t matter whether the kids were sick and you took off to take them to the doctor or stay home. You don’t think of all the times you have taken them to school, a party or event or even just been there to spend time together. When that one time comes that you can’t be there, the guilt comes on strong.

Yes, “parent guilt” is a very real thing. I’m pretty much always fighting the urge to second guess myself. Are we doing things the right way (whatever right is)? Are we doing enough (whatever enough is)?

Sarah and I have talked plenty about parent guilt before, but more from her perspective because she has generally had a job that, at times, required her to work further away from home with less flexibility to change her schedule. Since I am based from home and have my own business, I am lucky that generally whenever school calls or something comes up, I can be a bit more flexible to change my schedule and pick up whoever is ill.

This time however, I didn’t have that option. It wasn’t like I went away for pleasure or vacation. I had to be out of town for business, which rarely happens. I couldn’t just come right back home (and don’t think the idea of not going or leaving early didn’t cross my mind repeatedly).

I knew that Adam wasn’t just missing me, but he really didn’t feel well. I also knew the responsibility of caring for him would now be completely on Sarah. So not only did I feel guilty about not being there to hug Adam, I felt awful not being there to help my wife who was also clearly worried about what was wrong.

I barely unpacked my bags out of concern I would have to jump in the car and drive back home in the middle of the night. And I know that neither Sarah nor I slept very well that first night. But Adam made it through (with many visits from Sarah). Each of the next 2 nights after were a bit better as his cough eased, but his virus lingered.

One of the reasons we chose to stay here in South Jersey is because our parents are nearby, and it takes a village. So while I was away, we were able to lean on our parents for moral and actual support to help balance work, children and illness. This wasn’t the first time all these responsibilities have collided, and I’m not naive to think it’ll be the last. But the burden of the guilt I felt weighed on me so heavily that I realized how lucky I am.

When I got back home from my trip, both boys gave me the biggest hugs. Adam looked up at me with a wide grin and said, “Daddy! You home! Where was you? We cuddle now?”

“Of course!” I said and gave him a squeeze a bit harder than he probably realized.

Read More “Making Time” by Jason Springer


January 2023
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