Mental health: Don’t worry about ‘dad guilt’

It’s something most fathers suffer from, but anything that puts your wellbeing at risk is not worth it, says expert Tommy Hatto.

dad guilt working dads


Although I am not a dad myself, I work with many dads to improve their own wellbeing, as well as with companies on their own corporate wellbeing responsibility. I’ve seen some of the challenges that working dads face within the workplace.

Being vulnerable

In a study conducted by the Priory Group, 40% of men admit that they have never spoken to anyone about their mental health. This can be attributed to the fact that there is still a negative stigma attached to men discussing their mental health. Traditionally, societal gender roles have portrayed men that show emotion as ‘feminine’ and ‘weak’, and dads at work should ‘have it all together’, however supressing these vulnerabilities can make things even worse. Regardless of gender, we are all human. There’s no difference between men, women, or children when it comes to our mental health, and we all have a right to express what’s on our minds. Navigating parenthood isn’t an easy task, so being comfortable to feel you have an open and safe environment at work to discuss your worries is important. It’s important for employers to recognise that they need to create that environment for their employees.

It’s also not weak to show vulnerability. It’s one of the bravest things one can do, and fearlessness can be measured through vulnerability.

You can’t give your best if you don’t prioritise yourself

The analogy that always springs to mind is around putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. The response that is usually triggered by dads to this statement is dad guilt. There’s the expectation that dads need to be selfless; they should be working hard to provide income for the family, especially in the current economic climate. The truth is, until you can learn to love and take care of yourself, you can’t completely love someone else in a way that is pure and true. You should not feel guilty for setting aside time just for you, whether that is through reading, playing football or catching up with friends.

Paternity leave and pay

That dad guilt can creep back up just after children are born, and it’s time for you to go back to work after 2 weeks (the average UK paternity leave period). The guilt at not being able to form a bond with your new child or support your partner through such a crucial stage in your new-borns’ life can bring a lot of anxiety and stress, coupled with unfair paternity pay. It’s important to be upfront with your employer and see what options you have available to you. Don’t be afraid to raise a question around flexible working.

The balance between work and life

Since the pandemic, most companies have now moved into a hybrid state of working. Getting this balance right can be challenging, and on top of the additional layer of complication when the lines between work and personal life begin to blue with remote working. Propose a flexible working solution with your employer, explaining your reasonings and set yourself non-negotiable boundaries. Commit to when you complete a work task but commit to spending time with your family.

Remember, a good employer is one that cares for the wellbeing of their employees and creates a safe-guarded environment to meet the needs of those. If you haven’t already, enquire to see what policies and benefits your workplace has in place for working dads. They should also have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) in place, who offer plenty of support and advice.

Read more:

A guide to lasting powers of attorney

Ollie Ollerton: How to build resilience in children


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