Until I became a father I was pretty sure parental guilt
was meant to be a mum thing, reserved for those 'have it all' women who juggled stellar careers and super kids and as often as not let one (or sometimes both) crash to the floor.
Well, if it's any comfort let me assure you that, like wearing the papoose and wiping the bums, modern dads are really getting stuck in with the guilt thing too. I feel guilty much of the time, and it can make me really quite miserable.
I feel guilty about time spent late at work that I could spend with my kids. I feel terrible on those (mercifully rare) occasions when I miss bedtime and come home to find them tucked up asleep. When I take time to myself - to exercise, say - I spend the hour thinking that I should be spending it teaching my son to ride his bike.
Guilt has a way of nudging perspective aside, as I'm sure many of you are all too aware. In rational moments, I know that I'm a pretty available sort of dad, spending more time with my kids during the week than my dad spent with me (and I've turned out alright...ish).
But at darker times, when I've had one of those weeks which seems to be all about work and not at all about kids, I'm convinced my appalling paternal neglect will lead them into lives of crime or lifetimes of depression.
Media reports of research
into fatherhood and its effects are not helping, frankly. Philip Larkin famously said that "they f**k you up, your mum and dad" but up until recently most of us thought it was really down to mum. To produce well rounded, self-sufficient individuals paternal attention was useful, but maternal devotion was key.
But recent research seems to be elevating the role of men. That's a good thing, of course. As a thoroughly modern dad and I want to have an influence on my children's lives, beyond taxi-ing them to gym club and configuring the wifi.
But with influence comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes the creeping shadow of guilt.
Here's one example of how it works. A study published this month found that young men who suffer a lot of stress can father daughters more prone to psychiatric disorders. So - I started to ponder - was I stressed before Poppy was conceived? Was I anxious as a youth?
And does her habit of battering beloved Jelly Cat's head against the banisters when she's tired indicate incipient mental instability?
At least that's not something I can do anything about, or at least not any more. But other research is more immediately guilt-inducing.
One study conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle found that children whose fathers spent more time with them had a higher IQ and were more socially mobile in adulthood than those who received little attention.
And it wasn't enough that dads lived with their children. They had to be actively involved in their lives.
Similarly, a study published last year found that the less time children perceived they spent with fathers, the more likely they were to exhibit bullying behaviour, which was defined as being cruel to others, being disobedient at school, hanging around kids who get in trouble, having a very strong temper and not being sorry for misbehaving.
Counter intuitively, perhaps, perceived time spent with mums didn't have any effect. Time spent with dads was key.
Previous research has also found that time with dads has a major influence on how well and how early kids learn to read
, and how ready they are for school. The more science looks into these subjects, the more important the role of dads becomes.
And boy, isn't that a recipe for guilt. I've always sensed that time with my kids is important because all parties seem to get so much out of it, but now science tells me that time spent away from them could be damaging them in all sorts of terrible ways.
In my febrile imagination that means a couple of hours exercise a week is a couple of points off my son's IQ, while a long week of late nights at my desk is a week closer to my daughter's first brush with the law.
OK, that's something of an exaggeration, but like many of my dad friends, I'm experiencing a level of paternal guilt that I never expected.
So missing my children's bedtime can leave me miserable. I blame myself for my six-year-old's inability to ride his bike (I should be out with him more - I'm undermining his confidence - his friends can ride their bikes!). An angry word from my tantrum-prone two-year-old makes me fret that the foundations of our relationship are crumbling, particularly if I haven't seen her much that week.
When I was a boy, quality time with dad was a weekend thing, and during the week my dad worked and read his paper. But that's not enough for the have-it-all generation of dads.
We need more time at work to pay skyrocketing bills, we need time to ourselves because its good for us, and we need more time with our kids because experts say it's good for them. When something inevitably has to give, it makes this dad as guilt-ridden as any working mum.
- Showing favouritism
Are you sure? So you’ve taken just as many pictures of your second child as your first then? A study by scientists at the University of California suggested 65 per cent of the mothers and 70 per cent of fathers had a preference for one child - however subconsciously.</p>
- Doing their homework
One study shows that nearly half of parents have done their children’s <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/05/24/mum-petitions-for-abolition-of-homework/" target="_blank">homework</a> at least once. It seems many either can’t resist the temptation to help their children do well in their studies or would rather do it than spend their lives whingeing at them to stop watching telly.</p>
- Avoiding play time
It’s the ‘not now, maybe later’ syndrome. Your child wants you to read them a story or go the swings but you are ‘just too busy’. Or is it really that you can’t be bothered because you’re texting, checking emails or even watching telly yourself! Figures show that, on average, parents spend just 36 minutes a day <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2010/11/05/do-i-play-with-my-child-enough/" target="_blank">playing</a> with their offspring.</p>
- Using them as an excuse
Blaming the kids is always the <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/baby/why-having-a-baby-makes-the-perfect-excuse/?icid=parentdish|DL_2" target="_blank">perfect excuse</a>, whether it’s not having to go to a social occasion, the house being a mess, being late for work, forgetting someone’s birthday, the list goes on...</p>
- Bribing them with food
Whether it’s giving them chocolates or sweets as a bargaining tool for chores or simply to ward off a tantrum we often find ourselves bribing our kids. We’re probably well aware that research shows this could lead to obesity - but heh, anything for a quiet life?</p>
- Giving them a smack
For many it’s one of the biggest taboos. But there are plenty of parents out there who have given their kids a clip - even if it is on very rare occasions. A recent poll for ITV’s This Morning found that three out of four parents had, at some time, <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/10/19/should-i-be-banned-from-smacking-my-child/" target="_blank">smacked</a> their little ones.</p>
- Stealing their stuff
Surely not? Well have you ever eaten their chocolate gift from a relative - because you were ‘saving their teeth’. Sadly that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Findings from Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks showed that more than half of parents with children aged five to 12 have raided their kids’ piggy banks!</p>
- Fibbing to get them into a school
Ever found yourself in church pretending to believe, just because it will help get your little on in a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/back-to-school/how-much-would-you-pay-to-get-your-children-into-a-good-school/" target="_blank">school with a good reputation</a>? Around 50 per cent of parents are willing to fib about their address, religious beliefs or ethnic background to get their kids a better education.</p>
- Writing them a dodgy sick note
Did you feign <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/09/09/sending-your-child-to-school-when-ill-do-you-do-it/" target="_blank">illness</a> as a child to get out of games? Now, as a parent, you find yourself writing a sick note for the teachers, even though you know there’s not much wrong with your kid’s health. A quarter of parents admit to this one, while almost 50 per cent have taken their children out of school in term time to save cash on holiday costs, according to <a href="http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/" target="_blank">TripAdvisor.</a></p>
- Doing anything to get them to sleep
When it comes to getting some kip every sleep deprived parent has a guilty secret - whether it’s letting them stay up too late so that they just flake out, letting baby fall asleep on you, rather than putting it down in its cot or simply allowing them to sleep in your bed.</p>
- Swearing in front of them
You tell them off for using bad language, then find yourself uttering a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/04/19/there-are-worse-things-than-swearing-in-front-of-your-children/" target="_blank">foul mouthed rant</a> in front of them. When they later use the same words in public you say “they must have picked it up at nursery/school.” Some nine out of 10 parents have sworn in front of their children according to a report from <a href="http://www.youngpoll.com/" target="_blank">Youngpoll.com.</a></p>
- Giving them a treat breakfast
There are few parents who haven’t, at least once in their child’s lifetime, bought them a sticky pastry or bag of crisps instead of making them a healthy breakfast. In fact, figures reveal that half a million kids eat biscuits for their morning meal while more than 100,000 only have a fizzy drink!</p>
- Driving badly
You’re always telling them that their behaviour is dangerous and then you pack them into the car and drive like a nutter. One in four parents admit to having broken the speed limit to get their children to school.</p>
- Overloading the buggy
You’ve read the safety warnings not to do it, but which parent hasn't loaded up their child's buggy with shopping bags while scooting through town, blithely ignoring the chance of the whole thing toppling over? When they get a bit older you allow them to stand up in the shopping trolley at the supermarket too, another health and safety no, no.</p>
- Not having a sit down family meal
Did you know that children are 24 per cent more likely to eat vegetables if they sit down to a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/food/small-cheats-for-big-family-meals/" target="_blank">family meal?</a> But how often have you let kids eat their dinner in front of the telly? Only 30 per cent of families eat together at least once a week.</p>