I'm constantly walking a parenting tightrope

Alex is a five-time world champion rower who won Olympic gold in the coxless fours at London 2012. He will be writing a monthly column for Sport in the run-up to Rio 2016, giving a unique insight into the preparations and pressures faced by our Olympic athletes.

Alex is a five-time world champion rower who won Olympic gold in the coxless fours at London 2012. He will be writing a monthly column for Sport in the run-up to Rio 2016, giving a unique insight into the preparations and pressures faced by our Olympic athletes.

Does the feeling of guilt ever leave you? I’m genuinely asking this because, as a parent and a bloke, I just don’t know. I can’t say I went into fatherhood prepared in any way. I had no idea what was coming and how it would change our lives. As it happened, because of my job, not too much changed straight away.

I spent the first six months of my son’s life sleeping on the sofa, which suited me very well. As a serious athlete, my social life had already been limited to one quick shandy down the pub every couple of months, so no change there. But, suddenly, I was responsible for another person’s life for the first time in my own. This is make-or-break stuff, and it can keep you up at night – but, back then, it didn’t. I was too tired from training, and that sofa was beautifully comfortable.

Six years on, and I am now a father of three; the responsibility has grown, the workload has become enormous, the bills have expanded disproportionately and I only know marginally more about what I’m doing than I did back then. I’ll be honest – my partner Emily makes most of the childcare decisions, and I’m fine with that. She knows more than me and she’s better than me at that stuff. I would only mess it up.

My role? To entertain and excite the kids, then fumble around trying to pick up the pieces after the inevitable carnage. I do it one way, and it makes me feel guilty; I do it another, and it’s even worse. Am I being too soft or too hard on these little people who I love? Are they going to hate me for it?

I flop through the door after six hours of training, but only then does my day as a parent start. I have no energy to go on a bike ride, jump on the trampoline for an hour, take my daughter to swimming or play hide and seek while holding the baby. But I do, because otherwise I’m racked with guilt. Guilt that I’m not the dad they want me to be, or the one my dad was.

But then I worry about the next day, when I have to retain my seat in the boat by physically performing, laying my body and soul on the line every minute I’m on the rowing machine or pulling on that oar. What is more important: something I’ve spent my whole life aiming for, or the approval of my three children in the short time I have left as an Olympic athlete? It’s a constant balancing act that sometimes I get right, but more often than not I get so very wrong.

Which brings me back to where I started: this guilt that I find at every turn. Will it ever go? Probably not.

Posted on July 8, 2016 .