Dad Guilt. It's a Thing

Little boy being shouted at by his dad.

I like to believe that I am the lawmaker in the family but that's simply not true. That position resides with my wife. Even though she hates it, when she has to be, she's the bad guy, the meanie and the hard ass. Me? I'm the marshmallow.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the pushover dad that let's my kids get away with murder. I can be a stern disciplinarian when I need to be. My problem is that I lack consistency and conviction. The bigger problem is my kids know this and they can play the fiddle with my heart strings.

Not tonight!

While I had a pretty successful evening with my 4-year-old, I knew that she was in a boundary pushing mood. She was loud in the bathtub, goofed around while brushing her teeth and refused to get in her pajamas. As my wife got her bed ready for her, I asked her upwards of 5 times to go and get sleeping socks. Each time I was ignored.

After getting her socks on and getting into bed, she looked up at me and ever so sweetly asked me to read her a story.

"Not tonight", I said. "You were rude to me and you really hurt my feelings."

The words visible stung her. I couldn't tell if she felt bad that she was losing out on story time or that she had upset me.

I pressed on, "Do you want to apologize?"

Shrug. Silence.

"Do you want to maybe say, I'm sorry?"

Another shrug. More silence.

"Okay then. Good night, I love you."

And with that, I turned out the lights and left the room.

I went into the room next door and waited. I expected to be called or to get an apology but heard absolutely nothing.

And I felt absolutely terrible.

Had she screamed and yelled and lost her shit I would have felt justified in laying down the law. Instead, my decision was met with stubbornness and deafening silence

While I had to admire my daughter's commitment, I was riddled with guilt. I thought about the fact that I had maybe created some awful memory that would live with her for the rest of her life. The time daddy made me feel guilty. I wanted like anything to turn on the lights, read her a bedtime story or 10 and make everything better again. But I couldn't.

We were in Stalemate City and the next bus wasn't until tomorrow.

Later that night, I checked on my daughter a couple times. And while I didn't read to her, I held her and kissed her. Most importantly, I told her I loved her.

I'm not absolutely sure if this was for her or for me. While she will probably fine tomorrow morning, I am fairly certain that the look of disappointment will be forever burned into my memory until the day I die.

It's not easy being a marshmallow.

(On a plus note, I watched my 10-year-old try to take cough medicine, so that made me feel a little better.)

Picture of Mark Medland

Author: Mark Medland

Mark Medland is a 40 something father of five who lives in Mississauga, Ontario. When he is not working at one of the big Canadian banks or raising his kids, he likes to cheer for the Habs and eat amazing food with his wife Vanessa.

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