Handball with guilt and a lemon twist

I don’t take many holidays off. I’m our sole earner (ok 99.5%) and people come to therapy on holidays. So it was a HUGE deal that I took off President’s Day, but I felt l owed it to myself, my wife, and most of all, my son, to skip work and hang around the house for some quality time.

Since KD is an only child, I’m his main playmate around the house. Over time, we’ve developed a “handball” game we play in his room, which feels like a combination of Twister and spinning in circles until you get dizzy and throw-up. We usually play to 25 or, at most, 50, but keeping in mind my commitment to spend time with him, I agreed to play to 100. When the score was 85-78, we had a long, exhausting point, and I was dizzy and done. I narrowly avoided bruising my knees during a date with the porcelain.

I let him know this as I waved the white flag and took a break. Lovely child that he is, he told me I should have played until I did throw-up, and then, without even offering peppermint tea to settle my stomach, announced that it was time for a “family Monopoly game.”

Aside from playing Candyland or Chutes and Ladders, both of which belong in your shredder or the dump, there wasn’t anything I wanted to do less than play the game that never seems to end. Yet, I was ready to put my jammies back on, choose the thimble and settle in for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, my wife made an immediate trip to the gym compulsory, and I was gone in 60 seconds…

Looking back, I’m curious about my willingness to play until I teetered on the “vomit precipice” and then settle into a game I had no desire to play. I know I wanted to spend quality time with KD, but playing handball that long was a horrible idea. I needed a chance to rejuvenate and take care of me, yet I was willing to skip the gym for board games. Makes no sense.

I ultimately realized just how much guilt and shame guided my decisions. I’m not around much, and I feel guilty. I work too much, and I feel like a bad dad. I’m not always attentive when I’m with him, checking my phone obsessively for work (and socially) related stuff, and I feel terrible.  After all, he’s kind, a ray of sunshine, considerate, generous, and sees the good in people. So I should want to play with him for as long as he wants in whatever ways he wants…

All of us are guided in little or big ways by guilt and shame in our parenting decisions. Maybe you were angry or edgy the night before. Feeling badly, you make sure you’re extra nice the next morning. Maybe you’ve said “no” 49 times in a row, so the 50th time you say yes (even if you don’t want to). Maybe you and your spouse split-up, and you bend over backwards to try to be perfect when they’re with you, spoiling them in the process.

My point isn’t to judge any of us for the choices we make that are guided by our shame and guilt. In fact, some are appropriate. I’m not around as much as I’d like, so spending extra time with KD makes sense. If you’re angry and blow-up on your kid, doing nice things as a way of making amends makes sense. Still, I encourage you to check your motivations and consider if the decisions you make are in your kid’s and your best interest, or just an attempt to help you feel better.

Until next time…





One Response to Handball with guilt and a lemon twist
  1. elizabeth
    April 9, 2016 | 9:10 am

    We all have a bit of guilt in a variety of life situations.. We have to try to minimize the guilt with positive thoughts etc, but realize that we all have to take care of ourselves so we will be able to enjoy the sometimes tedious moments.

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