Sometimes I worry that I’m a shitty Dad.
I know it’s not true but that doesn’t stop my mind from thinking the thought and worrying it might be true. Sometimes, just the fear something might be true is enough to make my anxiety elevate and bring on compulsive, negative thinking. And even with all my tools and all my knowledge, I still have moments when I doubt myself and ask the question, “Am I a shitty Dad?”
This morning was NOT a good morning! I got up later than I wanted to and spent far more time getting food ready for my day than normal. I’m working on getting back into shape so I bring food with me every day. This helps me avoid making bad food choices out of hunger and lack of healthy, available options.
My 2-year-old woke up began calling to me through the monitor, “Daddy, where are you?”
I needed 10 more minutes to finish up but it was obvious I wasn’t going to get 10 seconds from him. I rushed upstairs to get him, still thinking about all the things I still had to do before I left for work. I opened his bedroom door and he was standing directly on the other side of it! BAM! The door hit him in the head and jammed his big toe. I felt like shit!
I picked him up and tried to comfort him. The more I tried to comfort him, the more he cried. The more he cried, the worse I felt. He got hurt because I was rushing around and not thinking about anyone but myself. What an asshole I am!
But the more he cried and the more I felt bad, I noticed a shift in my emotions… I started getting angry that he was still crying. Not because I was angry with him specifically, but because I didn’t want to feel bad anymore. As long as he kept crying, I kept feeling bad.
‘Alright, already,’ I thought to myself. ‘Just stop crying so I don’t feel even worse.’
Eventually, my frustration got so elevated that my wife stepped in and took over so I could go ‘cool off’. (BTW, I am lucky to have such an amazing and supportive wife!)
I felt like shit! “What a sucky Dad I must be to get angry at a 2-year-old for being in pain,” I said to myself. I returned to the kitchen and finished the far less important tasks I was doing when he woke up.
I took a couple of deep breaths and I worked on refocusing my thoughts on his wellbeing rather than my own. I stopped worrying about getting ready quickly and tried to reframe my morning around making him more comfortable. Taking the attention away from how I’m feeling and putting it on how someone else feels tends to shift my thinking from the “it’s all about me” part of the brain to a more compassionate, empathetic, “I care about you” part.
This is one of the quickest ways for me to shift my emotional state when I get angry or frustrated. Stop thinking “ME” and start thinking “THEM”.
When he came downstairs, I focused my attention on making him feel better and my frustration eventually slipped away. He was still not 100% happy but at least we had a better morning moving forward.
So, today I was forced to face a fear I have; the fear that I’m a shitty Dad.
I’m not. I know I’m not. But sometimes I still think I am. I worry I am not going to be a good Dad and somehow screw up my kid’s lives. When this feeling arises inside me, I need to acknowledge it and work to understand where it comes from. We all have good days and bad days. The trick is changing those days to just moments. To not let something that happened for a moment linger and take up an entire day.
So, to all the Dads out there like me, the Dads worried they are not great Dads, and who think they will screw their kids up, my advice is this… keep trying. Being a great Dad isn’t about doing everything perfectly all the time. It’s about being there. It’s about spending time and learning ‘on-the-job’ about what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Sure, we are going to screw up. We’re not just Dads, we are humans. Don’t back away because you think you are going to make things worse by being involved. The best thing we can do is to learn, to grow, and to share our lives with our families. Every moment is special… even the shitty ones!