Guilting Your Kids: A Cautionary Tale

I think I just did something I promised myself I’d never do. I just guilted my kids. Even worse, I did it about my wife’s cancer. (If you’re new to this and need background, see On Colons, Cancer, and Courage.)

Wait, ‘guilted’ isn’t a word? A verb, ‘to guilt’?

It should be. ‘To blame’ just doesn’t quite do it. ‘Accuse’ isn’t absolutely right. ‘Castigate’ is way too strong, and ‘censure’ simply doesn’t fit. I ‘guilted’ them.

We recently returned to Spain from a 3-week holiday in California, and the 9-hour time difference has been wreaking havoc with our sleep patterns. On the first night back our youngest got up at 3 am and demanded to be fed – so I got up and fed the beast. It was the first night, after all, and hey, the kid was hungry.

We all got up at 1 pm the next afternoon, and given the circumstances, that was fine.

It’s now been 6 days since our return and the kids are still a mess, sleep-wise. Not going to sleep for hours. Getting up multiple times for snacks, reassurance, back rubs, scratches, head massages, and general comforting. I’ve been taking care of some of this, but my wife has also been up and down dealing with their insomnia and general discontent.

I can hear them right now, in fact, chatting away when they should be fast asleep. They’re arguing about some minuscule and arcane aspect of one of their Lego creations. I want to kill them.

So my wife has gone back to work, and tonight she comes home, drops her bag in the hallway, and collapses on the sofa. I’ve made her a special dinner, since the Mexican corn soup that the rest of us are having is strictly off-limits for anyone with a colostomy. She’s insensate on the sofa, though, so the boys and I eat our dinner on the terrace without her.

After a decent interval I get the boys ready to sleep, and lead my wife to bed. Now comes the moment of which I’m not so proud, the thing I think was a low point (one of many) in my personal parenting portfolio.

“Mommy’s really sick right now,” I tell them. “And a big part of that is that she hasn’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. Do you know why?”

I pause to allow them a moment of personal reflection. “It’s because you inconsiderate shitwits have been refusing to go to sleep, and have been getting up at all hours of the night to plague her – and me – with your stinking freakin’ problems.” (Okay, I may have substituted “inconsiderate shitwits” with something more age-appropriate, but that was the gist.)

I’m itchy,” I whine pathetically, mocking their personal discomfort and theatrically scratching myself like a lunatic baboon. “I can’t sleep,” I moan, bashing my head against the wall and more or less ripping my nipples off in paroxysms of parodied pain.

The boys stare in what I can only assume is a state of complete understanding of their own misdeeds and contrition for their own failings.

“Mommy needs lots of sleep to be healthy,” I continue, more gently, “but she can’t sleep if you guys are screwing around night after night, keeping her – and me – up until all hours. So, could you just please, please, go to sleep?”

It seemed to work. They were quiet for a while, anyway. But now, as previously mentioned, I can hear them talking up there. And not the kind of tranquil, trailing-off murmuration that precedes sleep – no, they’re hissing at each other about their goddamn Legos.

I’m ashamed of guilting them. They’re just jet-lagged and can’t help it. We, after all, are responsible for dragging them halfway across the globe. I did a mildly bad thing, back there, and need to atone for it.

So, I’ll give them a few more minutes, then pop on up to see if I can help escort them to sleep. Sing lullabies, read stories, massage backs. Maybe. Or maybe my own jet lag will get the better of me again and I’ll crush their little psyches with guilt about making their mom sick.

Dammit, I suppose I really shouldn’t, though. Inconsiderate shitwits.

D and G sleeping entwined

The boys sleeping sweetly – some other night.

 

 

27 thoughts on “Guilting Your Kids: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Thanks for sharing this moment with your kids. We have all done it. I have been at home with our two kids for 5 or 6 years and have definitely had times when I said or did something that I later totally regretted. I remember talking with my wife beforehand that one little slip or moment can have an impact on their lives and I would never let that happen. But, it is so hard when you are tired, stressed out, or groggy and then you say or do something you regret…being a father is the hardest thing imaginable.

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    • Hey Jake. Yup, it’s hard, but it’s also pretty amazing. And I think we tend to worry a bit too much about screwing our kids up. I think it’s best just to be open and honest and admit to them that you’ve made a mistake, then get on with your lives. Kids are resilient little buggers, and as long as they’re getting a safe, secure, and loving environment, they turn out fine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and best of luck with the kids!

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  2. I think you were absolutely fair, mine would have been sent outside to sleep on the terrace. Yes, I’m joking, but only just. Sometimes kids need to be read the riot act, and your patience and tolerance of their shenanigans under the circumstances are laudable. Thanks for making me laugh, I always love reading what you write – you can always find a way of entertaining us with your brilliant swear words.

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  3. Sleep is really important… and Jet Lag is really tough for the family… and as long as you don’t do it every night, I think they will be just fine 🙂 We took the kids on a crazy 3 week European trip this past Summer and they did amazing… until we got back home… what a disaster… hey, at least yours stay in their room… ours got so use to sleeping in tiny spaces so close to us that they became scared of their bedroom at home that was all the way up the stairs… finally we are back in Cayman now in our 2 bedroom place and they are back to staying in their room… phew. Next Feb, we head to Cambodia… that should be interesting. PS- the fact that you have a sense of humor about it all, I think is a plus!! 🙂

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    • If you don’t have a sense of humor, you’re doomed. Sounds like you have a ton of fun with your kids, but yes, readjustment can be difficult. I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures!

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  4. I’ve been wondering how’s life been with you and your family. You’ve been a wonderful father and husband, it’s human and the kids are being what they are – kids too. Maybe just take a deep breath and count, as they say.

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    • Thanks, bebs. We’re good, although my wife’s chemo has taken a toll. Thanks for sticking with us and coming along for the ride. I take your advice, but substitute the counting with wine. Much more delicious.

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  5. I totally am with you on the not-so-proud moments in your parenting. All of you seem to under a lot of stress with your wife’s cancer, and the kids are (understandably) needing a lot of reassurance. They’re worried. They can’t sleep. Maybe you’re worried. You can’t sleep. And at times of stress, when we all (including the adults) just want to be comforted, it is SO easy to falter as parents.
    You’re human, and it’s okay to mess up. That’s what sincere apologies and a pledge to do better (and a plan to do better) next time are for. I spoke about Reiki helping with your wife’s cancer (as a complement to chemo, etc) before, and I hope that my bringing it up again isn’t ‘preachy’. I find that, for me, it helps me sleep, helps me to reset, and I think could probably help your whole family. If no one in the family can do Reiki for everyone, there’s also meditation that helps with relaxation, breathing exercises, there’s an energy practice I learned from shamanism called a de-coupling that you could easily learn and do with your kids to help them reset (it’s purported to help the body slip out of ‘fight-or-flight’ response into a ‘relax’ response, just like Reiki).
    Whatever you do, thanks for acknowledging that you’re not perfect, and being honest about where you are in your parenting adventure.

    Good luck to you all.

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    • Thanks, Juana. We still haven’t tried the Reiki, but it’s on the agenda. Like yoga. And meditation. We just need to get the ball rolling, I suppose, and investigate further. I’m very quick to acknowledge my parental shortcomings, but I don’t linger over them or beat myself up too much. Kids are understanding little creatures, and if you give them love, security, and, most importantly, your time, they usually turn out all right. Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments – it’s appreciated!

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    • It is indeed a splendiferous term, Eileen, although I’ve included it here simply for comedic effect – I don’t actually use it with the kids. But try it out with your adult kids – it’s never too late to insult your children just for laughs.

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  6. You know, parenting is full of moments of regret. We know we have made a mistake, and we dwell on it when we really need to move on. I still feel horrible about a situation with my daughter ten years ago, but somehow she managed to make it into her second year of college despite what I did. 😉

    It’ll be okay.

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    • Yeah, I actually don’t dwell on these things too much. Kids don’t, so why should we? Let it be a personal lesson and get on with your life. But blogging about it for laughs is fun, too. And ask your daughter if she remembers the ‘situation’ you had 10 years ago. I doubt she will, but it would be interesting to find out.

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  7. Mine stay up talking half the night. They can be real assholes sometimes. I bet they have awesome memories of it though so I’m not as hard on them as I want to be at the time. Shitwits is a new one on me. I like it.

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    • Feel free to appropriate that one, Underdaddy. And I think you’re taking the right approach. I remember lying in bed and talking with my older brother sometimes. Or clandestinely listening to the radio turned way down low. No harm done – in fact a great deal of good. Best of luck with your little assholes!

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