It’s one thing if you drop the glass or forgot to clear your plate from the table or didn’t switch on the alarm at night.
It’s another thing if you have a site called Love After Kids, are a psychologist and couples therapist, writing and developing articles and courses on how to reconnect after having kids.
Granted, all the degrees in the world don’t matter when you’re in your living room, but there’s something about getting down from the virtual pulpit only to be reminded that you’re doing so many of the things that you are advising against. (I’ll stop talking in the second person now).
And I don’t feel like I’m speaking from a pulpit, but still...no matter where you stand, it’s pretty crappy to feel like you’re being a bad dad and a bad husband.
I went to dinner with my wife last night, just the two of us. It’s something we don’t do often enough (Flag # 1). It was a beautiful humid Austin evening and we were happy to be out together.
I showed her a slide presentation for a course I’m working on. She gave me some feedback. The mist from the outdoor fans tickled our faces, as our forks tangoed into the gluten free fritto misto.
Then I made a comment about how I haven’t seen her working much lately on her project (Flag # 2). That’s just an invitation to fight. It’s punitive and condescending and it got her defenses up pretty quickly. I could’ve simply asked: “How’s it going with your project?”
Now my defenses are up. I hate to be told that I’m egocentric, or for it to be implied. How dare she? This just got the ball rolling for her. She also told me that I never want to talk about anything when it comes to making plans. I’m always blowing her off and making her feel like she has to wait for a small window to pounce on.
She told me the only person I’m happy to talk to and not an asshole with lately is our two year-old daughter, Emma. She flat out said I have also been an irritable asshole to our 11 year-old son, Eric (Flags # 3, 4, 5…I’m not counting anymore).
My son has been driving us crazy lately with his tween stylings. He’s always negotiating for more, or to do less, has a gravitational pull to his computer, takes most things for granted and never wants to try anything new. Run of the mill stuff, but it triggers the hell out of me. He’s a great kid and I often hold him to unfair standards. But I digress. This is the subject for another post.
So, I’m an egocentric, irritable, controlling, condescending husband and father (except to Emma). This just makes me feel like complete shit. I withdraw to lick my wounds for the rest of the evening.
I got my share of insults and counterpunches in too. I didn’t just turn the other cheek. In the morning, she came to me and apologized for throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me the night before.
Later, I sent her a text to set up a time when I could show her the finances, go over passwords, make plans for when we are in New York, book our flights to see her family in December and plan something for a week in August. I also told her I’d show her a cool program that she can use for her business.
Then I went to my son’s room and managed to peel the headphones from his sweaty pre-pubescent head to tell him that I’m sorry that I have been really tough on him lately and that I’m going to work on it.
It’s a start.
It’s so hard to deal with things like this. It’s so much easier to get defensive and self righteous and go on the attack. The feelings that come up are gut-wrenching. There’s an aloneness that I feel during times like these that makes me want to run away and hide. There’s a hopelessness too, as well as guilt, shame and self-flagellation.
But there’s nothing quite like that loneliness. It’s like the sheet was just ripped off this existential pit that’s been there all along. And when you look down into it, you know that all that has been between you and that abyss is a few hundred counts of cotton.
When things get addressed, apologies made and work is done to address the issues, it doesn’t take much time to feel like the hole is covered up again. And this is something I can say that Deb and I have gotten good at.
It’s when things like this get swept under the rug and into the resentment bank, that’s when it gets dangerous. The more you let accumulate, the more it eats away at the foundation. If you let it go long enough, the hole will open up.
Even though it will likely take more time and persistence, it’s still possible to clean if both of you are willing to do the work.
I just finished the slides for the first part of an online course I’m developing called Getting Unstuck. The course will address issues like these with examples and tools to address them. If you’re interested, please sign up below for updates and new posts. You can also follow Love After Kids on Facebook.