Parental guilt

I hate when I do something and realize, as I do it, that it is a mistake.

I can do this sometimes, as I imagine we all do, but I recently had an incident which made me feel like pond scum. It started with a bath.

The Little Man was taking a bath with Kelly and having a jolly good time. He’s been learning to float and loves doing that which is great since it makes it easy to wash his hair,¬†something¬†he loves less. Although Kelly was there with him, he would say, “Daddy come!” and when I entered the bathroom his face lit up and he pointed to the toilet and said, “Daddy sit down.” So I would watch him take his bath. The Little Man like it when the water comes out of the faucet and in particular, likes turning the knobs. He had turned the cold water on and was playing happily when he decided to turn the middle nob.

This activates the shower.

Shower water came spraying out, right onto Kelly who shrieked and said, “Turn it off!”

I didn’t realize the water was cold at the time, though it was hot, and jumped up to turn the water off. I said to Kelly, “Was it hot?”

“No,” she said, “cold!”

And then I did something I am completely ashamed of. I turned to the Little Man, splashing with glee in the tub, and for heaven knows what reason, I said, “No!” rather sternly.

I am still haunted by what followed. That gleeful smile melted away instantly. His little jaw opened up as if in shock. He turned out his lower lip and before any sound emerged from his mouth a steady stream of tears was already trickling down his cheek. Then he started to cry and cry loudly and longly. And justifiably so. After all, he had developed a system of justice that told him when he did something bad, Mommy or Daddy would get upset with him. But he hadn’t done anything bad at all, not even remotely, and yet here was Daddy telling him “No!” for no apparent reason.

As soon as I’d say the words, I knew I was wrong. I just couldn’t bite them back in time. Kelly and I (mostly Kelly) spent the next five minutes cleaning up my mess, trying to explain to a new 2-year-old that Daddy had made a mistake and the Little Man hadn’t done anything wrong and we were not upset with him. The whole time it felt like an icy cold hand was clamping down on my heart.

Fortunately, the Little Man recovered quickly. Much more quickly than his dad. He has certainly forgotten the incident but I never will. I can remember those rare feelings of injustice when I was yelled at for something I didn’t do, or accused of something I didn’t do and can remember swearing mighty oaths that if I was ever a parent, I would never make that mistake with my kids. So much for mighty oaths. I deserve this guilt and agony that I feel whenever I think about this incident, which over the last several days, has been frequently. I just hope I can learn from it so that the next time I am in a position for an irrational knee-jerk reaction, I pause for a moment to consider before kicking.


  1. If this is the first time you have done that in 2 years, you are an amazing Dad. You would be horrified if you came here.

  2. Hey — hot water scalds are really dangerous. If a little yelling imparts that he’s not supposed to touch the middle knob, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.


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