“Because then I would feel like an asshole!”
My wife and I were having a discussion recently about whether or not we should anchor our daughter’s dresser to the wall. This discussion came up after a facebook warning video showing a dresser falling on two young boys was shared on my wife’s news feed.
It was a scary enough video for us to re-evaluate how safe and toddler-proof our new house was for our 16-month-old daughter. Having seen her survive enough bumps to the head and having probably too much confidence in her self-preservation and intelligence, I brushed it off as not being necessary.
She’s a smart kid, she would know better than to climb up something that big… I thought, about the same child who had learned to climb an iron spiral staircase by herself before the age of one.
As this conversation progressed, however, it became clear there were other reasons why I was avoiding following through on anchoring her dresser. I admitted to my wife that not only did I not think it was that important, but that I actually didn’t know how to do it. As simple as it sounded to learn, I didn’t feel up to figuring it out.
“Why didn’t you just say that? I’m sure we could pay a handyman to do it.” — my wife.
“Because then I would feel like an asshole…” is what immediately came out of my mouth.
What I meant was that I would feel like a bad dad. In either scenario, I either don’t care enough to learn how to anchor a large piece of furniture to protect my daughter’s safety, or I have to pay some other more handy person to take care of a seemingly simple task.
This bad dad (or sometimes bad husband) guilt has held me back from starting, or finishing, a lot of home improvement projects. I’ve had mixed success fixing everything from light bulb fixtures to leaky faucets to installing backsplashes.
I have had considerably more success when working with my wife on projects like installing new floors or building dreaded Ikea furniture. In both cases, though, my anxiety built and built as it felt like the project wasn’t coming out well or the problem wasn’t fixed at all (looking at you blinking closet light bulb.)
Now every new problem or project that is brought up, even something so simple as anchoring furniture to the wall, I basically just avoid to prevent the anxiety and guilt from setting in.
This is not healthy! – This is me putting on my therapist hat…
Guilt is not a particularly helpful emotion, especially when it is not confronted in a productive way. What I mean is that when you go through life avoiding people, opportunities, or projects because you don’t want to feel the anticipatory anxiety (before) or the possible guilt (after) said interaction with that person, opportunity, or project, you miss out on a lot. Or worse, I put my daughter in danger because I don’t want to admit to these uncomfortable feelings about a (probably simple) project.
So what to do with this unhelpful guilt then?
Guilt can be helpful when it is confronted productively. In my case, that might look like acknowledging how I feel about the project to my wife so we can constructively identify a solution to the problem, instead of avoiding it altogether.
If I still feel guilty, I can apologize to her for putting this and so many other past projects off, and express my willingness to try again in the future. Or, I can just accept that I am not a handyman, and pay someone to do these types of tasks for us. After all, when the project is done by an expert, it saves me the anxiety of wanting it to be perfect and the time I would have to spend learning what to do and how to do it.
This has been a learning process for me. I am comfortable with emotions, but not so with a hammer in my hand. That’s okay! The sooner I accept it, the sooner I can focus on the things I’m actually good at and enjoy, like teaching my daughter how to climb, err, I mean read!