Lessons of 2020: Good Boy Syndrome

Hindsight is 2020, right? Well, even though it’s almost in the rear view mirror, I’m left facing some hard truths.

Thanks to a Brene Brown podcast, I stumbled upon something I didn’t have a name for… the so-called “Good Boy” or “Good Girl” syndrome. Apparently this was driven into me at an early age but I didn’t realize it until I saw that it was missing from my kids.

set of photos and toys on table
Photo by Maria Lindsey Multimedia Creator on Pexels.com

Let me explain.

My daughters are amazing people. They help others frequently because they feel motivated to do so. But they don’t feel compelled to do so at home except in rare cases. As a result, I feel compelled to follow behind like a dutiful parent, attempting to clean up their messes and fix whatever I can, usually without being asked.

Not sure if this is good or bad for them. Ultimately I feel it will bite them in the butt. In my case however, I see this as a problem I need to solve for myself.

I was trained at an early age with a few simple phrases to lead my life:

  • Replace your divots. (Apparently a golf saying, though I have never played golf.)
  • Leave no trace. (Hiking adage.)
  • Leave a place better than you found it.

Essentially they are all saying the same thing. If you enter a place, you should try to clean it up so that it’s better than you found it and your presence really can’t be noticed. It’s similar to the “children should be seen, not heard” or “look, don’t touch” sayings that crowd my head. Children, when I was growing up, should be well-behaved, quiet, respectful, and invisible.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Well, my daughters are usually the brightest, loudest spot in any room. Definitely not wallflowers. Invisible, my ass. And they give no shits about who they’re offending apparently.

I think I decided subconsciously years ago that MY kids wouldn’t be raised with the same constraints on living that I was. We traveled. We bought stuff. We didn’t live like we were living paycheck to paycheck like my family did for much of my childhood. And my kids’ behavior later in life was an unforeseen consequence of that unconscious decision.

So now I’m caught in the valley between what I expect of my own behavior and what my kids are doing. They’re not falling into that same trap of “good boy” syndrome I am. And as a result, I’m usually the one cleaning up everybody’s messes. Our children. Our dogs. Whatever.

Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash

Just today, so that I felt “freed” enough to sit and do some writing on a few projects — I took care of an unwritten list of things in my head. Print something for a kid. Deposit some checks. Clean up the kitchen. Fold blankets on the couch. Pick up parts of a destroyed dog toy for the umpteenth time. Throw food away.

Some of these things I asked my daughters to do before I left for the bank. And they did none of them. Not like I really expected them to. But that doesn’t help me. I feel guilt when I don’t fulfill that role as a “good boy” — like I’m going to get punished for not doing what’s expected of me.

My punishment in this case is being irked by the fact that they’re not done and feeling like I must do them to get them done. This makes me a good husband. A good father. A good dog owner. A good boy.

Photo by La Miko from Pexels

Recognizing the problem is a good start. But now I need to figure out how to shake that before I lose my mind.

It’s true that 2020 taught me many lessons about some of my own perceptions and behaviors. I’m hopeful that 2021 gives me some answers or tools for how to deal with them.

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