Do You Suffer from “Nice Guy” Syndrome?

In the post I published on April 19, 2016, I wrote about how our kids help us come face to face with our own issues, which often emerge during the parenting journey.

Today I want to talk about an issue that is common for many parents — fathers in particular — and how one dad discovered and learned from it.

I call it “Nice Guy” Syndrome.

Meet Martin — He’s a “Nice Guy”

Martin uses the same approach to parenting that he uses in other parts of his life, which is to work hard and be a nice guy. This is based on the belief that if he does these two things, he’ll be appreciated and rewarded for it.

Very often this strategy works quite well in business.


Because in the workforce, everyone knows they have to do their job, so if you approach your work with a modicum of competence, and you’re also a nice guy, you can do pretty well.

In parenting it often doesn’t work out that well.

Here's why being a 'nice guy' isn't such a great parenting strategy:Click To Tweet

Many kids need structure and support to succeed.

Otherwise they’ll become distracted, procrastinate, and simply fail to learn an essential rule of life: take care of your responsibilities first, and then enjoy the rewards.

Martin approaches parenting with lots of fun and rewards, expecting that if he’s a really nice dad, his kids will love him, appreciate him, and return the favor with “good” behavior.

So here’s how it played out:

The Results of “Nice Guy” Parenting

Martin’s son Jeff was struggling with his responsibilities and seemed overwhelmed and a little down and unhappy with the work he needed to do.

Martin decided to brighten things up by getting his son a new laptop.

Well, I’ll be darned if that didn’t brighten up his son’s mood quite a bit!

And then what happened?

Jeff started playing computer games with his friends and found all kinds of interesting — not to mention inappropriate — videos to watch on his new laptop. While he was certainly happier in the moment, he was not any closer to managing his responsibilities.

Martin got furious because, after all, he did this really nice thing for his son — and then felt taken advantage of.

He yelled at Jeff and told him he was ungrateful and lazy, and took the laptop away.

Predictably, his son argued that he couldn’t do his homework without his computer.

Martin and his son found themselves engaged in an ongoing dance about when and how the computer was to be used, while Jeff made absolutely no progress learning how to manage his responsibilities. Instead he constantly experienced Dad’s criticism and disapproval.

How did this happen?

All Martin wanted was to be a nice guy, and yet it backfired on him!

The Origins of “Nice Guy” Syndrome

When Martin was a child, he had a strict father who was highly critical. He would abuse and berate anyone he felt was out of line.

Martin saw how all his brothers and sisters reacted to their father, and it wasn’t pretty…

  • rebellion,
  • school failure,
  • running away,
  • depression,
  • and substance abuse were the results.

Martin wanted no part of that, so he toed the line but promised himself he’d never be like his father —that he’d always be a nice guy.

Deep down, and behind the “nice guy” mask that Martin wore, was the hurt of chronic criticism and injured self-esteem that had never healed.

When Martin and his son came into therapy, we focused on ending their Control Battle and eventually they were quite successful.

BONUS: Pre-order my book now, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. It’s available on IndieBound, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

And Martin learned some important things about himself.

Ironically, while trying never to be like his father, he discovered that he was doing to his son exactly what his father had done to him. Martin realized that he wanted his son to give him what he wished he had gotten from his father:

  • love,
  • validation,
  • and recognition.

Martin refocused his parenting goals and ultimately risked and learned that he could set limits, create structure, and give consequences all with a positive tone and still be a great guy. Jeff wasn’t always happy about the limits, but he dealt with them.

BONUS: Grab a copy of my self-assessment tool entitled, Is It A Control Battle?. This checklist will help you determine whether what’s taking place in your family is a healthy power struggle or an unhealthy Control Battle. You can download it for free just under this blog post.

Martin’s son helped him find and eventually heal his own issues.

And Martin also learned that having boundaries and providing leadership were part of being a truly great guy.

Posted in Parenting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *