Friday, October 3, 2008

Avoiding The Blame Game

My name is Mom, and I'm a blamer.

Human Beings are known for several strong instincts. The Survival instinct is one we've all heard about. What about the instinct of a mother to protect her child? Who among us hasn't experienced that one?

There is an instinct, however, that is less well known. It has been passed from parent to child for generations. It is the Blame Instinct.

The Blame instinct is the tendency human beings have to seek out and identify, sometimes quite loudly and passionately, the person or thing directly responsible when things don't go our way.

As a parent, I find that I am constantly battling the blame instinct. I come by it honestly. My parents were great blamers. With six children, Mom and Dad had to sort out some pretty difficult lines of culpability. Often, the responsibility for bad behavior fell upon the oldest child involved in whatever shenanigans we got caught up in. Other times, particularly when something potentially fatal was narrowly avoided, Dad or Mom would assign blame to whomever was closest at hand.

"Dad, there was a fire at school today."


"Yeah, it was right outside our classroom. We had to escape out the window."

"Oh my God!" Dad would hold me tight, "Why didn't someone call me?!? And what were you doing in that classroom in the first place, young lady?!?!!"

I laugh at myself when, as a parent, I do the same exact thing. Mostly it is a sign of just how frightened I actually am. And if a person is not available, I will even blame an inanimate object.

Last weekend, my daughter fell right next to an upturned rake. Scooping her up, I said loudly "What idiot left the rake on the ground with the tines up?!? She could have put out her eye!"

My husband speaks up. "Honey, weren't you using the rake?"

"Stupid rake." I muttered, bringing my daughter inside. "Rakes should be illegal."

It wouldn't be so funny if it weren't so true. What disturbs me is that I see the same blame tendency coming out in my children. The couch is responsible for a stubbed toe. A broken toy is the fault of the toy itself. It goes on and on.

I must say, that as a thoughtful parent, an educated, mature adult (neither of which I seem to be when danger is present), I don't think blaming serves much purpose. It just makes the blamer feel better or justified. It is rarely an honest search for the origins of the problem and more a case of scapegoating (even if the scapegoat happens to be a rake.) So, I'm trying to be more conscious of it in myself in the hopes that I can teach my children to avoid such an unproductive (and potentially embarrassing) trait.

I am trying to teach my children to take responsibility for what they do. By teaching my children to own up to their actions, I am hoping they will become more aware of the consequences of their behavior.

But I also teach them that sometimes accidents do happen.

I want my children to grow into careful, thoughtful adults, so I am teaching them that the absence of malice does not prevent a person from being hurt. Their first response to any accidental hurt should be to care for the person being hurt. Blame can wait.

It has been interesting to see them minister to each other to heal hurts first, without accidents being turned into a shouting match of, "Watch where you're going!" "It's his fault!" "I didn't mean to!" Just postponing the issue of blame and encouraging my children, regardless of circumstance, to care for one another has been an amazing step for our family.

I have also started to teach my kids that blaming inanimate objects is not productive.

It may feel satisfying sometimes to blame the bike when you fall off, but ultimately lying to yourself by blaming an object isn't helpful. (I've made a concerted effort to remember this one myself.) My children are often seething and angry. I help them to talk about the anger they feel and together we solve the issue of whether or not we can avoid a future hurt.

We are a team, a problem-solving team.

When I put it to them that way, their need to blame often fades to the background. I try to help them feel really listened to in the process of solving problems. I hope that will lay the groundwork for future situations with the potential to be much more serious than a skinned knee or a stubbed toe.

Time will tell where our family goes with the blame instinct. They say admitting the problem is the first step to getting help. It may be, as long as I can teach myself with as much clarity as I seem to be able to teach them.

Wish me luck.

-Midwest Mom


  1. I admire your ability to think outside of your experiences and use them as learning opportunities. If it were me three days later and I would still be blaming the rake and nagging Bob to level the yard out or something.

    I will be looking forward to your opinions on the bail out commission but I understand that’s another blog, another time..

    As always thanks for a great post!

  2. Nice to know there are moms that care so deeply about parenting. There are far too few that do.

  3. You have a wonderful instinct and it is refreshing to see a parent willing to put so much of themselves into really, REALLY, raising their children. I wish you much success!

    Rob J

  4. Good for you for trying to teach your child this. And sadly this morning, I blamed my 2 year old for "making me knock coffee all over the place" when I should have not had the mug near my computer stuff in the first place!!

    Farrah from...

  5. Laurie -- There's not much to admire; I find those blaming moments so embarassing, really. (Besides, I need the rake!)

    Papercages -- Thank you for your kind words. They are especially nice coming from such a cute girl in pigtails.

    Rob -- Welcome to the blog! I hope you come back again. :)

    Farrah -- Don't feel bad; we all do it. I try to admit my mistakes to my children by saying, "That was wrong of me to say that. It wasn't your fault." I like having a level of honesty with my kids that will carry us forward as they get older. I hope it will build a good foundation for our relationship in the future. We'll see. :)

  6. Kudos to you, Laurie, for setting aside your ego - and the very human desire to be right in all circumstances - and putting your kids first.

    As a mom of two grown children, I know that this is not always easy. In fact, it takes discipline, enormous love, and courage. But it's good to know that even when we stumble badly, "having a level of honesty with our kids will carry us forward as they get older, and ultimately build a good foundation for our relationship(s) in the future."

    Wonderful post!

  7. My name is Mom, and I am a blamer. That's a classic line. I usually reserve all blame for myself, no matter who or what is truly at fault, which is no healthier than blaming inanimate objects or innocent children. No wait. That's wrong. I usually reserve MOST of the blame for myself and save the rest for the government. My bad.

  8. Great post. Resonates with me ;)


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