It’s Not Your Child’s Fault

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Most of us have the tendency to want to blame someone else when things go wrong. Never is this more true than when the other person is undisciplined, self-centered, irrational, and unreasonable.

Like a child.

It’s so easy to get angry with small children. They expect us to meet their every need (which we often do) only to return the favor with whining, complaining, or a full blown tantrum when things don’t turn out just right. Add to that their special knack for dismantling hours of work in an instant, or destroying things that are important to us, and it’s enough to drive the most saint-like person to the brink.

Maddening as it is, young children really don’t know any better. It’s not their fault.

To be clear, I am not talking about children that are old enough to reason. I’m talking about children ages 3 and younger. Everything is about them, and everything within reach is MINE. Supervision and distraction are the only real methods of “discipline” when dealing with this age group. When we understand what is developmentally appropriate behavior for them, we realize that the “naughty” things babies and toddlers do are usually just the result of something we did or failed to do. It’s our fault. And understanding this can help us to control our own bad behavior when faced with theirs.

To understand what I mean, let’s break this down into two of the most common scenarios.

1) Shopping fiascoes. A trip to a shopping center at nap or lunch time is the prime example. We grownups can slog through our feelings of hunger or fatigue for a few minutes or even hours when we need to get something done, but we can’t expect that from our 2-year-old counterparts. Taking a child of this age on a really long shopping expedition when they are tired and/or hungry is a recipe for disaster. You can pretty much count on them acting like a monster from hunger, fatigue, or both. Crying? Your fault. Begging for snacks? Your fault. Throwing a tantrum because you looked at them wrong when they are exhausted beyond reason? That’s right. Totally your fault.

2) Destruction of personal property. Remember when your extremely busy toddler used your favorite lipstick to create a mural on the living room wall? That’s your fault too. If you want to make sure the contents of your purse/bathroom drawer/kitchen pantry remain untouched by immature hands, it’s your responsibility to either lock it up or put it up. There should be no expectation whatsoever for a child under the age of 3 to have enough consideration or self-control to back away from a counter covered in pretty make up bottles or a table littered with colorful craft supplies. Getting mad at itty bitty children in situations like these isn’t fair because you set them up to fail. It’s your fault.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc. In fact, you’ll probably lower your blood pressure a few points by simply allowing yourself to feel those emotions as completely as you want for a few minutes. Go ahead and scream in your pillow, cry in the parked car, or vent to another mother who understands.

But please, don’t take it on those sweet and innocent little people who love you more than anything. If you stop to think about it, placing the blame on them is more irrational than whatever it is they did to make you feel like a crazy person in the first place.

It’s tough, because the sort of treatment we receive at the hands of our babies and toddlers is totally unacceptable in our relationships with other people. (The grownup kind.) Most of us aren’t used to turning the other cheek and essentially saying, “It’s my fault you are acting like this/did this.” It can be quite a shock to the system for a new mother who has spent the last twenty or thirty something years thinking only about her own feelings.

In the case of an immature roommate or egocentric boss, it’s easy to just tolerate them or even write them off. But that’s not the kind of relationship we want with our children. We want to feel more love and patience for them, and we need to for the sake of family harmony as well as our own sanity. That’s why taking the blame for our little ones age appropriate behavior works.

The beauty of shifting the blame is that it allows us to be proactive rather than reactive. Rather than feel and show anger toward our babies and toddlers (making everyone feel awful), we can take control of and responsibility for the situation (after counting to ten or screaming into our pillow), chalk it up to a learning experience, and move on. Sanity and mother-child relationship saved.

So the next time you feel like you’re about to lose it after your toddler removes the contents of the lowest book shelf for the one hundred and fifty seventh time, just move the books to higher ground and tell yourself, “That was my fault!”

QUESTION: What patience testing scenario makes you the craziest? Can you prevent it from happening again in the future?

CHALLENGE: When you feel tempted to get mad at your small child for whatever “naughty” thing they did, ask yourself first if it’s not actually your fault.


  1. says

    I so agree with this! Except for this week the whining is coming from my little guy having a broken arm so for once it really isn’t my fault!:) It is the bunk bed’s fault that broke him, oh wait, I guess I bought the bed in the first place….

  2. Trisha says

    First of all… DUH. And thank you for stating it.
    Second of all… while this is a great article, I have to disagree! There is an alternative to blaming yourself in the scenario where you become your child’s slave… I did NOT take my frustration out on my children, but I also did NOT cater to their every whim… If I’m shaping them to enter the world independently, they needed structure! Yes, I am aware that it is MY responsibility for my children; for making sure they are safe, and if my desire is for them to be obedient, I need to be attentive. This means spending time with them.
    I hope I do not offend anyone when I share my opinion. But I have not had a big disaster like lipstick on the wall, or crayons for that matter – or shreds of tissue, or something emptied or destroyed when it should have been left alone. I have not had things flushed down my toilet, nor thrown off my balcony.
    I will not disable my children’s ability to make choices though – by removing that whole bottom shelf of books, dvds, etc – I would rather TEACH them that it is not okay, through my words, and showing them once or maybe twice.
    WHY? You may ask???
    Because it’s all well and good if you move things higher up in your own home, but what about when you go out? Visit other people’s homes? Even if they don’t listen when you are out, at least you are trying to explain to them some form of manners while they are visiting someone else’s home. I would be mortified to take any child of mine over the age of 1 to someone’s home if they were removing things from shelves or attempting to break things.
    They are children, yes. But they are tiny PEOPLE – who are learning from the very beginning. It is my job to guide them, and do my guidance in love. If I can not take my child to the store, or to someone’s home, without both of us enjoying ourselves and being happy, I have failed…
    This is just my opinion.
    But there is so much more to “it’s my fault” than just enslaving yourself to your tiny human. They are not there to beat on you and for you to grow a thick skin.
    So this article is great, but just missing a little bit of information in my opinion.

    I think instead of “it’s my fault” it should be “it’s my responsibility”

  3. Adele says

    Thanks Allyson for a very thought provoking article! I just had a challenging day and I found myself blaming my kids for my unhappiness. It was supposed to be an awesome day… tubing at the ski hill with my 5 and 7 year old….the three of us flying down the hill, laughing, lounging in the tubes on the way up under the beautiful blue sky. For a whole bunch of reasons, we didn’t really have a great day and I was holding them and their behaviour responsible for my unhappiness. I held them accountable for their behaviour but I let it ‘get to me’ in a way that I rarely do. I kept thinking ‘we’re tubing in the Rockies on a sunny day… how much more fun can it get???!’ I realize that you were headed in a different direction with your article Allison because you were talking about younger children, but I found a gem. I do think that your message to be mindful of whom we are blaming for things is priceless.

    When you talk about being proactive instead of reactive, it brings to mind the term “Setting up for Success”… When the kids were under 3 there are so many times I thought “I sure didn’t set you up for success now did I”” Yes, for some of us it would be removing the books and for those who have the skill, time and patience to teach a 1 year old not to remove the books then I’m impressed. I certainly didn’t. I was constantly distracting them at that age. Yet I’m consistently blown away by how respectful my kids are in other peoples’ houses (apparently I’m the target of the disrespect!! just kidding, I’m over it).

    I am glad that Trisha challenged your article with the concept of teaching responsibility… we would probably all agree that’s where we are all headed. We just might get there a bit differently. And that’s the beauty of it… we are all so similar in this journey yet different.

    Thanks again Allyson,

  4. Aunt Vickie says

    What wonderful loving Mommies! You ALL have great ideas and thoughts. Your children are blessed. My heart aches for children who don’t have Mommies like yourselves. Please pray/think of Shawn…his mother is hopelessly addicted to meth. He is used as a pawn for her to get welfare and into “programs” so she will have a place to live and money. Lil Shawn has cousins who want/love him and want to adopt him. His mother dumps him off with them, he becomes happy and secure, then she grabs him out again. He is having a hard time…picking his finger and toe nails till they bleed and stuttering. So, you wondeful Mommies… KEEP BEING WONDERFUL! And say prayers for the little ones who don’t. Reading you wonderful comments have given me hope for our precious little ones. Blessings~

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