Parent: "How did this happen?"
Child: "Well, I was putting up my toys like you told me to and then my room got all messy."
Parent: "How did it get messy?"
Child: "I was putting up my toys like you told me to...and then Tommy started getting out my toys, again."
Parent: "Did you ask Tommy to stop getting out your toys?"
Parent: "Why didn't you ask Tommy to stop getting out your toys?"
Parent: "Because, why?"
Child: "Because we were playing with them."
Parent: "Do you remember why I asked you to put up your toys?"
Parent: "I asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo. Why were you playing with them when I had asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo?"
Child: "You told me I should share my toys!"
Parent: "I have told you to share your toys. Today, I asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo. Now, we have to stay home and clean up your room instead of going to the zoo."
Child: "You mean I can't go to the zoo?"
Parent: "Not today, I'm afraid."
Child: "Why not!?"
Parent: "Because you decided to keep playing instead of putting your toys away."
Child: "No, I didn't!"
Parent: "Yes, you did."
Child: "Tommy started it!"
Parent: "Then you should have come to get me."
Child: "You wouldn't have done anything!"
Parent: "Of course I would have. I'd have told Tommy he needed to help you clean up if he wanted to go to the zoo with us. If he wouldn't do it, I'd have sent him home."
Child: "You were busy."
Parent: "I was in my office checking my email. I even told you where I was going to be if you needed anything."
Child: "Can we go to the zoo or not?"
Parent: "No, we can't. You decided to play and get out more toys instead of straightening up like I asked, so now we have to get an even bigger mess put away."
Child: "See? I knew we weren't going to go."
Parent: "We aren't going because of your decision. Do you understand?"
Child: "I didn't decide anything!"
Parent: "You decided to play instead of straightening up."
Child: "Yeah. But if you had said we could go yesterday like I wanted instead of today we could have gone."
Parent: "I had to work yesterday. Remember? That's why we were going today."
Child: "You always have to work when I want to do something. You don't want to do anything with me."
Parent: "I love doing stuff with you and I do stuff with you as much as I can. I work because providing for you is my responsibility."
Child: "You don't know what it's like being me..."
If you're like me, once you get past the initial frustration, these conversations are kind of humorous. After all, we can all recall when we were kids and reasoned like that, can't we? You remember how it was. Nothing was ever our fault (I don't like that word, but I'll use it here. As a rule, fault finding is a waste of time and energy), was it? I know that in my case there was always a reason things went awry. That reason just never had anything to do with the decisions I made, of course. I was good at placing the responsibility squarely onto someone else. Even when faced with the irrefutable proof of my responsibility, I'd admit it...and deny it, almost all in the same breath. If pinned down, I'd shift my position. But, I'd always try to avoid accepting responsibility for my actions. Until they are taught otherwise, that's what kids do. And, like I said, after the initial frustration, it can be humorous.
If you've ever wondered if this kind of behavior from your kid(s) is normal, rest assured, it is. Kids are born with no responsibility. As babies, they depend entirely upon someone else to care for them. As they get older, they become capable of doing more, but there's still a lot they can't do. In addition, kids are, by nature, egocentric. In real practical language, that means they think the universe revolves around them. It's all about them and their wants and needs (and kids have trouble distinguishing between the two). So, they want what they want, when they want it. They are all about immediate gratification. Do they grow out of it? Yes. If they learn otherwise. Accepting responsibility and accountability is taught by:
- Direct teaching (telling them)
- Rewarding responsible behavior and consequences for not being responsible
- Modeling the desired behavior.
The conversation above doesn't illustrate it perfectly, but most of the elements are there.
When adults do this, it's not humorous. It can be sad, annoying, frustrating and irritating, but it's never funny. There are a lot of adults that have never learned to accept responsibility and accountability. I've seen it more times than I can count. The topics are different than putting up toys, usually, but the efforts to avoid responsibility are the same. Years ago, I provided counseling in drug and alcohol rehab. Here's a fairly typical conversation with a client who has been resistant to the plan of care in rehab:
Counselor: "Do you want to get sober?"
Client: "Of course I do!"
Counselor: "Then you have to follow the plan of care."
Client: "I know. Do you know why I drink?"
Counselor: "Yes, I do."
Client: "I drink because of all the stuff I have to deal with." *gives list of said "stuff"*
Counselor: "No. That is not why you drink."
Client: "Oh, yeah? Then why do I do it?"
Counselor: "You drink because you are an alcoholic."
Client: "You don't know what it's like, how hard it is being an alcoholic. If you did you'd be easier on me."
Counselor: "You're right. I do not know what it's like being an alcoholic. What I do know about, is how to live life without alcohol."
I'm sure you can see how similar the two conversations are. It's not limited to drug and alcohol abuse, though. I've had the same conversations with people who've landed in legal trouble because they deliberately and knowingly set out to do something that was not only illegal, but that they had been specifically warned by law enforcement (and others) not to do. When complaining about their fate, they kept coming back to the role of other people. If this person hadn't done this or if this person had done that, or if law enforcement wasn't out to get me, I wouldn't be in this situation is how the argument goes. When reminded of their actions and responsibility they admit it...and with the next breath return to blaming anyone and everyone else.
The same type of logic applies to people who have messed up their lives in other ways, too. Relationships, employment, academics, finances, family...in any area of life, there are those who will consistently blame their misfortunes on others. In virtually every case I've encountered, those arguments have been false.
Here's the deal. Wherever you are in life, your life is the way it is because of the decisions you've made up to this point. It's true for you, me and everyone else. It can be an uncomfortable truth to accept, but it's true anyway. Every decision I've made has contributed to my being where I am right now. Looking back, I can see that very clearly. Had I made different decisions, I'd very likely be in a different place. The same is true for you. There are two major parts to this. We've sort of talked about the first one, but I'll list them both.
- I have to accept responsibility for the decisions I've made
- I have to learn to make better decisions
See, if bad decisions have brought me to where I am right now, I need to accept the fact that I made those decisions so I can learn to make better ones and end up somewhere much better. The same thing is true if I've made pretty good decisions. If I accept that my decisions could be better and then learn to make even better ones, I can wind up somewhere better than where I am right now. Tell me that's not good news.
It's all part of changing your mind...and changing your life.