So do adults, by the way.
When a shoe goes missing, the first thought is: “Who moved my shoe?” not “I wonder what I did with my shoe?” At least, that seems to be how it worked in my house unless it was me. I am ALWAYS assuming that I was the one to lose everyone’s shoes, including mine and the neighbor’s six houses down.
That’s because everyone in this family always thinks I know absolutely everything about everything that ever happens in our square footage. They believe I am magically capable of forming them into super humans who never make mistakes, miss deadlines, suffer illness, or are less qualified than another applicant.
In other words: when our kids fail—when homeschooled kids meet their own limitations—the finger they point is at the homeschooling parent—the architect of every detail of their lives.
Know what I’m saying? That means it is mom’s fault that the milk carton is empty, the cutest jacket ever somehow wound up in the Goodwill bag,or that the kids:
- never learned to be more organized,
- got cavities,
- were late,
- lost their place in line,
- felt neglected,
- got gum in their hair,
- couldn’t stay awake,
- missed the best party ever for a family wedding,
- weren’t prepared for advanced math,
- gave up the flute,
- and don’t like salad!
They can look back on their flawed childhoods and assign you blame with ease because wherever they look IN their childhoods, there you are! Next to them, guiding them, empowering them, restricting them, living your own flawed version of humanity right next to them for them to absorb adopt or reject.
It must be YOU! It must be ME!
And if you ARE me, you are adept at piling on the blame to self. In my case, I am quite happy to merge with the criticism. “Dang. I’m so disorganized. It’s no wonder she doesn’t keep track of her passport easily.” Or I might think, “I should never have trusted that book that said delaying math would be okay. Look how upset he is about it now that he’s older.”
I jump right into the seat of judgment with my child and give myself a stern talking to. Together, we determine that I am the cause of all that went poorly in that child’s life.
Until… until! I remember my own childhood. I mean, I want to blame my parents for my failings. For example, I could say that I am messy because my parents were so obsessively neat. But how does that make sense? They gave me the models I needed and were gentle and kind about it. I never adopted that style of living—I did that. Not them.
I could blame them that I didn’t go to college out of state. Why didn’t my dad show more enthusiasm for his alma mater and get me to apply there? But if I flip it over: I wanted to go to UCLA. That was my choice.
I might blame my parents for not requiring me to continue piano lessons or for getting a divorce and ship-wrecking what I thought was my happy home.
And yet today: I know better. I KNOW better. Every life has a share of unhappiness. I know adults make mistakes, are making it up as they go, that they are not able to protect themselves from pain, let alone their children.
In the end, each one of us is responsible to become the best adult version of self as we grow into adulthood.
So what do we do with all this blame that assails us? I have a few ideas that have helped me.
1. Take it.
You’re the adult. This is a temporary thrashing about of an emerging young adult or teen or even middler. This child in front of you knows you are the safe repository for their loss, disappointment in self, and failure. Allow them to vent and consider how you might have prevented this terrible fate. Affirm the feeling: “It must feel awful to think that I failed you” and validate the possible interpretation: “It seems to you I could have prepared you better.” You can apologize if there is something to apologize for: “I’m sorry I couldn’t see around the corners to how you might feel limited later by the choice I made.”
2. Gently hand it back.
After you take it, offer a reframe that empowers your child to grow. “Since you are now dealing with the feeling of x, how do you imagine addressing this challenge?” Create the opportunity for your child to be an overcomer! You don’t need to give advice (they already don’t trust you, right?). Simply create space for self reflection.
3. Shut up and wait.
Don’t ask multiple questions in a row, don’t offer suggestions to consider. Leave space for a moment of struggle. If you are quiet, they will have to say something to fill that void. If the child goes back to blame…
4. Reframe the frustration.
Help your child understand that no matter what the cause, they have the resources (inside and at hand) to create good in this circumstance. They can get skills they don’t have, they can create new habits to support them, they can ask for help now.
Example: Your child blames you for not helping them get the skills to study for tests. They are now in a co-op class that requires test-taking and they get a D on the first test.
- Take it: “I didn’t think about doing mock tests with you. Sorry about that.”
- Hand it back: “How do you imagine you can prepare yourself for test-taking now?”
- Wait. Listen.
- Reframe: “I get that it really upset you to earn a D on your first test. Fortunately test-taking is a skill you can learn at any stage in life! The good news is you can easily improve your score since you started at the bottom! I’m happy to support you in getting what you need. What do you think that is?”
There’s a balance between accepting blame and then reframing for self-empowerment. That’s the sweet spot! As a home educator, it’s easy to be the target. You want to resist the temptation to argue or to wallow in self-deprecation.
Your kids are resilient and always learning! This moment will pass.