Someone to Blame?

There is a line in one of our favorite songs, One by U2, that goes “Will it make it easier on you now? You got someone to blame.”

I recently read the following in a wonderful book, “How to Raise Good Catholic Children” by Mary Reed Newland, in a section called “Encourage your child to offer up his sufferings”:

Many times parents will turn to scolding the “naughty chair” or the “bad table” in an effort to ease the pain and insult of a child who comes to grief through his own carelessness. In the process, they feed little desires for vengeance; they give him no recourse but senseless, continuing rebellion against anything and everything that crosses him…

Living in a fallen world, our children are bound to be hurt, both physically and spiritually. We will save them years of wasted opportunities if we teach them that along with everything else, pain is a part of their prayer.

It’s so easy for me to find a culprit for any small thing that goes wrong. But I can appreciate how unproductive it is, and I am praying for the magnanimity to set the right example for my children. Yesterday we had a test.

We have been saving money for several years to start our oldest son in violin lessons this January. He is sensitive and temperamental, but anticipating his first lesson has brought him extraordinary confidence and joy. We finally found the right music school for the right price and went to some lengths to get the violin for his Epiphany gift and Suzuki materials in time for his first lesson. We celebrated at dinner on the eve of his first lesson and also at breakfast yesterday morning, the day of his first lesson. I made special arrangements with teachers to get the kids out of school early so that we could get to the music lesson on time.  His sisters were delighted to be his cheerleaders. All 5 of us (me and 4 kids) arrived 20 minutes early for his 3:30 appointed to give him space to transition and to set up his instrument. The allotted time came and went.  No teacher.  Ten minutes later I asked if she was running late, and nobody had heard from her. Twenty minutes later, after we had been sweating it out in a dimly lit corridor for nearly an hour, his maestra strolled up for her four o’clock lesson. The director had forgotten to inform the teacher that she had a new 3:30 student. They offered fairly genuine apologies and assured us that he’d start next week instead. They left.  I started crying, and my son hid under the chair in the hallway and cried too, convinced that they were all bad guys who had been tricking him all along.  Those of you with delicate children can appreciate the significance of this. We lost him, I thought, maybe for the rest of the spring.  Or they lost him, and I wanted them to know it.

An everyday disappointment, and a golden opportunity to place blame. I was ready to let the insults fly as we drove home in rush hour traffic. Until my son started talking about beating up all the people at the music school. Red flag. So I gathered myself and tried to talk my children (myself) through it: “I’m so sorry for the disappointment. We’re all disappointed because we have been looking forward to this for a long time. But it was a mistake.  Mistakes happen, we all make them.  We’ll get to start next week instead and everything will be alright.” I didn’t have any glorious “offer it up” homily to give, but I felt a little better already after dealing with what felt at the time like an epic disaster in a more sober and charitable way. Blaming wouldn’t have made it easier.

And when I spent 4 hours last night getting our post-Christmas house ready for the cleaning lady and she didn’t show up at all today, I tried to be magnanimous but ended up calling my husband at work with a mouthful of ugly thoughts.

Two steps forward, one step back : )

  • Mary Alice

    This is really interesting, and taps into two different problems — first, learning accountability rather than blaming someone else when you are to blame (the bad chair example), and second, in your real life example, how to process the emotions when something really is someone else’s fault.nnYou were in a really tough spot, and I give you credit for pulling it back together rather than raging along with your upset child!nnThere is a third issue, one that I think about A LOT as a young mother of many — I watched a Dad of twins have a total, inappropriate meltdown in the doctors office while waiting for immunizations.u00a0 The line was long, we were all cramped and some of our children were nervous (not his, who were newborns), but when the nurse came out he started ranting about a third world clinic.nnI sympathized, I have been there, but it was so clear to me that this man was exhausted and living too close to the margins.u00a0 He couldn’t help it, with newborn twins, but in general I took that as a lesson to try to begin to build a little bit more cushion into my life.nnStuff happens, and it is frustrating, and we need to be able to process it appropriately.u00a0 One of the tools for that is a decent nights sleep, prayer time, and reasonable expectations of imperfection (my plane may be delayed, my child may lose her mittens, the swim instructor may quit when she gets in to grad school, the babysitter may run late).u00a0 I need to have enough of a margin of error in my life so that I can process these things and help my children to process them.u00a0 Too often, I think, my plans are so tight that they have to go perfectly in order to have a chance at success.u00a0 I don’t have time for an extra trip to the lab, I haven’t arrived early enough to help my child adjust to the new instructor, etc. u00a0u00a0 nnFlexibility is not one of my strong suits, but I am realizing that I get too emotionally thrown when things don’t go well (it takes me days to recover some times).u00a0 I am spending a lot of time on prayer about this, and also in practical ways — have the sitters arrival time be well before my doctors appointment so that I don’t have to leave the minute she arrives, etc.u00a0 The cost of the extra half hour is worth the flexibility and chance at success.nn

  • Renee

    I love this post and MA’s comment — real, honest, and helpful suggestions here.u00a0 I come away resolved to be a better example to my children, as Newland puts it,u00a0showing them that pain/frustration/setbacksu00a0can beu00a0a part of prayer.u00a0 For me, so much of this is tied up in ridiculously highu00a0expectations, which can setu00a0me up for frustration and anger if they’reu00a0not metu00a0… as MA said, building in a cushion can help keep our expectations realistic and will better prepare us for the unexpected.u00a0 Good tips for me.u00a0 Better journal it so I don’t forget in a month … or a day!u00a0u00a0 ;)u00a0

  • Right Said Red

    I too always look for someone to blame when things have not gone as planned ;-(nnI think expectations are key here, and building up high expectations can really set me up for failure.u00a0 There is a fine line to walk between keeping my expectations low and not being overly negative.u00a0 I think taking unmet expectations to prayer will help me to stay positive going in, and have something to offer up on the way out when things don’t go as planned.nnOur children really do feed off of our own responses to things, as evidenced by your post.u00a0 I have at least one child who gets really excited/nervous about different events, and so I always try to downplay the event so that he doesn’t have quite as much buildup in his little mind.u00a0 I have learned that I need to set a good example on the front end (not too much anticipation) and also on the back end (offering up those unmet expectations).u00a0 I find that I am much better at the downplaying it all than dealing with the fallout when things didn’t go as planned!u00a0

  • Lucy

    Great post, and great comment, MA. These are messages I need right now. Thanks.

  • Boring Blog

    My children go balistic around shot time and I always try to remind them to offer it up for someone instead blame the evil doctor or parents for their plight, but they’re too spun up by that time. So now we do our offering up in the car as prep. Also, due to a canceled babysitter I had to take the whole gang with me to get blood drawn. They were so nervous for me and also impressed that Mom gets poked with needles too. I think they finally realized that I don’t drag them to doctors as punishment, this is just what happens. My son, quite impressed with my stoic handling of the needle, said, “We thought you would scream and cry like a baby, but you didn’t”. So I guess they are watching for our reactions to life’s little struggles.

  • http://buildingcathedrals.com/ Kat

    JM, first of all, I’m so excited for your family to have someone starting violin lessons – please keep us posted on how this all works out! I’m curious about how you decided on the violin…nIn any case, this post is so good, and is a good reminder to us about the futility of blame. Sometimes other people have done something wrong that causes us great inconvenience, so this can be tricky. There is a great deal of freedom in knowing that we cannot control the behavior of others, but that we can control our reactions to their behavior. I need to remember that I am always telling my son that he should only be concerned about what he has done right or wrong, and not worry or talk about what other people are doing – I would do well to take my own advice!

  • Anonymous

    This is such a great post. I think there is a strong culture of victimization that condones the blaming reaction, which makes it especially hard to fight against. I fall into this trap of self-pity all the time and it is often the main source of unhappiness for me. Even when the grace is there for me to make a good choice, I often spurn it for the fleeting and empty satisfaction of blaming something rather than sanctifying the situation. Though I think these can become teachable moments for our children as well when we apologize for our poor reactions and example.

  • JMB

    I read this quickly and after two margaritas, I may be off course here – but one thing I learned after being a parent for awhile is not to give my children too much information before an event.u00a0 Now it doesn’t seem like you could have avoided what happened (music teacher not showing up), but maybe the buildup was too much for your son? I stopped trying to protect my kids from the unknown when I realized that I couldn’t control it.u00a0 The easiest way for me to do that was to simply shut up about what was about to happen.

    • Juris Mater

      Not telling this particular child in advance what’s about to happen would create an irreparable disaster, and I think we were following his lead because his joy in the anticipation was such a new kind of success for him. I’ll think through the issue of build-up more carefully in the future though.

      • JMB

        JM, I have no idea what your son is like, so please don’t take what I say too seriously.u00a0 All I truly know is my own limited view on my family, my personality and those of my children.u00a0 I am very even keeled about a lot of stuff – it takes a lot to get me upset.u00a0 So I relate to my children in that manner, and none of my children have displayed to me a very active imagination (which I admit I lack).u00a0 I think sometimes the “creative” types are that way because they are sensitive and truly do see stuff that the rest of us don’t.u00a0 You sound like a good mother and truly put the interest of your children first, and I commend you for that.u00a0 Keep on keeping on!

        • Mary Alice

          It is an interesting point about the build up, though, even for the sensitive types.u00a0 For example, I read something once about all of this stuff you should do to prepare your child for a shot.u00a0 I have learned that the only preparation for my oldest child is to try to hide from him, for as long as possible, that he is getting a shot.u00a0 Otherwise, he stews and worries and it just gets worse with time until he is really upset.u00a0 With other situations, though, it is important that I prep him, lay out expectations, or give him extra time to adjust to new situations.

    • Julie

      I think that policy works better for a one-time event, like a friend’s birthday party or favorite uncle’s visit that you don’t want to build up too much in case it gets canceled last-minute, etc. But if a child is going to start learning to play an instrument, an undertaking that will take daily or near-daily practice for years as well as a significant commitment from both child and family, it seems the child should be a part of the process before it happens. He should know this is a good thing for him and that he’ll have to work at it. It’s not like you can just hand him a violin the day of the first lesson as the teacher walks in, and announce that this is all going to happen starting now.

    • Right Said Red

      JMB, I have also learned not to build things up too much for my children as I have at least one child who would not handle it well.u00a0 I was trying to hint at that in my comment, but as JM noted, there is a fine line to walk between preparing a child (especially for something like starting an instrument) and not building it up too much.u00a0 Like you, I tend to err on the side of less build up.


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