I think the biggest trap that we fall into as parents is the trap of making excuses for our kids. My mom was a teacher for decades. During her time as a teacher she saw a shift occur from parents holding their children responsible for their actions to blaming the teacher. This shift is very damaging. Why? If we don't hold our children responsible for their actions we are stunting their growth into adulthood.
Over the years of participating in sports I've made my share of excuses for my kids when they didn't perform well.
“They were tired.”
“They were sick.”
“That official was garbage.”
I've used them all.
I regret it.
When you love someone you want them to succeed and you want to defend them against those who speak negatively. I've grown as a parent in this area. I am finding myself able to say, “He had a bad game today.” It's really hard to do. When we look at our kids we see them through the lens of the parent.
I have written elsewhere about not tying our identity to our kids. When we make excuses for them it is rooted in our over identification with them. We feel attacked by those who are critiquing our kids, even if they are right! Why? They're not critiquing us. Why do we feel attacked and why do we feel the need to make excuses? Because our identity is overly connected with our kids and their performances or obedience.
My rival growing up was a kid whose mom never believed her little baby ever did anything wrong. As a result he was mean and nasty whenever he felt like it. “I will call your mother,” held no sway because he knew she would believe him and not anyone else. All he had to say was, “I didn't do it,” and that was that. It drove my own mom crazy. She held my brothers and I accountable for our actions. It didn't matter the circumstance, “Did you know what was the right thing to do? Then why didn't you do it?” She would often ask.
When we make excuses for the children entrusted to us we are undercutting their sense of righteousness and justice. It becomes very difficult for them to understand and know what right and wrong looks like if we do not help them learn those things. This will often come about from holding them accountable to for their actions.
Making excuses also limits their ability to reach their potential in whatever it is they are doing. I was a teacher's pet in school. I was a “nice boy” and pretty obedient. As a result most teachers gave me a pass. I was able to skate through my education with great grades and little effort. Two teachers stand out though. The first is Mrs Kramer. I was in 5th grade and we had an assignment to edit a page of text. I was missing one of the errors and she made me stay after school until I found it. I was a “walker,” and when I didn't arrive home at my usual time my mom came up to school. She found me angry, frustrated, and in tears hunched over a paper. Her response? She thanked Mrs Kramer. In tenth grade I received my first ever non-A, I didn't get a B, I got a C in English. We went to parent-teacher conferences and my teacher, Ms Feldman, thought for sure my mom was about to rip her a new one. What did my mom do? She thanked Ms Feldman for holding me to a standard that fit my abilities. I credit Ms Feldman with the fact that I am a half-way decent writer today.
If we want the children entrusted to us to reach their full potential we must hold them accountable and not make excuses. Each of them will have different abilities and strengths and gifts. Our job is not to push them into something but help them pursue and accomplish the things that they have said they want to do.
Along with not making excuses for our kids, we have to avoid making excuses for ourselves. There are times when we will not be good parents. There will be times when we will just simply blow it. When those times happen we have the responsibility to own our actions and model it. Sometimes this looks like us asking for forgiveness (go check that post out, it's a good one!). Other times it will be as a result of us being held accountable by our employer. When that happens we must own our actions and take responsibility. Remember, much of what children learn is caught not taught.
Not making excuses for our kids is the hardest thing I have had to learn as a parent. It's a principle that I wish I had embraced earlier. I'm still learning it and still catch myself being overly defensive when it comes to my kids.
It's all a process.
I'll keep trying and invite you to do so too!