One morning at the end of May, I stopped at the grocery store to buy a last minute snack for my son’s preschool. Seriously… “last minute.” As we were getting in the car to drive him to school, the four year old piped up from the back seat.
“MOMMY, today is my snack day. Do you remember? I just forgot, but now I remember.”
UM NO I DID NOT REMEMBER. Turn off car, bolt to front door, unlock door, race up the stairs two at a time, check the calendar on the fridge.
Yep, it was written right there. Right in between “Kinder Registration Due,” “Meet Aubrey at 9.45,” “Meet Silverlake @ 11.00,” “Book Fair 12.00,” and “Parent Teacher Conference 1.30 – 3.00,”
Can’t imagine why I missed it, right?
I have a reputation as “the good snack mom.” Not only do I tend to take clean food for snacks at the school, I generally take time to prepare it ahead of time and portion it out in a cute way. (I was a Pinterest Bitch before Pinterest even existed. I’m one of THOSE moms. Not because I like to show off, but because I like making tiny treats. YAY TREATS.)
THIS time, though. NO TIME. I was supposed to be AT the school RIGHT-NOW-RIGHT-NOW.
Race back down stairs, check clock (now 2 minutes late), out door, lock door, run to car, jump inside, “ARE YOU BUCKLED YET?!,” help with buckle, drive to preschool, drop off kid, tell teacher “brb,” drive to grocery store, race through store to find snack-like-food material while texting two subsequent meeting people to let them know “Going to be late, having a preschool snack emergency.”
I ended up buying whole milk, apples, and a bag of pre-packaged cookies. Quick, easy, and kind of a treat for my kid who doesn’t get pre-packaged cookies EVER. (Pinterest Bitch, remember? Pinterest is cookie porn. Only real, homemade cookies in my house, or no cookies at all.)
I found the check stand with the shortest line and joined the queue. Just in front of me, a woman waited to pay with her daughter. By the looks of her I’d guess the little one was just about four years old.
The checker was as slow as molasses in winter, and we stood in line for a long time. It took about ten minutes from the time I joined the line until just after the woman in front of me paid.
During that ten minutes, the little girl in front of me ate half a tube of mini M&Ms, a donut, half a cup of popcorn chicken from the grocery store deli, half a snack size bag of potato chips, one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (full size, out of the pack of two), and drank 3/4 of a one liter bottle of Pepsi.
Oh, and judging by the size and weight of the kid, this was not a once-in-a-while behavior. She was BIG. I bet you she weighed as much as my two older kids put together.
Before I go any farther, I’m going to get it on record that I am not an asshole, and I do not think that my way is the RIGHT WAY for everyone. Even typing out a description of that little girl makes me feel bad for drawing attention to someone else’s choices, lifestyle, and maybe-they-don’t-feel-like-it’s-a struggle, struggle. It is out of concern and consideration I voice this opinion, and IT IS JUST AN OPINION. Take it or leave it. It’s not meant to be forceful of action, but provocative of thought.
The little girl eating all the things in the checkout line made me feel really, really sad, but mostly I felt angry.
I was angry at her mother.
I love kids. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE KIDS. I was one once, and my childhood sucked ass. I have dedicated my life to Growing People and influencing the lives of children for the better. No child should ever suffer at the hands of those that raise them, no child should have their innocence or health or worth or power robbed from them. Ever. I was so angry at this mother for burdening her child with skewed dietary perspective and a body that was less than healthy, I was fuming. And sad, and more angry.
I was angry at the mother, because the condition of her child’s mind and health were her fault.
This is going to piss you off (still not an asshole), but I’m going to say this outright anyways:
THE FAILURES OF CHILDREN UNDER A CERTAIN AGE ARE A DIRECT RESULT OF THE FAILURES OF ADULTS.
[I can hear you now. You’re angry. “OH THAT SUCKS, AND EFF OFF. It’s not my fault my kid is ___.”]
Yes, it is, but THAT’S OKAY and don’t be mad. Keep reading.
It really, really is your fault. YES I know that kids are difficult to bend toward our will as parents. YES I know that it is nearly impossible to MAKE someone do what they don’t want, no matter how badly you want them to do it. (If you doubt that, try to potty train a child that isn’t ready.) YES I know that it hurts to say “the state of my kid is MY FAULT.”
But it IS. It IS your fault, and the states of my kids at ages 8, 6, and 5 are MY FAULT.
Good or bad, positive or negative, success or fail, my kids’ behaviors, choices, mentalities, outlooks, and attitudes are almost 100% my fault.
If it was an adult choosing to do that to themselves and overeat crappy food, fine. High five. Eat yourself into oblivion. You are are the captain of your body, you are the master of your fate. Eat the whole world. I will not even look twice, second guess, doubt, or judge. It’s your body, and I of all people am in no place to judge overeating or eating junk. I’m bulimic, and I bet you I could eat even the world’s largest man under the table. (That sounds gross and dirty, but you know what I mean.) I can binge with the best of them.
EXCEPT THIS WAS NOT AN ADULT. This was a CHILD. This was a child with neither the wisdom, perspective, or understanding to realize the very serious and very long term consequences of her choices.
Wisdom, perspective, and understanding is the PARENT’S job. Not the child.
We as parents have the hardest job in the whole wide world. We are GROWING PEOPLE, and in order to grow them into someone with as little baggage as possible WE have to have as little baggage as possible.
The only way to do that, truly, is to ACCEPT FAULT. Even when it’s not OURS to start with, even when taking responsibility SUCKS. Even when accepting fault and responsibility makes us angry and defensive and “I DO NOT WANT TO,” we do it anyways.
Regardless of my kid not reminding me about snack day until we were IN THE CAR, regardless of the fact that he has is OWN calendar he’s supposed to keep track of, regardless of how many other things I have going on for all three kids plus job plus house plus self, IT IS MY FAULT that we didn’t get snacks made ahead of time. It is MY FAULT that we forgot entirely. It is my fault that my kid is now eating packaged cookies and pre-sliced apples for snack.
You know what else? That’s okay.
I made a mistake. I screwed up and didn’t check ALL my calendars. (Yes, ALL.) I have three. I probably shouldn’t even HAVE three, I should have ONE. I should have asked questions. I didn’t take the fifteen minutes I generally take every morning to get my head straight with upcoming responsibilities.
I failed, and at the basest level it was my fault.
I dropped the ball, and I had to stop what I was doing to go catch it.
Not only was the mistake my fault, it was my responsibility to fix it. Like I tell my kids, “OOPS, fix it as best we can, and try better next time.”
Fault is a way of looking backward and owning mistakes. “That was my fault. I should-have-should-not-have done that. This undesirable outcome is on my shoulders.”
Responsibility is a way of looking forward and attempting to correct the mistakes. Responsibility is “trying again.” “This is now my responsibility. I must do something to make it right, I am going to fix this mistake. The desired outcome is on my shoulders.”
The mother in front of me at the grocery store was making some active, repeated, habitual, dangerous choices with regard to her daughter. She was giving her what FELT GOOD, instead of what was GOOD FOR HER. She was not considering the long term effects of the food she gave her daughter, or the struggles she was creating for her daughter once that little girl got older. She was doing, like we all sometimes do as parents, “what was quick and easy right now.”
I have done that. I DID that. “Quick and easy and right now” is pre-packaged cookies and pre-cut apples.
And really, this message is not about the food. It’s not about “I feed my kids right, she fed her kid wrong.” This message is not about your or my individual or family choices with regard to diet, religion, behavior, attitude, money, sex, hours of TV watched in a day, homework routine, study habits, or the way you or I talk to other people. This message is about the difference between fault and responsibility, children and adults, kids and parents.
For my kids, up to a certain age all of their mistakes are BOTH my fault AND my responsibility.
Past a certain age, around age five or six, their poor choices and mistakes become more and more their fault. They are still my responsibility.
When my kids reach the age of adulthood, if I’ve done my job right both the fault and responsibility for their actions will fall squarely on their shoulders. Not mine, not The Mister’s.
When we fail to teach our kids to be responsible, when we fail to take fault and responsibility that we rightfully own, we do an even more damaging, more permanent thing to our kids:
we teach them that they don’t have to do that, either.
There is a reason that our country is sliding into mediocrity, obesity, entitlement, and depression. There is a reason people are not required to work hard for an education to earn $15 an hour. There is a reason that state-issued medical insurance and food stamps are at a record high. There is a reason that more and more supposed-to-be-functional adults are being bailed out by their parents for rent, phone bills, credit card debt, car payments.
Accepting fault and taking responsibility are dying traits.
And as parents, we are failing our children when we do not accept fault and responsibility for our lives and our families.
I understand why it’s happening. THOSE ARE HARD TRAITS TO LIVE BY. They are not fun, they take work, it sucks when it’s our fault, so a lot of us are just choosing to avoid them. It’s so, so tempting to blame someone else and let it go.
Our kids are paying the price.
Step one of changing your life is owning your shit. Even the bad stuff. Even the ugly stuff, even the mistakes, even the things that make us feel “uuuuuuuuuuugh and DAMNIT,” even the things we really, really don’t want to deal with.
Dealing with the rough things makes us better and stronger and WHOLE. Dealing with the rough things teaches our kids to deal with the rough things, and they need to know how to do that.
When Growing People, dealing with the rough things shows those we grow that there is work to be done, and responsibility to be taken. You cannot Grow and produce great harvest without pulling a few weeds, sweating over the crop, and losing sleep and fun in order to get shit done.
You cannot lose weight until you accept the fact that you are the way you are and in the condition you are in because of you. It is YOUR FAULT. My size and shape are my fault, no one else’s. My kids behavior, performance in school, overall health, overall attitudes are my fault, no one else’s. The state of my home and the condition of my job are my fault. No one else’s.
Until we accept fault for our mistakes, we are powerless to change them.
You cannot effect change until you accept that you and you alone are responsible for changing things. Just you. I cannot have great kids, be a better mom, be a better leader, feel happy, content, slim, healthy, physically fit, or mentally strong unless I accept responsibility for those things.
Until we accept responsibility for change, we are powerless to make progress.
Believe it or not, I am not a tough-love person. There is nothing but pure truth to what I’m saying, but this truth is going to be hard for a lot of people to take. People that need to hear this most will be the ones that don’t want to hear it. This truth will stimulate defiance. “THAT IS NOT ME, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, IT IS NOT MY FAULT.”
It is. But it is also your responsibility, and THAT IS POWERFUL.
This truth might set you free, but first it will piss you off… and once you accept it, this truth will stimulate change.
There is Power in Choice. There is power in owning your life and choosing the direction you wish for it to go. You can use that power to change your kids, your family, and your home. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
You can do it. You can do anything. Just decide, then move. Take responsibility and shift your world, starting now.
For more information on Depth, changing the culture of your home, developing parenting and leadership skills, and making large-scale change at home, at work, and in life, subscribe to the RSS feed on this site, and opt in to my newsletter.
Thank you for reading!