Swish, swish, clack, giggle.
Swish, swish, clack, sob.
I was sweeping the floors yesterday when I watched my toddler, and assistant sweeper, drop a broom stick on her foot. She had been picking it up horizontally and dropping the broom on the ground time after time, laughing as it bounced on the floor after impact. I had told her "no" repeatedly, and she, doing what toddlers do best, kept dropping the broom in defiance.
Until finally, the broomstick struck her big toe.
It stung, she cried. I kissed her boo-boo and she marched right back over to the scene of the crime. Holding up the broomstick she had been sweeping with, she jutted out her index finger and pointed. “No, no, no, boom,” she told it.
I giggled at her audacity, but the frustration in her furled brows made me take pause. She was angry at the “boom”stick for causing her boo-boo, even though she was clearly the one who dropped it. Not to mention the full three minutes of repeatedly ignoring good ol’ Momma’s requests to stop dropping the broom.
Something occurred to me in that very moment that made quite a bit of sense: maybe we are born with the tendency to shift blame to other things and other people, as a mechanism to cope with fault.
And, as a mom, is there any way I can help my daughter fight that tendency?
Blame-shifters are a lot like mouth-breathers: they are masters of their art without even realizing it. They are the people who can’t own up to wrongdoing, so they shift the blame to others, or use excuses to clear their names. Maybe it’s an effort to personally digest a situation, maybe it’s narcissism or inability to accept fault. I’m not sure. But I do know that blame-shifters exist in abundance: I’ve worked for them, I’ve known many of them, oh, and toddlers are masters of blame shifting.
Just to be real, I dabble in these dark arts on occasion too, as I think most of us do.
But here’s the thing about not owning up to your actions: if a person can’t accept fault, how will he or she ever learn from mistakes? It’s impossible. If a person always finds themselves faultless, how will he or she ever strive to be better?
I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but the broom incident provoked some soul-searching on my part. Are there times when I have blamed others for something I’ve known was completely my fault? Yes, and so far, it’s all turned out just fine. But now I have another set of eyes watching my every move. And that means handling tough situations with dignity and grace, even when it’s hard, even when it’s easier to blame someone else.
Easier said that done, I know. Accepting one’s own faults is one of the more difficult concepts in life to master. I know I sure as heck haven’t done it. But if we all refused to shift blame to others when the fault is our own, our relationships could only benefit. Mastering this skill could make me a better daughter, wife, mother, and friend. But it requires brutal honesty with the person to whom it's sometimes hardest to tell the truth- me.
It takes courage to admit wrongdoing and it's hard to sacrifice your pride in the process, even for something as simple as dropping a broom. But it's important not to play the victim at someone else's expense.
Maybe if my daughter watches me handle my mistakes (I'm sure there will be many of them) gracefully, she will understand the process of accepting some faults as her own and moving on.
I will never be a perfect mama. I will never be the perfect person. And I know she won’t be either. But if I can teach my daughter not to blame her imperfect moments on anyone or anything else, then maybe there will be one less blame shifter in the world.
And so I marched back into the living room where my little one stood scolding the “boom” she thought had caused her accident. I explained to her in toddler terms that it wasn’t the broom’s fault that she hurt her toe. She was the one who threw the broom. We apologized to Mr. Boom and gave that tater tot of a toe a big kiss to make it better.
She dried her eyes, picked up her broom, and resumed sweeping. I listened to her huffing and puffing, as she moved the broom from left to right.
Mouth-breathing: a lesson for another day.