The Big Idea: Instead of finding fault, focus on finding solutions. This simple shift can make a big difference in family happiness.
A few years ago, I read a blog post urging parents to “commit to blame-free household.” I hadn’t thought much about blame. But that simple phrase struck a chord.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw a pattern: When something went wrong in our house, instead of trying to find a solution, too often my response was to focus on who was at fault–so I’d have an outlet for my frustration. If we were late to an important event, was it my fault or my wife’s? If my kids were fighting, who started it? If the house was a wreck, who was falling short?
All this blame mostly seemed to be making people feel bad. But not actually resulting in better outcomes.
But what about responsibility?
At first, the idea of a “blame-free household” seemed almost scary. Would cutting out blame leave us with no limits for the kids, and none of us bearing responsibility for our actions?
But I began to see that there’s big a difference between blaming someone for a screw-up, and having a loving conversation about how to make sure something doesn’t happen again.
Putting it into practice
For example, if my kid took a paintbrush to the wall, my first instinct was exasperation:”What on earth are you doing?!”
Now, instead, I try to focus on setting a limit and figuring out what support my kids need to meet that limit. “Actually, the living room wall is really not an OK place to paint a mural. Can you not do that again please? How ‘bout we tape up a bunch of paper and you paint that instead?” (And then I make sure the paint is water-based, because four-year-olds.)
Or when your baby is super hard to settle at bedtime one night, and you’re just desperate to be done for the day – it’s easy to turn on each other. “You shouldn’t have kept her up so late – now she’s overtired and never going to go down,” you might say. Instead – what if you take a minute to say: “I’m so tired and ready to be done for the day. I know you are, too. What can WE do to get this child to sleep?”
The feelings are real–my feelings, my wife’s, my kids’ there has to be space for them. But I try to disentangle them from blame.
All this is definitely a work in progress. It takes effort to look for solutions instead of finding fault. Expressing hurt feelings without pointing fingers is tricky. Sometimes I blow it. But when I manage to respond with compassion and an open heart, the results are always worth it.