Young People Ask . . .
Why Is It Always My Fault?
“My dad has allergies and has to work with people who smoke. When he gets home, sometimes he is very upset. He’ll lose things and blame me for it. When I tell him that he lost it, he gets mad and tells me I shouldn’t have corrected him.”—A teenage girl.
DO YOU sometimes feel that you are the family scapegoat? Does it seem that no matter what goes wrong, you get blamed? It seems that way to 14-year-old Joy. She lives in a single-parent household and often looks after her younger brother and sister. “I’ll be downstairs when they start fighting,” complains Joy. “They are acting so stupid and immature, but when Dad gets home, he yells at me because I wasn’t there to stop it.”
If your parents call you spoiled, lazy, or irresponsible or use other labels that seem to cast your shortcomings in concrete, at times it may even seem as though they expect you to fail. Ramon’s family dubbed him the absentminded professor—a nickname that he deeply resented. You may likewise resent a nickname or label that highlights your flaws, even if it is said affectionately. Instead of motivating you to improve, the negative label may simply reinforce the feeling that you are always to blame.
Blame can be particularly painful when it seems to be the product of favoritism. “I’m the middle child,” says a teenager named Frankie, “and I always get the worst end of the deal.” It may seem that your siblings are always above suspicion but that you are pronounced guilty at the first sign of trouble.
Why Parents Blame
Of course, it’s only normal for parents to correct their children when they err. Why, offering healthy, positive correction is one of the ways that God-fearing parents bring their children up “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) At times, though, even the best of parents can overreact or even jump to wrong conclusions. Recall an event that took place when Jesus was young. On this occasion Jesus was missing. It turned out that he was in God’s temple, having Bible discussions. Even so, when his parents found him, his mother asked: “Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.”—Luke 2:48.
Since Jesus was perfect, there was no reason to fear that he would be engaged in delinquent behavior. But like all loving parents, his mother felt responsible for her child and reacted strongly, perhaps fearing that his best interests were threatened. Similarly, your parents may overreact at times, not because they are trying to be mean or cruel, but simply because they really care about you.
Realize, too, that we are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Working and caring for your home, your parents are under considerable stress, and this can affect the way they treat you. (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:7.) One mental-health worker observed: “In some families, when there is a crisis going on, parents can lose their tempers and make hasty decisions even though they are normally fair people.”
Single parents may be particularly prone to vent their frustrations on their children, simply because they do not have a mate with whom to discuss things. Admittedly, receiving the brunt of a parent’s personal frustrations is not fun. Says 17-year-old Lucy: “If I did something and I deserve to be punished, that’s okay. But when I get punished because my mother is in a bad mood, that’s really unfair.”
Favoritism is another factor. Although a parent usually loves all his children, it’s not uncommon for him to be particularly drawn to one child.a (Compare Genesis 37:3.) Feeling that you are the less-loved child is painful in itself. But if it seems that your needs are being ignored or that you are often blamed for things your siblings have done, resentment is sure to follow. “I have this brother, Darren,” says young Roxanne. “He is Mom’s little angel. . . . She always blames me, never Darren.”
In healthy families unfair blaming may happen occasionally. But in troubled families there may be an ongoing pattern of parents blaming, shaming, and humiliating. Sometimes the blame is even accompanied by “malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech.”—Ephesians 4:31.
Can a youth be blamed for such parental outbursts? It is true that a disobedient son or daughter can be “a vexation” to a parent. (Proverbs 17:25) However, it is to parents that the Bible says: “Do not be irritating [literally, “provoking to wrath”] your children.” (Ephesians 6:4) As with all Christians, a parent must exercise self-control, “keeping himself restrained under evil.” (2 Timothy 2:24) So when a parent loses self-control, he cannot blame it on his child’s shortcomings.
Verbal assaults may be evidence that a parent is suffering emotional distress, depression, or low self-worth. It could also indicate problems such as marital distress or alcoholism. According to one source, children of addicted parents often become the scapegoats. “Nothing they do is right. They may be called ‘stupid,’ ‘bad,’ ‘selfish,’ and so on. Members of the family then focus on that child (or children) as the identified ‘problem’ and are distracted from their own uncomfortable feelings and problems.”
Dealing With Unfair Blame
Dr. Kathleen McCoy notes: “Labeling, belittling and criticizing [a] child’s personality . . . can be a factor in a teen’s low self-esteem, depression and noncommunication.” Or as the Bible itself puts it, harsh treatment can ‘exasperate’ children and cause them to become “downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) You may begin thinking of yourself as a worthless failure. You may also develop negative feelings toward your parents. You may conclude that there is little you can do to please them and that there is no point in trying. Anger and resentment can set in, causing you to reject any discipline—even constructive criticism.—Compare Proverbs 5:12.
How can you cope? Much will depend upon your particular situation. Why not stop and assess it realistically? For example, is it really true that you are always to blame? Or could it simply be that your parents tend to be a bit overcritical at times and say the wrong thing? “We all stumble many times,” says the Bible, and that includes parents. (James 3:2) So even if your parents do overreact a bit from time to time, do you need to overreact too? The Bible’s counsel at Colossians 3:13 may well apply: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.”
Empathy for your parents can help you do this. Says Proverbs 19:11: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” If your dad seems unusually touchy when he comes home from work and blames you for something you did not do, is there a need to make a big issue out of it? Realizing that he is probably tense and tired just might help you ‘pass over his transgression.’
What, though, if being unfairly blamed is not just an occasional irritation but is constant and unrelenting? A future article will discuss ways to improve your situation.
a See the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Is It So Hard to Get Along With My Brother and Sister?” in our July 22, 1987, issue.
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It is not unfair for a parent to offer corrective counsel when it is needed