Being an only child had advantages and disadvantages for my daughter. In the plus column, she thrived with the singular attention and focus she received from me. With my hectic, unpredictable schedule as a child welfare worker, I didnt have to divide what little family time I had with other children. She was my world.
The downside of being an only child was the singular, undivided attention she received from me.
Contradicting? Yes. But accurate.
When your mom discovers that someone spilled chocolate milk on the oriental rug (despite the no eating in the living room rule) and you have no siblings, who do you blame? The “I don’t know, it wasn’t me” defense just does not work.
My daughter, like most young children, created an imaginary friend: actually an imaginary brother. She named him Connor Riley.
He played with her ocassionally in Blanket forts, with tea parties, etc. But he also became her scapegoat.
One Saturday, walking into the kitchen, I stopped short. In a large (perhaps 4 foot square) area, there were multiple pencil drawings and scribbles on the ceramic tile. For a brief second I admired the creativity, then called for my daughter.
When asked about the artwork, she replied, ” Connor did it”.
“Did he now”? I asked.
Wide-eyed and innocently she nodded.
“Well, you are the big sister, and you should have told Connor the rules about drawing only on paper.”
I handed her a bowl of soapy water and instructed her to help Connor take responsibility for cleaning up the mess.
I had to leave the room before she heard me laughing. Because she sat on floor with the washcloth wiping up the pencil marks muttering to herself…
“Connor, I can’t believe you got me in trouble AGAIN”!
Unfortunately, I am reminded of that incident often lately. And not with 5 year olds, but with adults who shift blame on others rather than take personal responsibility.
This is often demonstrated in the workplace. When an error is made, I hear, “I wasn’t trained right”! When an assignment is late, it’s “nobody reminded me”! When behavior becomes unprofessional, the cry becomes, “They pushed my buttons”!
Personal responsibility is a sign of maturity and professionalism. As those working to help others, we are modeling every day whether we mean to or not. As teachers your students learn more than the alphabet from you. As social workers, your foster children, no matter how much they try to hide it, watch you as a guiding compass.
I have wondered if people are afraid to admit their mistakes out of fear, of a world with little patience for imperfections and weaknesses.
I admire the courage of those admitting mistakes…bravery in those rising from a fall. When one of my staff comes to me taking ownership of problem, even a big one, we can tackle it together. But when everyone points outward, the problem is infinitely more difficult to address.
I challenge you to own your strengths and your weaknesses. If you stumble along the path, dont point at a tree root, admit you became distracted. Asking for help and taking responsibility are strengths that not only shape your character, but often plays a role in shaping others.
Connor Riley eventually went the way of all childhood ghosts. No longer needing a fall guy, my daughter learned how to accept responsibility for her own mistakes.
Our imaginary scapegoats can be a crutch, stunting our professional growth. But by taking more ownership and responsibility for our actions, we are growing and making a difference.
And isn’t that why we are here?