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Whose Fault is it Anyway? (Yours)

One of the most significant things that we can do as dads, as men, and as human beings for that matter, is know when to take responsibility for our actions, or our lack of action as the case may be.  We live in a time when people are allowed to place blame on others.  “I was scalded by a cup of coffee because no one told me it was that hot,” “I was fired from my job because my boss never liked me,” “I will never be a good dad because my co-parent won’t let me do anything my way.”  It goes on and on.  We never stop to say “hey, most coffee is hot I should have known better,” or “I did drop the ball on three important projects,” or “I will talk to my co-parent about how important it is for me to actively participate in my child’s life.”  Of course everything isn’t your fault.  I don’t want to get emails from you guys saying bizarre stuff like “I used an aerosol hairspray every day for most of the eighties and I am responsible for global warming” or “I watch Desperate Housewives every week just to ogle Eva Longoria and as a result of my watching there is no end in sight for that silly show.”  Neither of those things are things you have any control over.  It’s not your fault the eighties was all about big hair and that Eva is so gorgeous.  The key is knowing when it’s appropriate to take responsibility for a situation.  If everyone could do that the world would be a much better place.

 This theory holds true in every aspect of our lives, even in being a dad.

 The other morning my wife and I were very busy with our mischievous little toddler who was in unusually rare form.  After changing Devin’s diaper my wife grabbed the baby wipes, and the soiled diaper and ritualistically put those things in their proper place.  The only problem is that she forgot to take the baby powder.  My wife and I both know that leaving an open container of powder within reach of Devin is a definite “no no,” yet somehow it was forgotten.  To add insult to injury I kind of glanced at the powder in the room with him, but was too preoccupied with whatever it was that I was doing to think too much about it.  It just didn’t click.  Two seconds later the clean room I had passed by moments earlier without a thought looked like a crime scene.  There was an Elmo chalk outline on the floor and my son looked like Al Pacino in the last few minutes of the movie Scarface. 

 All I could do was smile because we are the parents and we had to endure the aftermath of a harmless oversight on our part.  My wife was a bit more distraught than I was, letting me know that kids have smothered themselves to death in baby powder.  I never heard that one before.  I’m going to write it off as an urban legend, the dramatic ranting of an over worked mother, just so I can stay sane.  I’m sure it’s possible.  Anyway, I dusted the kid off and vacuumed the floor.  I even gave Elmo a couple of whacks across the face… to get the powder off of course.            

It was probably our fault, we know all to well about our child’s fascination with baby powder, but it got me to wondering how many kids have done the same thing and were punished for it.  I also wondered if he should have been punished for making my living room look like a snow globe after all.  Whose fault was it?

 Upon greater scrutiny I am not quite sure.  He has played in powder on a much lesser scale in the past and we have told him that he shouldn’t.  At what point are we to expect our teaching and rules to sink into the toddler mind?  I do believe that in this instance Devin should not have been left alone with the temptation of one of his favorite mess makers.  But what about the next time?

Well the next time came sooner than I would have expected.  About 45 minutes after the first incident of that day.

  My family and I live in a small apartment in New York as is commonplace.  Our kitchen doubles as the dining room and is what a real estate agent might call cozy.  I was hard at work preparing my famous cinnamon vanilla pancakes, my son was at the kitchen table eating cereal and my wife was sorting though the mail. We were doing the family thing in the kitchen and just kind of enjoying each other’s company when Shalawn takes three steps over to the garbage can to discard a notice letting us know that we may have just won a new car, I go to the stove to flip a pancake.  Literally two seconds later we turn around and the kid is covered in self rising flour (my secret to really good pancakes).  I left the flour on the table.  What was I to do, I have no counter space!  My culinary genius is stunted by a lack of space!  Devin looked surprised by what had happened and Shalawn and I were experiencing a strong case of déjà vu.  This time the kid was sentenced to some alone time.  It wasn’t exactly a punishment, he had to go so his mother could clean up the mess, but he took it as a punishment.

 We are very strict about misbehavior in the kitchen because the kitchen can be very dangerous for a small child.  We expect Devin to be seated at all times when in the kitchen.  That’s the only way he can be in the kitchen.  If he wants to walk around, then he has to go.  It’s just that simple.  But what of he is seated in the acceptable fashion and he decides to act up a little?   He has to go. So I guess us putting him out was a punishment.  Even though it was my blunder that I left the flour within his reach, it was his fault that he decided to misbehave in the kitchen and play in it.  He has been ejected from the kitchen for playing in his juice, throwing food, hopping in his chair, tossing his placemat to the ground, pulling down the curtains, spitting out his food, ripping up his napkin, yelling, turning over his plate and countless other things, so for the sake of consistency, he had to go.  This was one time that we could share the blame.  I could be wrong though.  I’m not Super Dad as some experts like to call themselves.

My point is that sometimes a kid misbehaves because we as parents make it too tempting for them to not go a little nuts.  We know our kids well, that’s what separates good dads from all other dads.  We know that if our child loves Oreos more than they love their own mother, we shouldn’t leave them alone in a room with an open package.  And we should know that if we do commit such a blatant faux pas that it’s not the fault of the toddler that sees it as an opportunity to see how many cookies she can stuff in her mouth before you get back.  In those situations we have to learn the lesson and move on.  Punishment may or may not be appropriate, but you have to make that call and hope you are being consistent with all your other rules.

 Until next time new dads, take care of yourselves. 

last updated February 2006

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