Change This Phrase and It Will Change Your Family

“It’s not my fault! It’s not my fault!” My son wailed as the water poured out over the edge of the toilet, with all of it’s disgusting glory onto the tile bathroom floor. The cesspool oozed its way towards the door and worked itself into the unsuspecting yarn of our hallway shag carpeting.

This was a problem.

I darted upstairs skipping two steps at a time. Noticed the mess and the enormous ball of toilet paper clogging the toilet. We’ve had talks about how much toilet paper to use but they didn’t register. (It still surprises me how many simple life conversations I actually need to have as a parent; “do not put your bare feet on your dinner plate on the table, do not play with bugs on the patio then come in for a snack without washing your hands”…and so on).

I want to tell you that I handled myself well: a fountain of grace and understanding, a gentle caring soul in the midst of crisis.

That didn’t happen. Rewind through the prior 45 minutes. I wanted to getaway with the family for a nice afternoon, instead I had been fixing the sink that was falling away from the countertop because of a faulty installation. Before that I went to the home improvement store, hit every red light on the way. The service clerk was entirely rude and unhelpful.

I had asked my kids to do their morning chores so we could have some wonderful Saturday family time. They didn’t. The kitchen was a mess. I tripped over their stuff as I bounded up the stairs. While trying to stop the toilet attack I slammed my finger in the door jam, I discovered the toilet water filling mechanism was broken and wouldn’t shutoff, all of this as I sloshed through the gunk on the floor.

Without thinking, I let out a very flustered growl and a few other words, like a lion woken too early by unruly cubs. And that’s when my son ran away screeching, “it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault.”   I sternly attempted to explain why it was indisputably his fault. My wife was justifiably dismayed with my reaction.

We faced a difficult emotional recovery from that point. I knew it was his fault, about the toilet paper at least. But looking back, big deal, right? So he used too much toilet paper for the 14th time. It’s not worth setting the family’s soul on defense for a day that was supposed to be filled with heart-warming connections.

And that’s when it hit me. It’s my fault actually: the culture of my home right now was my fault. Circumstances flooded in, but I allowed, I created the tension, by my reaction.

In his brilliant book Boundaries for Leaders, Henry Cloud points out that we get what we create or what we allow.

On this day that I wanted peace and connection and joy, I was getting tension and distance, and angst. I’m continuing to learn, we can’t control the circumstances, but we can control our reaction.

When it comes to our family and our close relationships we need to remember that we are getting what we create or what we allow. The emotional tone, the relational setting is largely established by our action, reaction, or inaction. If we spend our energy pointing out why it’s everyone else’s fault, everyone loses.

If we spend our energy asking “how is part of this my fault” we can own what we need to own and make some real changes.

We did end up sorting out our mess and it started by me apologizing to my wife and my son for my reaction. It opened up the door to a relatively painless cleanup of all the mess in our house. 

Will you change the phrase, “it’s not my fault” to “it is my fault?” Identify, own, and speak the issue you participated in creating or allowing. It will change your family and your friendships.

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