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Is It My Fault?

pigtailsThis seems to be the eternal question whenever something’s wrong with your child.  They’re lagging behind other kids; they’re biting; they’re not social; they’re failing classes; they’re getting into drugs.

(Yes, you’ll notice that short list spanned the ages.)

That’s because whatever age your child is, he or she will likely have some problems.  And when they do, you may very well ask yourself that timeless question: Is it my fault?At first glance, this seems like an entirely unproductive question.  After all, the vast majority of the time we ask it, we mean to self-flagellate.  We’re casting blame, and it feels better, in a sense, to cast the blame on ourselves than on our children.   We’re taking one for the team.

But buried within the question is some useful information.  Meaning: Are we, as parents, part of the problem?  And that can actually be a good, proactive place to start, depending on the problem.  For example, if your child is having disciplinary issues, you should examine your style of discipline.

But there are situations where it’s ONLY self-flagellation.  An example of this is when your child is developmentally delayed.  I know this one intimately, as my daughter just turned two years old and has only a handful of words.  When I go to pick her up at daycare and hear kids her age saying things like, “Let’s turn on all the fans!” while my daughter just sits gleefully pointing at the fan and making a noise something like “A-vah!”–sometimes it’s a struggle not to apportion the blame.

It’s funny, because I’ve never been a particularly guilt-prone individual.  But I guess motherhood brings out all sorts of endearing traits.

I digress.  My point is, we need to distinguish between times when we should look at our role in a problem, and times when we’re just harming ourselves.  It’s important to recognize that self-blame actually impedes our ability to help our children.

In some cases, parents feel so bad about themselves, and so ashamed, that they don’t seek proper help for their children.  Or they go into denial as a form of psychological self-protection.  Or the guilt dictates parenting choices, like how much to coddle or how to discipline.  Sometimes, deciding something is our fault as parents can mean we’re not proactively fighting for solutions for our children.

Also, think about what it’s like to be raised by a chronically guilty parent.  They might be sad, or irritable, or distant.  You don’t want to wind up feeling guilty about that, on top of everything else, do you?

So the next time you’re tempted to ask if something is your fault, change the question to: Is any part of this possibly my fault?  If so, what can I do differently?

Sometimes the best answer to the latter question is: Practice self-compassion.  It’ll benefit you, your partner, and your children.

Mother and daughter image available from Shutterstock.

Is It My Fault?

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Is It My Fault?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Jan 2014
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