Personal Accountability: Growing Up In Dysfunction Junction

age of accountability1973:  At 15, future @QBQGuy – Johnny “the mascot” – doing his job making sister, Lucy, and bro-in-law, Tom, laugh.

There are parallel, if not competing, truths existing in my life:

The alcoholic home I grew up in shaped me in every way.

I am accountable for all of my thoughts, emotions, words, actions, and results.

Recently, on our Raising Accountable Kids Facebook page, a follower posted this question:

“When do children become responsible for their behavior and choices?”

As the authors of Raising Accountable Kids, Karen and I boldly and confidently provided this profound answer:

We don’t know.

Meaning, there is no specific birthday in a child’s life when parents throw a party to make this announcement:


But, the truth is, an Age of Accountability must arrive for each of us or we’ll spend our lives mired in excuse-making, blaming, finger-pointing, whining, and victim thinking.

Or suffer from an entitlement mentality because someone “owes us.”

The question is, when does unhealthy I am the product of my family! thinking end and healthy I am accountable for my life! thinking begin?

As the youngest of four, it surely wasn’t my fault that I was raised in a family system heavily influenced by an alcoholic parent, where the other parent played the classic “enabler” role perfectly. I didn’t choose to grow up in Dysfunction Junction. I didn’t ask to become the Miller family “mascot.”

Do you know a mascot?

“The mascot is often the youngest sibling. They are cute, funny, and charming. No one takes them too seriously. They may be the class clown in school. Their job is to provide fun and humor. This child usually knows least what is going on in the family and they feel fear. The wall of defenses that hides the feelings of fear, insecurity, confusion, and loneliness are the hyperactive, funny, cute, clowning around behavior that gains them attention that they crave.”

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Author/Family Therapist

I didn’t ask to be a child mascot who would become a professional speaker who loves teaching QBQ! from the stage and is sometimes still tempted to measure the success of an engagement by how much the audience … laughs!?

#StillGrowing     #NotArrived     #WorkInProgress

I also didn’t ask to be raised in a home where shame and control were the dominant parenting principles, anger was the emotional undercurrent, and feelings were routinely denied.

I didn’t ask for any of that. And yet …

I. Am. No. Victim.

When I play victim, there is no learning, growth, or progress in my life.

Bottomline, if I want joy, peace, “success” (however I define it), prosperous relationships, and emotional, mental, and spiritual health, my Age of Accountability must come. When I no longer let my past hold me hostage and instead hold myself accountable for my thoughts, emotions, words, actions, and results—it will be a great day!

A day worthy of throwing a party.

Discussion Questions:

How did your “family of origin” impact you?

In what ways have you struggled to break free?

Have you allowed your Age of Accountability to arrive?

Please share!

(If you are not subscribed, please do so here)

18 Responses

  1. A good QBQ blog John which touches on a very important point. While we can state that we are not a victim and instead are responsible for ourselves, how much does our early upbringing self-sabotage our efforts? Maybe we want to take charge of our lives but our sense of worthlessness and self-pity get in our way. We must heal this? We must manage our unmet needs that continue to interfere with our adult lives. This is the “heavy lifting of healing” and must be done by us, not anyone else. By doing so, our process of personal development is more successful.

  2. What a truth! My parents both grew up in dysfunctional families and we lived at dyfunction junction as well. My Age of Accountability came in my twenties. After my parent’s divorce, and my Dad’s subsequent remarriage, I shed many tears as to why Dad wasn’t the perfect parent that I wanted him to be. One day I realized he as a HUMAN BEING. I let my vision of “SuperDad” go. I now accept him for who he is and my life is so much better for it! Imagine that – a parent is only a human being? Who would have thought?

  3. I was raised in a family that considered lying the norm and pretended bad things weren’t happening as a way of life. After my marriage, my husband (who was not a Christian at the time) couldn’t believe his sweet, Christian wife could lie about almost everything. This got me in hot water for a long time and ruined my self esteem but I was finally able to break free and I finally decided I would not lie no matter the cost. It has been so freeing but was VERY hard for my siblings as they were still playing the game we played as children. Gradually, most of my siblings have become accountable, as well, and most of us now refuse to lie about anything at all as we realize it is such a blow to our personal integrity. Thank you for your QBQ messages which I read and learn from – and have for a long time. Great job cleaning up our human psyches.

  4. I normally don’t respond the QBQ posts, but this one touched home. As with many other children of alcoholics, me and my eight other siblings were raised with an iron fist literally. It wasn’t until I went back to college in my 40’s and took a psychology course that I realized the circle of dysfunction had been a factor in marrying an alcoholic. Thankfully, I was able to get a divorce and start a new life. Now, I’m thankful for these experiences to learn what kind of parent I DON’T want to be. I’ve learned how to forgive and move on with God’s help.

  5. I would say I had the “ideal” childhood where every day seemed to be a happy day with nothing bad happening. This may sound perfect but when I reached adulthood I was not prepared to deal with “the real world.” I was only used to being happy and content all the time; so when bad times came in adulthood I had no idea how to cope. In my opinion, a person needs a childhood mixed with good and bad things and realistic expectations of the real world. Overall, I feel that everything comes down to your attitude. It is your choice how to choose to respond to a particular situation. If you have experienced hard times or are now, you have to move on with a positive attitude and make the best of every day in any way you can.

  6. Thank you for this post. I still live in the same city as my family and see them almost daily so setting healthy boundaries for my family of four can be tricky. It’s still difficult to see the unhealthy, controlling ways that my parents interact, but I am also fully aware that I am my own person who can now make my own decisions as an adult. It’s still hard mentally and emotionally though because it’s easy to revert to my childhood coping mechanisms rather than stand my ground when needed. This post brings me hope. Thank you.

    1. Jen, I have faced the same as you. Something that has helped change my experience with my parents and in-laws has been to read “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. If you can take a class on it, that’s even better. It takes practice. Best to you!

  7. After reading this I realize that it fits my wife’s exhusband to a T he has never grown up and he is now 28+ years old he doesn’t take responsibility for anything. Very tragic.

  8. Great topic John. We were just a family of four and i was the youngest. I was the poster child for the 90# weakling. My mom and dad grew up during the recession so they were both very independent and resourceful. My dad also had a great sense of humor (which I think I inherited) and really was one of the most serving men I knew. He passed away when I was just eleven. I became the man of the house and learned quickly how to press through all my insecurities. Even though my mom was very independent and strong there would be a number of occasions when I had to step up and take the lead. I turned 50 back in December and I still wonder when I will grow up.

  9. My family didn’t struggle with alcohol. We did struggle with a manic depressive father.
    I thought of my youngest brother when I read this and am going to pass it along to him to see what he thinks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *