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Parental Blamelessness

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A character, usually an adult, is having a discussion with their parents concerning an event that took place when they were being raised. The son or daughter will comment on a parental action that they are not happy about. Almost as if on cue, the parent will retort with: "I did the best I could!" - and may additionally state: "Children don't come with a guidebook. Parents make MISTAKES." The son or daughter may continue to argue with the parent for some time, but don't expect them to bring the parent around to owning up to the mistake or apologizing; in fact, the conversation will likely end right about then and the parent will come away as if vindicated, with the child receiving no satisfaction of any kind.

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Alternatively, a character will talk about an injustice or harsh act that they have had to endure from their parents. It could be a strict rule, a general attitude of authoritarianism, or an outright example of poor treatment. Having told their story, though, they will conclude with the statement that their parents, after all, did the best they could, as if to excuse the injustice, and will not be seen to pursue the cause against their parents any further.

In other cases, the phrase about the parent doing the best they could will be dropped in passing and not drive or inform the plot in any way.

Very much Truth in Television; this kind of low-effort excuse will probably not be accepted if the person being called out is anyone other than a parent. While it is true that everyone makes mistakes, and while raising children is certainly a difficult task, it is a conveniently sweeping assumption to claim that therefore, one could under no circumstances have done better, or that one is always entitled to wrong one's own child without any consequences. Rather than offering an argument backed up by evidence, the parent typically makes no effort to justify the claim that they did their best, other than by repeating platitudes like "children don't come with a guidebook."note  It also pretty much assumes that the parent's action was well-meaning, whereas there are many parents whose actions, at least at times, are self-serving, narcissistic, or even downright malicious. A parent resorting to this tactic is essentially refusing a priori to be called to account; conversely, a child justifying a parent's actions in this way can be seen as being reluctant to see the parent in a negative light and fully admit that they may have been wronged.

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A Sub-Trope of Never My Fault; can be related to Easily Forgiven and Karma Houdini; may overlap with Honor Thy Abuser. Compare Parental Hypocrisy, where parents expect things from their children that they do not expect of, or have not practiced, themselves; or Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal, where a parent can't accept that their offspring turned out a lawbreaker. Often, this trope is a response to Calling the Old Man Out, which itself is a defying or aversion of the trope, seeing as the attitude described here is not only invoked by parents themselves but also by those wishing to excuse their parents' actions.

This can relate to bad parenting, which is all too common, so no Real Life examples, please.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Robin Series: Jack Drake's reaction to Tim making a joke about or even seeming like he's about to question Tim's incredibly neglectful upbringing is to scream at him for being disrespectful and not understanding how hard Jack claims to have worked at being a father, usually paired with Jack destroying some of Tim's things.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Birthmarked: in this 2018 Irish-Canadian film, a husband-wife scientist team raise their children as a scientific experiment, trying to prove that nurture is more powerful than nature. Their actions eventually result in their children being taken away by social services and placed in a private school. The parents make an unauthorized visit, corral the kids, and try to get through to them, claiming that with the experiment they made mistakes, but that those mistakes were made out of love. The kids don't buy it.

  • Cosy Dens: In the infamous scene where Father Kraus' daughter provokes him by calling her mother's dumplings "gnocchi", to which he reacts with excessive anger, the ensuing argument between father and daughter over this trivial matter provokes a slew of vitriol on part of the father, within which he couches a tirade on how his best efforts at raising her are in vain. One of the invectives he throws her way is: "Once you have raised a daughter, come and argue with me!"

  • Fathers Day 1997: Jack (Billy Crystal) and Dale (Robin Williams) are each told by a mutual ex-girlfriend that he is the biological father of her teenage son Scott, who has run away from home. They soon catch up to him and Scott explains that he had run away because his (official) father had forbidden him to see his girlfriend, also claiming that for absolutely no reason, he has taken his car away. Jack decides to tell him a story about how on his tenth birthday, his father had dropped off his dog at the vet's on the way to the circus, telling him after they returned that he had had to be put down, and when Jack had asked why he had to do it on his birthday, had merely replied: "It was on the way". Scott and Dale ask Jack what his point is, and get this answer: "The point is that parents screw up sometimes, and that they don't mean it and that they make mistakes because they're human beings. Doesn't mean that they don't love you; doesn't mean that they don't care; just means that they're doing the best they can! You know?" Scott keeps looking at him silently; Jack leaves and Dale tells him: "I didn't understand the story either." The film appears to be parodying the trope here.

  • Forrest Gump. When Mrs. Gump is on the point of death, she weaves the stock phrase that she did the best she could when raising him into a recapitulation and philosophical reflection on her life:

Mrs. Gump: It's my time. It's just my time. Oh, now, don't you be afraid, sweetheart. Death is just a part of life. It's something we're all destined to do. I didn't know it, but I was destined to be your momma. I did the best I could.
Forrest: You did good, Momma.
Mrs. Gump: Well, I happened to believe you make your own destiny. You have to do the best with what God gave you.

  • Lady Bird: The film seems to sympathize a lot with Lady Bird's mother, appearing to imply that, even though her behavior is not always sympathetic, she is doing the best she can in a difficult family situation. Indeed, the film ends with the protagonist calling her and saying sorry (for defying her in conspiring with her father to get her into an East Coast school.) However, when one follows the mother's actual actions throughout the film, it becomes clear that the latter was emotionally abusive and that it was effectively she who drove Lady Bird away from her.

  • The Remains of the Day: the protagonist's father tells him while lying on his deathbed: "I hope I've been a good father. I tried me best." A rather understated example, as he does not state it in reaction to any accusations and in fact hopes that his best really was good enough.

  • This Boy's Life: At the end of the film, when Toby and his mother leave Toby's domestic tyrant stepfather Dwight, he goes into a Villainous Breakdown and rants at them: "You always sided against me, thought you were better! I tried! I did the best I could! What about me?" and continues blubbering on in this fashion as they leave.

    Literature 
  • Canadian novelist Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy is positively thematic in its treatment of characters whose parents or substitute parental figures demonstrate failings to various degrees. In the first book, Fifth Business, its protagonist Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsay is in hospital recovering from wounds sustained in World War I when he receives notice that his parents - his authoritarian and somewhat narcissistic mother and his pushover father who had been her enabler - have died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. His initial reaction is to be "...ashamed because I felt the loss so little." He goes on to describe how "It was years before I thought of the death of my parents as anything other than a relief; in my thirties I was able to see them as real people, who had done the best they could in the lives fate had given them." Predictably, this is left as a bald statement for which Dunstan does not provide any justification. In the second book, The Manticore, its protagonist, David Staunton, decides to undergo psychoanalysis following the untimely death of his arrogant millionaire father, who had resented David's going into law instead of business and his never marrying, ultimately disinheriting him in favor of his second wife and daughter. Before beginning the psychotherapy in earnest, David claims to the psychoanalyst that he does not hold a grudge against his father, criticizes the recent trend toward putting blame on parents, and states that, as a lawyer, he believes there has to be a statute of limitationsnote  for every crime. His argument doesn't take into account the fact that he wasn't really given a chance to have the wrongs wrought by his father righted while the latter still was alive. Later in the book, though, the author provides an aversion to the trope as well, specifically in the backstory of Liselotte Naegeli, who blamed her grandfather, whose ward she was, for her deformed appearance. Specifically, as an early adolescent, Liselotte had started growing uncontrollably; she was subjected to medical treatment presumably consented to by her grandfather and about which she was not consulted, which arrested her growth but left her with ungainly, unfeminine features. Out of bitterness, she took her revenge on him by smashing her grandfather's prized collection of mechanical toys, and for a period of time acted like a vicious, unkempt, antisocial domestic pest.
  • Serendipity Books: One book in the series, Grampa-Lop, ends with the name of the titular character, an old storyteller rabbit, being cleared of telling lies and the young bunnies being allowed to visit him again. However, the author mentions that "The older rabbits never apologized for the wrong they had done the bunnies and Grampa-Lop, for everyone knew that sometimes even older rabbits make mistakes, too." In this way, a lesson to the effect that adults are somehow entitled to be unfair to children with no consequences is bluntly invoked to the reader.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mysterious Ways: The episode "Condemned", which treats issues of atonement and forgiveness, centers on a convicted killer whose execution has been delayed following a power outage. When his lawyer fails at an attempt to stop the execution, he gets upset about it and throws a fit before his mother, who is visiting him in prison. She starts getting emotional and he tells her: "Don't worry. You won't have to see me here much longer." She calls him out on saying such a hurtful thing and the following transpires:

Mother: I'm your mother, Luther. I love you. You're the light of my life! Everything I do is for you!
Luther: Yeah? Is that why;- all the jobs, Ma? All the movin' around from place to place? All the different men? Huh? Did you do that all for me?
Mother: I did the best I could!
Luther: Yeah? Well, look what it got you!

Shortly afterward, Luther's mother dies. By the end of the episode, the execution has been re-scheduled, and shortly before it is about to take place, Luther has received formal forgiveness from his victim's mother. Just before the execution, when asked if he has any final words, a now penitent Luther deeply apologizes to his victim's mother and states that he is sorry for having given his own mother a life of suffering and pain.

    Music 
  • Disturbed's "Tyrant" is a bitter rant directed at a blame-shifting Abusive Parent. The narrator admits that he used to be a blame-shifter, too, "Why did both of us have to believe that we were right?" and asks the parent to own up as well, with no success: "And it's like pulling teeth cause you'll never confess."

    Religion 
  • Invoked in Hebrews 12:9-10 in the Bible, as part of the following analogy for God's motives for punishing those whom he loves: "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness." (NKJV) The author seems to be following this train of thought: 1) he assumes that his readers accept the discipline they received as children; 2) he deems said discipline to have been considered appropriate by the fathers, but implies it may not have always been perfect or adequate; 3) he assumes that God, being God, gives perfect discipline, unlike Earthly fathers...ergo, the reader should appreciate the chastisement of god.

    Western Animation 
  • God, the Devil and Bob: Bob's father, who he had a bad relationship with, ends up dead. Bob, believing that he ended up in hell because of the abuse he suffered, is shocked to learn he is actually in Heaven. When Bob confronts God over this, he reveals that Bob's father did care for him and that as much as a jerk he was, he was nowhere near as bad as Bob's grandfather. Also, despite this, God does tell Bob that his anger over his father is understandable and he has every right to be angry.

  • South Park: In "City Sushi," after hearing that Butters started a turf war (not realizing Butters had caused it on accident), his parents insist that they're not at fault and he must be mentally ill, ignoring their history of extremely strict parenting and punishing Butters for the smallest behaviors.
    Linda: Oh, for the love of Pete! What is wrong with that boy?
    Stephen: I don't know, but it's clear it isn't our parenting! We're awesome! He must have mental problems.
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