The Making Excuses Game

by | May 14, 2013 | Blog, Kendra's Thoughts | 17 comments

I teach my children to make excuses for bad behavior, and I don’t even require that the excuses be particularly believable.  It’s fine if they are, but sometimes the most outlandish excuses are the most fun.

And before you figure I’ve finally gone off the parenting deep end, let me clarify that The Making Excuses Game involves making excuses for other people only.

photos are from our homeschool group’s May crowning

The Making Excuses Game is really all about assuming the best of other people, even if you have to bend over backward to do it.  The beginning of it, for me, came from St. Francis de Sales in An Introduction to the Devout Life.  He says:

We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of something wrong. Rash judgment always presupposes something that is not clear, in spite of which we condemn another. It is not wrong to have doubts concerning a neighbor, but we ought to be very watchful lest even our doubts or suspicions be rash and hasty.
A malicious person seeing Jacob kiss Rachel at the well-side, or Rebecca accepting jewels from Eleazer, a stranger, might have suspected them of levity, though falsely and unreasonably. If an action is in itself indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil, unless there is strong circumstantial evidence to prove such to be the case. And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences from an action which may be blameless.

You can read the rest of the section (and the rest of the book) here.

I remember being really floored by the idea that St. Francis would suggest that *I* was supposed to give everyone the same benefit of the doubt that St. Joseph gave to Our Lady.  Surely it would be better to call a spade a spade.  After all, I’m not an idiot, I know what’s really going on.  Right?

And that’s what I thought, for quite a while.  But that book stayed with me and over the course of days and weeks and years it slowly chipped away at my hardness.  Until one day the kids and I were driving on the freeway in the fast lane, at speeds reasonably-to-well-over the limit, when a guy came tearing up behind us and passed us with a good deal of engine revving and tire squealing.  

Jack said, “I wonder what THAT guy’s problem is.”

So we decided to try to figure it out.  Guesses ranged from that he really, really had to go to the bathroom to that his grandmother had called him to say she was being swallowed by a giant snake and could he come help.

We had such a good time, we’ve been doing it ever since.

And as silly as it almost always is, I’m amazed at how if I can come up with even one reason, even if it’s far-fetched, that would excuse the behavior, then all my frustration with that person melts away.

In case you’d like to play along at home, here are some excuses that have worked for us . . . 

Three-year-old with his parents at a restaurant at 9:30 pm = they just flew in today from Hawaii, it’s only 6:30 for him.

Cell phone goes off in church, rings and rings, happens twice = it belongs to an old lady who can’t even hear it going off, if she CAN hear it, she’s probably just as mad about it as you are, because it never occurred to her that it might be HER phone.  And even if she DID know it was hers she has no idea how to turn off the ringer anyway.

A lady is ignoring her kids at the playground while she texts on her phone = she is a renowned brain surgeon texting a stranded Artic scientist through the steps necessary to perform her own endonasal endoscopy, but she’s also a great mom so she brought her kids to the park.

See, isn’t this fun?

It really almost always works.  The only limitation is addressed by St. Francis himself:

Of course exception must be made as to those who are responsible for others, whether in family or public life;–to all such it becomes a matter of conscience to watch over the conduct of their fellows. Let them fulfill their duty lovingly, and let them also give heed to restrain themselves within the bounds of that duty. 

Which means, I don’t make excuses for my kids, since it’s my responsibility to make sure they turn out properly.  And, of course, we have a responsibility to pleasantly and charitably bring dangerous behavior to the attention of our close friends and family members and to set a good example for all by our own behavior.

But strangers and acquaintances?  They all get to be the subject of The Making Excuses Game.  I love how liberating it is for me to be able to think the best of the world and the people around me and I love that my children do it automatically now.  


I’m sure that my own behavior must sometimes seem less than ideal in the eyes of others.  So if you ever think you see me up to something untoward, please feel free to come up with the craziest excuse you can think of for me.  Maybe it will even be true!

Update: Thanks to Meghan Mella in the comments I now know about the awesome 2005 commencement speech by David Foster Wallace which pretty much says everything I say here, but much more poetically and with considerably more production value.  I considered just editing this post to be nothing but a link to his YouTube video, but then I thought, “That would be a LOT of holding down the backspace key.”  So I’m just going to keep my post AND put the YouTube video in here.  It’s less than 10 minutes long, and it really is great.


  1. Hannah

    Love it! I have a rather strong judgmental streak tinged with a short temper so this…. this I could use!!!

  2. Valerie

    This is such a great idea! I totally struggle with forming mental judgements of others. I'm going to try it out today – thank you! (P.S. I came across your blog about a month ago after seeing it linked on Jenny's blog. I think I found Jenny's blog from Grace's blog after her cute little boy was kissed by Pope Francis. Anyhow, as a fellow Catholic homeschooling mama of five, I really enjoy your writing. Thanks for sharing!)

  3. Rosie

    Perfect! I've started doing this during Mass especially, and try to encourage my husband to do so, because he gets VERY angry about things like slow drivers, slow walkers, etc. I pretty much decide that anyone who's taking a turn *that* slowly must have a pregnant woman or a cake in the car 😛

    Sometimes it takes a while to come up with excuses – like the man who keeps letting his 4 & 2-year-old leave the pew talking loudly during Mass… This week I decided that he's a new widower who never took the kids to Mass because he isn't Catholic, but he wants to honor his wife's memory and doesn't know what is and isn't appropriate during Mass.

  4. Curt Dose

    Great original thought here (with inspiration from St. Frances de Sales). It shall be my new favorite technique for the idiots that surround us.

  5. Micaela Darr

    Hey, we play this, too! My kids love it, and you are absolutely right. It does soften my heart towards others. 🙂

  6. Amelia

    I love this!! We do it too..and it does make a difference. My mom taught me this…whenever we were driving and someone was speeding/going fast/driving recklessly, it was always "His wife is having a baby." Whenever anyone drives too fast, it's always because someone is having a baby.

  7. Hand-Maid With Love

    I started doing this when I was transporting food items in my car that I didn't want to spill or topple over…paradigm shift – we don't really know peoples circumstances. I love how you've made this into a game with your children. And I love your pictures of the May Crowning!

  8. Nanacamille

    It's a wonderful way to keep your sanity especially in the traffic that surrounds us and the way some people behave. I was driving you and Kara someplace when you were young and you two were arguing in the back seat of my Volvo. The freeway traffic was bad and I has said "cut it out" several times but you kept at it. In frustration I said,"Will you two shut your Mother (meant mouth)" and after a moment of silence we all broke out laughing. After that it was a very pleasant drive. Laughter is a great fix.

  9. Ellen Johnson

    This is so great! It reminds me of Melanie from Gone With the Wind. All throughout the book, Scarlette looks down on Melanie and her weakness and ninny-pinny ways, but ultimately she is the strongest character in the book because she sees the goodness in everyone, even Scarlette! I can't wait to play this game with my little gal 🙂

    • Kendra Tierney

      That's true! I love finding examples like that in books. My oldest is 10, so we're not quite ready for Gone With the Wind. But we did just read Pollyanna and the Glad Game is another fun exercise.

    • Ellen Johnson

      Oh yes, Pollyanna is a really good example of this! It's such a simple exercise, the Glad Game or the Making Excuses Game, but the effects are so deep and profound!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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