By Lisa Sugarman
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized something incredibly important. Something that I’ve learned is a super-critical life skill for all of us, but especially key for our survival as parents. It’s actually one of the few tools in our emotional toolbox that have the capacity to convert a potentially nasty exchange with our kids (or anyone, for that matter) into a healthy, maybe even productive, conversation.
It’s taken awhile, but I’ve realized the value of knowing when to admit that I was wrong. And lemme tell you, it’s one powerful little nugget of knowledge. Because once we harness the ability to self-reflect enough to know and accept and, most importantly, admit when we’ve screwed up, everything changes.
Now I say this because, as a mom of two girls (one in high school and one who’s a freshman in college), I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how my interactions with them have evolved over the years.
Like how, when they were young, we really didn’t argue because they were just cute little squirts and any issue we ever had was more or less a little-squirt-sized issue that was easy to resolve. Stuff like not riding on the dog or why watching Jaws when they were four was a terrible idea. But then, as they got older, their issues grew accordingly. And so, at times, did our clashes.
I’ve learned, though, through incredible trial and error, that nothing defuses an argument faster than admitting when you’re wrong. Especially when you’re a parent. The unfortunate thing is that that knowledge doesn’t always come easy to us parents. And that’s because parents have egos.
See, I think most people, parents in particular, are just inherently stubborn when it comes to owning their actions. I know I can be, even in spite of the fact that I try very hard not to be that way.
Now this isn’t to say that everyone’s like that, but I’ve been around long enough now to get a good sense that it’s definitely the majority of us who struggle with it. And I think that’s because, sometimes, we start off in one direction, lobbying one point, maybe realizing along the way that our point was feeble to begin with, but have too much momentum going to pull back. I do it constantly.
But I can only imagine how many arguments could’ve been avoided, or, at the very least, shortened, if I hadn’t dug in my heels just on principle alone. (Don’t get me wrong, obviously, as a mom, I’m almost always right, but even I screw up occasionally. Shocking as that may seem.)
Actually, what a lot of us don’t realize early enough in life is that it’s incredibly humbling, no, liberating actually, to own it when we screw up. Mainly where our kids are concerned.
Because admitting we’re fallible as parents has a powerful and important impact on kids. It proves that people—even people they trust the most—can make mistakes. I mean, how can we raise our children to believe that there’s no shame in admitting when they’re wrong if we, the parents, can’t do the same? We can’t. And we shouldn’t.
Look, I have plenty of examples of times when I held the line too long only because I wasn’t ready to back down or just because I was the The Mom. (I use that one a lot.) But the times I retreated before any real shots were fired, the fighting almost always stopped. It’s uncanny, really. But a little humility goes a long way.
See, for most of us, admitting we’re wrong, especially to our kids, feels unnatural. That’s because, as the Moms and Dads or grownups, we typecast ourselves as the ones who have to be strong and confident all the time. The ones who model all the good behavior.
Then there’s the whole pride thing, which, to be honest, can be one of the toughest hurdles to clear in learning to admit we’re wrong. Because it shows weakness and fallibility. It creates a vulnerability. But it also proves we’re human. That’s the key. That’s what our kids need to see. And the ironic thing is that it shows our kids way more of our strength and character when we own our actions and apologize for our mistakes.
Now my girls are probably reading this and thinking, Mom, seriously, what the hell are you talking about? You hardly ever admit when you’re wrong. And to that I say, First of all, yes I do, but it just so happens that the percentage of my actually being wrong is extremely low. And second, I only said I’ve realized that owning my mistakes is incredibly valuable. I haven’t actually fully deployed the concept in my day-to-day life. But I’m working on it. Baby steps.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.