Mom is Wrong...A Lot The Upside of Making Mistakes

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Shannon White

By Shannon White

Many of us grew up with parents who never admitted they were wrong. It just wasn’t done. My parents were young when they had me and still young when I was old enough to challenge what they were saying … and boy did I ever. But they didn’t let me get away with it, and never would they admit they might be at fault.

Times are different now, and it is more acceptable for parents to admit when they have made a mistake in judgment or action. In doing so, they give their children permission to see them as human. Children see that making a mistake is not the end of the world, and relationships can be repaired if a heartfelt apology is given and actions are changed. So I apologize to my 10 year old daughter for yelling at her, instead of explaining away my feelings. I try to show her I hold myself to the same standards of conduct as I do her.

One day, my daughter and I went into a shop to buy a thank you present for a friend. We picked out a fruit arrangement, which turned out to be more than I wanted to spend, but we went up to the register anyway. I felt ashamed that it was too much for my budget and mad that my daughter wanted to get it for our friend. “Cash or credit card?” asked the clerk. “Cash,” I told the woman and proceeded to write a check. When she then refused my check because it wasn’t cash, I replied in my nicest, passive-aggressive voice, “I wish you had told me that before I wrote out this check.” The exchange devolved from there, and my daughter and I finally walked out of the store.

As we got into the car, I thought, What just happened there? I asked my daughter the same question, not expecting her to answer. But she said, “She was kind of rude.” I knew there was more to it and that I was the one at fault here. “I didn’t do too well with that interaction. How do you think I could have handled that better?” I asked. Immediately, without looking up from her Nintendo DS, my daughter said, “You could have said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you couldn’t write a check.’” Wow. “You’re right,” I said, “That would have handled it. Thanks for your suggestion.”

I had a choice. I could bad-mouth the clerk afterwards and make her look wrong by giving my “spin” on the situation, or I could talk about it as quickly as possible and take responsibility, which I did. I was able to step outside my inside “stuff” and reflect on what was actually going on. Most important of all, I was able to admit I was not doing it well, and give my daughter an opportunity to help me problem solve.

Why is it so hard for most people to accept their frailties to themselves and others? In my case for many years I was too fragile inside to admit it. Blaming others and trying to make myself look good was the only way I was able to make sense of certain situations. When I finally let go of my need to be perfect, that the world would not end if I admitted my responsibility, things became easier. My relationships became easier. I let myself become part of the human race.

When I asked my daughter how she feels when I admit my mistakes, she said, “It’s very important. When kids make a mistake, all they think is, ‘Am I going to get in trouble?’ and they don’t want to admit it.  But all you have to do is admit it, and it could be fine.” Wow.

Actually, when I think about it, I’m attracted to people who have the humility and sense of self to admit when they’re wrong and take responsibility for their actions.  They come across as authentic and they command respect. And sometimes in the vulnerable act of human admission, I’ve learned there is a chance to experience an open-hearted connection with my other family members, friends and even colleagues. I want more of that.

So, here’s to mom being wrong… a lot.

This is an edited excerpt from our new book,
How Was School Today? Fine available now through our website, and

Rev. Shannon A. White balances her professional life between being a Presbyterian minister, award-winning television news reporter, popular speaker and author.  She has spent 13 years in churches in Connecticut and New York and is currently Associate Minister at Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Her most important role in life, however, is as mother to her 10-year-old daughter, Peyton.  Together, they wrote “How Was School Today? Fine…” They hope their book will help deepen communication between parents and their school-aged children.  For more information, visit

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  • One of the strongest, most impactful memories from my childhood was an apology from my dad. I was being a very insolent teen and mouthing off to the point that he blew and said some nasty things in return. He came to my room a little while later with tears in his eyes, and an apology in his heart. I will never forget it.

    That apology was a lesson in honesty, humility, love and forgiveness. And it was a gift to my future children.

    Posted by vdrimmer, 30 March 2010.

  • It would really be a very heavy load to ALWAYS be RIGHT!The stress alone would take a toll on you.Never relaxing, always on guard,never allowing yourself to be human,and worse yet knowing secretly that its a lie. I'm okay with me, and all my flaws . It keeps me in a learning process with a pretty good sense of humor.

    Posted by Wanda Switzer, 24 March 2010.

  • My parents didn't seem to know how to apologize for mistakes. It was as though there was a solid line between adults and children and no one dared to cross over. When we had our children, I realize now that I carried some of that into my own family. Our kids challenged us and at first and I was shocked, but it also opened up a dialogue between us that put us on an entirely new playing field. Now, as a grandmother, I have apologized to my six-year-old grandson several times already. It is so meaningful to see him listen, understand and graciously accept my apology. I wish I had practiced more of that with our own children, but now this generation can benefit from the lessons of the past. Often, the best lessons in life travel the longest journey.

    Posted by Karen O., 15 March 2010.

  • Humility, that is exactly how I approach being a single parent and knock on wood... so far it has worked! My daughter is 15 and my son is 12 and they both remind me every day that I am not perfect and I mean that in a good way. Through hassles, humility, humanity and humor we somehow are able to debrief at the end of our days and realize that although not perfect we do have something very special. Thanks for the article, it made me smile.

    Posted by kanalty, 15 March 2010.

  • nice article

    Posted by jaymatayl, 15 March 2010.

  • This is just so true. My Mom never admitted her mistakes, but I always apologize even to my daughter when I do. I show my daughter that I am not perfect and make mistakes too and am very human before being a parent. Just like what Shannon did with her daughter, we internalize it together and in this process not only am I taking control of situations but my daughter is also learning to internalize. Living Lessosn and decision making taught practically (not just theory) and realtime.

    Posted by umalakshman, 15 March 2010.

  • What an insightful article, easy to read and digest. I grew up in a household like most others, where parents were always right. Even when they weren't, "please forgive me" came in the form of a favorite dessert or bending of a house rule, rather than a voiced apology. I'm a grandparent now, and didn't realize how I'd transformed into my parents until I was discussing the "Super Parent Syndrome" with a co-worker. After listening intently to one of my stories, she simply said, "Wow, it must be hard for you to apologize to your kids." I quickly said, "No, I don't have a problem with that." Too quickly. Then I thought...'there you go again, putting on the superwoman cape.'

    I've given myself permission to be human, admit my mistakes and give my cape a rest from time to time...
    It is very liberating to be human...

    Posted by Writer, 15 March 2010.

  • My youngest daughter is now 7 and it's interesting watching the changes from one generation to another where I would never let my parents know they were wrong and she does. Not in a bratty sort of way, but she'll say "Mom... I think you may be wrong" and we usually start a discussion full of laughter. Great article and I find is refreshing to know that I'm held accountable and that being a parent and being right isn't just a given anymore.

    Posted by StaceyRider, 12 March 2010.

  • I'm sure we've all encountered similar situations but I really admire Shannon's way of dealing with it right then and there with her daughter. That took lots of guts! Each time gets easier and easier as the two of them get more comfortable with the process and each other. Soon mother AND daughter probably could work through the scenario second-guessing what the other might say! I really like the thought process in working it all out!

    Posted by mygrandmasue, 10 March 2010.

  • Wonderful write up. It is very very true. I was a young mother too. In my 20s i used to think i was always right and knew a lot. I learned in my 30s that I was not always right but was wrong... a lot and didn't know everything. When my boys would comment about me knowing everything, I used to correct them and tell them I don't know everything, I know a lot more than they do. anything I don'tknow I will find out. As for being wrong, I learned that being wrong helped me to grow to be a better person and by admitting wrong and saying you're sorry makes for an EVEN better person than you were before.

    Posted by Jennifer, 10 March 2010.