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, www.howwaschooltodayfine.com and Amazon.com
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 www.shannonawhite.com