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.
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, you give your child permission to see you as human. They 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 Peyton for yelling at her, instead of explaining away my feelings. I give myself timeouts when they are appropriate, to show her I hold myself to the same standards of conduct as I do her. She holds me accountable, too.
One day, my 10 year old daughter and I went into a shop to buy a thank you present for a friend. We picked out a fruit arrangement and I was surprised at how much the clerk said it cost. It was 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 Peyton 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. I handed it to the woman, who said in an annoyed voice, “Oh, we don’t take checks.” “I wish you had told me that before I wrote out this check,” I replied in my nicest, passive-aggressive voice. “I did … I said ‘cash or credit’ and checks are not cash,” she said, even more annoyed. “In some places they are seen as cash,” I snipped back, as she walked away from the register. I said, “Thank you. I’ll think we’ll go somewhere else” And we left the store. Not one of my finest moments.
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 I was the one at fault here, regardless of what the store clerk had said. “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. Mom was wrong. Thanks for your suggestion.”
I had a choice. I could have bad-mouthed the clerk afterwards and made her look wrong by giving my “spin” on the situation, or talk about it as quickly as possible and take responsibility, which I did. Even though my pride was hurt by not being able to afford the gift my daughter picked out, the more important thing was I had been able to step outside my inside “stuff” and reflect on what was actually going on. Most important of all was that I was able to admit I was not doing it well, and give Peyton an opportunity to help me problem solve.
Later, we did try to go back so that I could apologize, but the woman had already gone home. I never went back in, but when we passed the store months later, Peyton lovingly reminded me, “Remember when we went in that store and you and the lady got into it? You were going to apologize.” Right again.
Sometimes you come across a book which cuts through all of the bologna and speaks right to your heart. The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham is one of those books for me.
“If we can accept the reality of our imperfection, the fact that we are put together funny, that we are, by our very nature, limited and thus do not have absolute control over our lives, we are taking the tentative steps that are all we can take on the pilgrimage that is spirituality. Once we accept the common denominator of our own imperfection, once we begin to put into practice the belief that imperfection is the reality we have most in common with all other people, them the defenses that deceive us begin to fall away, and we can begin to see ourselves, and others are they really are.” (used with permission)
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.
Then I realized it doesn’t cost me anything to say I’m sorry to someone. Sure, maybe my pride, but that’s a small price to pay for the healing that can come to a damaged relationship. But if you say you’re sorry, you have to mean it, and you have to stop what you’re doing that caused the pain to the other person. That’s what’s called repentance in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions. It’s an actual “turning” of the behavior.
Yes, Mom IS wrong a lot. And I’m glad. Glad to teach my daughter that, hey, I’m part of the human race!
(This is an edited excerpt from my new book, How Was School Today? Fine available now through our website, www.shannonawhite.com)