Why Can’t Parents Admit When They’re Wrong?
I spoke about being an extremist parent recently but that’s only a small fraction of parents (hopefully). As far as most of us go, however, we also have a lot to improve on, so much so we may want to add today’s post to our New Year’s goals.
When it comes to admitting to our children that we were wrong, why doesn’t it come natural to us as parents? Is there something “wrong” with a parent who can’t admit to oneself, and to their kids (and possibly others around them), that they may have been mistaken about something? Hint: Yes, the answer to that is yes, there is something wrong with that parent.
Let me preface that this article is about to slap you across the face if you’re guilty of any of this. It won’t be easy to read but if you get so angry that you click away then you’re only proving what’s in this article is correct so hopefully you’ll come back and try this in bite size pieces. Believe me, it’s been slapping me across the face which is how I know it has that potential.
So, how do I know it’s wrong to not be able to admit our mistakes? Because I find myself being that parent at times. However, I’m doing everything I can to break that pattern and here’s how.
I’d like to assume that the majority of the time it’s not that we parents believe what we believed for any malicious or ill-intentioned reasons but perhaps it was from missing, or acquiring wrong information, or possibly even (un)known biases that came into play. Believe it or not there’s actually one answer to why we may not be able to admit our errors to our kids.
First, before we all have that “aha” moment (I know it’s spelled differently but I love any of you who just sang, in your heads, in a high pitched tone, “Take On Me”), let’s recognize and agree on external factors that are in play when it comes to the inability of admitting when we’re wrong.
Before we can truly dive into what influences us to hold back from admitting our mistakes to our children (and to others) we have to acknowledge our environment. Like any science experiment our environment is going to be a variable.
Background, culture, religion, and community all too often have effects on how we deal with situations. Except we only know our particular formula (experiences) and variable (environment) but unfortunately we make broad assumptions about all others who are not like us and think we know better than they do when it comes to their own formulas and variables.
As parents a lot of us have adopted a philosophy that as the authority we cannot show that we’re not perfect. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise though when you look at our surroundings. In the public eye we are inundated with those with power and status incapable of admitting mistakes.
We see incompetent politicians who, when you look at their past records and compare it to the outcomes that have now proven to be not so correct, still stand on their pedestal pounding their chest as if their way is the only true way because they’re looking out for the “common man” when all evidence points to otherwise.
We hear athletes and entertainers admit fault however it typically appears to us, more often than not, that it’s on the basis of saving face for those affiliated with them, so that those people, and their hard work, are not punished for what the wrongdoer did. It’s not out of regret but out of regret of getting caught.
We judge and condemn people, who are not like us, never knowing all the details, only so that when we’re given the opportunity to admit fault ourselves we choose to excuse it, ignore it, or justify it.
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What Influences Us?
Now that we know there are external variables at hand we can move onto seeing how those variables work. When it comes to admitting being wrong we apply what is called counterintuitive thinking to excuse and convince ourselves that we shouldn’t admit when we’re wrong and that it’s better to sweep it under the rug, or just ignore it altogether, when in fact the opposite is typically more effective. This type of thinking can find its origins from personal external factors. Wanting examples? Good, I was afraid you wouldn’t ask.
We Appear Weak and Less Credible
Somehow, someway, we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that by admitting we didn’t know something fully, or that we acted out incorrectly, that it’s a sign of weakness. That by showing we are wrong now, in this moment, we are only giving the other people (e.g. our kids) ammo to use against us later or reasons to doubt our credibility in the future.
We’ve all become accustomed to the saying, “What’s in it for me?” and that’s exactly what we’re applying to ourselves in these moments. We ask things like, “What advantage does it give me if I admit I was wrong?” and, “Do I gain or lose anything by asking for forgiveness?”
Well, guess what, it’s not always about us. More often it needs to be about the people around us, especially our loved ones (like our kids). If we’re so concerned about ourselves, and how everything affects us, then what were any of us doing becoming parents in the first place?
Contrary to contemporary belief, it actually takes strong, selfless, respectful, and loving character to admit when we’re wrong and to ask for forgiveness. If we find the words, “I’m sorry,” difficult to say then there’s a huge chance we probably are a sorry individual (in a different sense of the word).
With respect to credibility, by admitting our mistakes, that actually makes us more credible. Think about it. If we apologized every time we were wrong we would still find that we were rarely needing to ask for forgiveness meaning we’re probably correct in our decisions more often than not.
Everything’s Black and White
When, as a society, did it become ok to believe that everything in this world is so black and white? Old age and experience was supposed to make us wiser but instead it’s only made us less able to learn from others (including our children). For some reason we believe that if we admit there’s an actual gray area then we’ve somehow made that to mean in our heads that we’re compromising on our beliefs and that everything that came before was all for naught. Instead of respecting others and their individual experiences (again, including our children) we’ve come to think that our personal evidence from our personal experiences means the end-all be-all.
However, we couldn’t say that our children are 100% cookie cutters of us so, just like our children, every situation is ALWAYS going to be unique. Even if we’ve experienced the exact same situation (effect) stemmed from the exact same circumstances (cause), external factors and past experiences (environment variables) attached to those who are involved in that particular state of affairs will always differ from ours.
That means that what may SEEM black and white to us is actually gray to someone else and we need to acknowledge that and allow room for healthy discussions and not be so quick to condemn and punish that person. If we don’t give that type of respect to our kids we’ll definitely never give that respect to our fellow human beings.
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We’re really just cloaking our pride when we say we’re avoiding admitting our mistakes because it could tarnish our reputation. Believe me, if you’re the type who is too worried about your reputation then you’ll probably be surprised at what your reputation really is to others.
Admitting when we’re wrong, and asking for forgiveness, has the ability to not only build upon but improve our reputation. We all acknowledge nobody is perfect so we need to stop acting like we’re the exception to that rule. Only then will we see our reputation be one that others can respect.
What’s the Answer?
So, why don’t we parents admit when we’re wrong? Simple. We didn’t learn it. Sure, we might have had parents who taught it, or maybe we didn’t, but because someone teaches us something that doesn’t mean we learned that something.
Think about it, in school we had plenty of teachers teach us plenty of concepts but did we grasp them, did we understand their brevity, and if so, did we actually maintain possession of it all the way up to this very moment? If we can say no to any of those then that means we actually did not learn it.
The same goes for parenting. If we weren’t taught how to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness as a parent (whether from our parents/guardians, from someone with more knowledge, or our own experiences and failures) then no, we don’t know how to do it.
So I would encourage you, join me today in learning how to admit when we’re wrong and to ask for forgiveness because now is a better time than ever.