A while back, I was listening to author Elise Loehnen interview Dr. Bill Bengston on the Goop podcast. They were discussing the unique ways in which he helps his patients heal. Some would consider his methods unconventional. When Elise asked how he feels when he presents his findings to the medical community, his approach stopped me dead in my tracks. He said, “I always assume I’m wrong.”
I took this same idea — maybe I’m wrong — and I began to apply it to the way I parent. The results have been remarkable. The idea is not, for you the parent, to feel any less confident in your ability to parent. But the minute we assume we have all the answers and we’re right, we lose the ability to think differently, consider other perspectives or tune in to our kids. This is often met with reactionary and automatic responses.
Righteousness — the desire to always be right — can get us into trouble. Every parent’s fear is getting it wrong. Making such immense mistakes that they can’t be undone. In an effort to remedy this we assert that what I’m doing is right! We hold on tight to certain ideals or the ways in which we choose to parent.
Some of these choices are rooted in patterns we observed in our own parents. Or, we’re so determined to parent differently than our parents, we adopt a dissimilar ideology altogether.
In either case we root ourselves in this idea that we have all the answers and we’re parenting the right way. I decided from now on I would parent with the mindset that maybe I’m wrong. Here’s what unfolded.
I became open to different perspectives
When I began to assume, maybe I’m wrong I was no longer attached or defensive of my ideas. For example, when my son was in middle school, he wanted to wear shorts to school in the middle of winter. Living in Michigan, our winters often bring brutally cold and frigid temperatures. I immediately said no, and I was bothered that he would even ask. He said to me, “What if I lay out my case respectfully and explain why I think I should be allowed to wear shorts? Will you hear me out?” I agreed.
As difficult as it was, I approached it with the mindset that maybe I’m wrong. To my surprise, he made valid points that I wouldn’t have considered: He was no longer playing outside in middle school, the bus stop happened to be steps away from our house so he didn’t have to wait outside, and the bus was warm. Additionally, we all know how hot classrooms are once you jam over 25 kids into a small space.
His argument was compelling. We landed on an agreement, and I allowed him to wear shorts to school as long as it was above 40 degrees.
Had I clung to the idea that I’m right, I would have missed this opportunity to listen and consider his point of view. Also, it taught him an important lesson — how to fairly and kindly argue your point. Adopting this mindset doesn’t mean I’m wrong every time. it just means that the space is there for me to consider other perspectives.
I learned how to reflect and pause
As most parents can attest, we find ourselves reacting throughout the day. We make split-second decisions that are automatic in nature. As my kids got older this often led to arguments, and they would ask, “Why do you always say no?” My knee-jerk reaction was to defend my decision and to reprimand them for questioning me or their dad. But I reminded myself, maybe I’m wrong.
I sat with my choices and reflected on the “why” of my decisions. In some cases, they were justified and valid, even if they weren’t the desirable outcomes for my kids. But, in other instances I found that I was parenting in an automatic way and, yes, I was wrong. I was simply doing what I thought was “right.”
I accepted that I don’t have all the answers
Admittedly I hate being wrong, especially as a mother. Moms are supposed to have all the answers and know exactly what to do. That’s how my mom was. In Bridget Schulte’s book “Overwhelmed,” she describes how we’ve adopted the idea of the ideal parent. While she describes this in the context of time, it made me think we all have an ideal way of parenting that we adhere to. One of my ideal parenting pillars is making sure I get it right. The pressure to always be right caused blind spots in my parenting.
When I decided that maybe I’m wrong, it gave me the space to breathe and embrace that I’m human. I will parent wholeheartedly but also imperfectly, and that’s OK. I realized this idea of knowing it all or having all the answers is not true-to-life. When I say to myself, maybe I’m wrong I shed any glimpses of my ego. It’s no longer about being right or wrong but tuning in, pondering and considering the present moment.
I learned to parent flexibly
When I rooted myself in the idea of being right, I lost the ability to parent flexibly. Rigidity was my right-hand man. In order to ensure that whatever parenting decision I laid out was right, I had to remain rigid. When we remain inflexible, we’re not open to the situation as it’s presented to us. Clarity is lost, and we’re narrowly focused on doing what’s right.
Consistency and rigidity are not the same thing. There are times as a parent when consistency is key. Rigidity is when you feel like you’re constantly swimming upstream without the ability to explain why. Approaching a parenting dilemma thinking, maybe I’m wrong, allows us to detach from the idea that we have to be right. Instead, we weigh and consider the uniqueness of each moment. Every situation and parenting predicament won’t always require the same action.
Adopting this idea of maybe I’m wrong has improved the way I parent and has positively impacted all my relationships. I embrace this same mindset with my colleagues at work, the families and children I work with, my husband, friends and family. I’m careful to not get too attached to my ideas. I remain open to hearing other opinions, even if they don’t reflect mine. Curiosity is fostered, and I appreciate when I can see things in a new way.
I’m often asked, what about confidence? To approach life with the mindset that maybe I’m wrong is confidence. We often confuse confidence with certainty and conviction. What if instead we taught ourselves to feel confident with what we know and to remain equally as confident acknowledging what we don’t know. Because, who knows, you might come to find out, that maybe you’re wrong.