Parental Certainty, Blindness , and Humble Pie

February 26, 2020

We’ve all experienced moments which left us embarrassed and needing to be accountable. Humble pie is never tasty and yet life serves it up regularly. (Honesty compels me to admit it is precipitated by my own actions and choices.) Last week I found myself dining on a particularly unpalatable slice that offers some insight on parenting and how our beliefs can paint us into a corner unintentionally.

For nearly four months my tv cable system has had only one channel available. I tolerated this because I watch little tv and when I do watch, I usually view it on my iPad via apps. Periodically I would complain to my daughter and rail about the inadequacies of the cable company. Convinced that it was their fault— or at least the fault of their equipment I continued to tolerate the situation because I did not want to spend the time exchanging it at their local office. Immersed in absolute certainty, I stopped looking for alternate solutions.

I suspect you have experienced similar situations in which you were utterly convinced about your belief about something and had no space for doubt or compromise.

Because I have a houseguest coming soon for an extended stay, I decided to take action. Before I  schlepped to their local office to return the damaged equipment, I knew I had to log in a complaint and have them try to fix it remotely. I’d already performed the process myself to no avail. Still, I knew this was a hoop through which I had to jump.

The technician’s first instruction to me was to depress the Xfinity home key. I could not fulfill his request because my remote lacked this button. And there lay the cause of my problems. The button was missing because I was using the wrong remote.

The equipment was in perfect working order. My problem was 100% attributable to user blindness. I never questioned that it was something I was doing— or not doing— that could be causing my difficulty. Fortunately. the technician was gracious and did not try to make me feel like a dope. I felt mortified and acknowledged my mistake. We laughed together and our conversation ended on a genial note.

After choking down my metaphorical humble pie, I found myself pondering the situation. How often, I wondered, have I allowed my intransigence and certainty to blind myself to seeing things from a different vantage point, from identifying the true cause of a problem, or from being open to another person’s perception of reality? This blindness can be especially problematic when it comes to our parenting decisions and assessments.

How often does our utter conviction that we are “right” about a situation foreclose the ability to evaluate accurately and develop a solution? How often do we keep a frozen image in our mind's eye and refuse to upload a new picture that might include additional and/or more accurate information? How often do we delay addressing a situation because we know (or believe) it will be unpleasant to handle and instead choose to continue to shoulder the weight of this unresolved burden?

I could have solved my tv issue on day one. I had forgotten how exhilarating it feels to resolve a problem. Whether big or small, it feels great to tick something off one’s mental To-Do List. Instead, I chose to keep it as an ongoing inconvenience that got increasingly annoying. In my thinking about the situation, I had built a mental image that depicted the solution process as HUGE.

As parents, it is easy to think about situations within our family similarly. We cast it as either too minor to make a big deal out of it, (choosing to tolerate a lack of resolution which often leads to the situation worsening) or, we dig in our heels and shut ourselves off from considering new information or approaches that might lead to a solution. Life is a Learning Conversation. It’s good to remind ourselves of that. We don’t always have enough information, or the correct information so it is important to pause and bring a fresh eye to family issues. When we show a willingness to gather and consider new data, we model an approach that will serve our children throughout their lives. Such openness is not necessarily easy nor is it typically the default setting. When they have consistently been the recipient of this approach they will know its value and can choose to embrace it in their own relationships.

When we face a challenge, let us ask ourselves

  • How complete is my picture?
  • What else do I need to know?
  • How accurate is my data?
  • How are my emotions affecting my ability and willingness to truly listen?
  • Have I listened enough to understand the other person’s point of view?

(Understanding does not equal agreeing. It means that we can stand in the other person’s shoes and see how they feel and why they believe their POV is accurate.)

How can you move from certainty to curiosity in your parenting efforts?

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