The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 30, 2014

Sarah Coyne: Fight stubbornness by showing kids it's OK to be wrong

JOPLIN, Mo. — One of my children, bless her heart, always knows the answer to everything. She is so right, so often, that sometimes she can't even see the opposing viewpoint through her ultra-correct lenses.

Heaven help the person who chooses to stand their ground opposite her stalwart surety, for they will rue the day, the argument and the stubborn girl as well.

I usually try not to pass such firm pronouncements of character upon my children, and certainly not out loud. They're still growing and changing, after all, and I don't ever want my words to pigeonhole them. But this pronouncement, I feel, is obvious right now. And I can say it out loud easily enough because she and I share this trait.

I am stubborn and by all that is precious in this world, I just know I am right.

The trouble is, I've been proven wrong so often in my life that I'm now heavily alerted to my own know-it-all flaws. It's always embarrassing to state a truth with absolute certainty only to be shown clear proof of the opposite. Worse so if people are watching, and horrifically so if those people happen to be your children. Who more do we wish to impress with our strength, knowledge and power than our kids? We want them to see us as mighty, trustworthy and independently amazing.

Isn't that what drives us parents to rightness much of the time anyway? The hope that we're teaching something worthwhile to our kids? At least, I hope that's my noble motive; sometimes I fear it's the simple, shameful fact that I can't bear to be wrong.

And herein lies the sad lesson: If we're afraid to be wrong, our kids will learn to be afraid of it, too.

Even if they're not born with the know-it-all gene, our constant practice of rightness in their presence will reaffirm the idea that arguing a point is the most important thing. So that's what we'll raise: a world of arguers.

Actually, I think that's what we have raised. We are a society that takes sides, usually vehemently. We know what we know so surely that we can't entertain opposing ideas, even for a second, without feeling affronted.

But our children -- those who will walk into this world of opposition we've created -- need to see us admitting that we were wrong so they will be able to admit when they're wrong, too.

Perhaps the first step in teaching my daughter that she isn't always the infallible leader will be to show her that I am not always the infallible leader. Instead of telling her how wrong she is (only to have her argue how wrong I am), maybe this lesson must be learned by observation.

It will mean exposing my flaws for her and others to see. It will mean admitting that I may not always know the right answer, but that I am always open to searching.

It will mean that being an openly flawed parent may be one of the best parenting moves I could possibly make.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenly

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