This morning when I was making breakfast, Melody came into the kitchen and saw that I was cutting up blood oranges for the fruit platter. “Eww! I hate blood oranges. They’re so gross!” she commented loudly.
I rolled my eyes. “They taste very similar to regular oranges, silly. You haven’t even tried one yet. They’re just a little sour.”
“I don’t agree,” she said adamantly and wandered back out of the room.
A bit later we were eating breakfast and Jubiliee announced that she did not like the red oranges. . .after picking one up and looking at it and placing it back on her plate without so much as a lick. “They taste similar to regular oranges, Jubilee,” said Melody matter-of-factly. “They just look different is all.”
I was a bit amused. “So you changed your mind about them in the last few minutes?” I asked. “No,” she said indignantly. “That’s what I think.”
“No, just a few minutes ago you said something almost the same to me as Jubilee and I gave you the same explanation you gave her. That is changing your mind. It’s perfectly okay to change your mind when you get new information about something that makes you look at it in a different light, but it’s also important to admit you changed your mind. It’s not good to pretend that’s what you always thought.”
And of course, that conversation got me thinking. In the very beginning of parenting, I was determined to be consistent with my kids. All the time. That meant if I said something, it was law. Written in stone and non-negotiable. For the most part, it worked well, but there were times when this policy inflicted unnecessary pain on both my kids. . .and MYSELF! I’d sling out an “If ____, then____” statement of consequence without thinking it through and then I’d be stuck giving the consequence, even if it was unreasonable. . .all in the name of consistency. And sometimes I still feel that it’s important to stick to my guns and I do. That makes me think long and hard before I threaten something. I’ve taught myself to stop (most times. . .I’m certainly not perfect) and think about if what I’m threatening is something I’m really willing to do. For example, telling Jubilee that if she doesn’t get her shoes on quickly I’m going to leave without her. . .is not only unreasonable, but it makes her wonder if I’d actually do it. . .which provokes a cruel amount of anxiety in her little mind. Or telling Melody that if she doesn’t clean up her toys I’m going to give them away. . .might be effective in getting her to do it, but I’m not really willing to give away her toys. . .and I’m guessing she knows that. Those examples are pretty obviously outlandish, but sometimes I threaten the not so outlandish ones, and then I feel like I have to do what I said, all in the name of consistency. Don’t get me wrong, being a consistent parent is important when it comes to showing your kids that you keep your word, following through when consequences are necessary and setting healthy boundaries and keeping them. . .but if my goal is to raise children who can admit when they’re wrong, own their mistakes and learn from them, I have to set an example in ALL areas. Not just when I mess up big and have to apologize.
One day this week, a close friend of mine was struggling with her pre-teen daughter’s behavior. My friend was going on a field trip with her younger daughter the next day while the older girl was in school, and her daughter was very upset about that. For 20 minutes in the car (read: no escape), she listened to her 12-year-old lecture her about how it wasn’t fair that she was spending the whole day with her sister and yell about how she felt so left out and how it was clear Mom loved the sister more than her. She yelled that she wasn’t going to school the next day and Mom couldn’t make her. She was very disrespectful and rude and just downright mean to her mother. My friend was very frustrated with her and when they got home, she told her that if she had come to her calmly and respectfully and told her she was feeling left out, they could have done something special together that day since she was spending the next day with her little sister. But that after the appalling nature of her behavior all the way home, that wasn’t going to happen.
I talked to my friend shortly after this incident and she was understandably upset. She’s been at her wit’s end with her older daughter recently and said that it seemed like she was constantly punishing her for her attitude and mouthiness. . .but it didn’t feel like the consequences were helping at all. I thought about it for a bit and suggested that she do the opposite of what she was planning. . .that she take extra time and do something special with her daughter that day, just like she intended, since clearly she was feeling sad and left out and really wanted to spend extra time with her mama. My friend was struggling with how to be consistent, since she’d already told her that her behavior cost her the extra time together.
That’s when I had an “Ah-HA!” moment of my own that I shared with my friend. It’s okay to change your mind. In fact, I’d say it’s a GOOD thing to change your mind if you both can learn from it. I suggested that my friend tell her daughter that she’d thought more about it and decided that she was sorry the girl felt left-out and sad, and that while her behavior was still unacceptable, she would do something special with her that day just because she loved her. For the behavior, the girl would lose her TV time that evening, but they’d spend the day together and enjoy each other’s company. And that’s just what they did. And while it wasn’t a miraculous cure for her daughter’s smart mouth, there was more connection between them that day than if she’d followed through with what she started with. Maybe her daughter will remember that day and know that if she comes to her mom with her feelings, her mom will respond in kind. . .even though the daughter made a mistake in her presentation, she was heard. . .and she knows her mom is willing to listen, think about what she said, and be fair in her response. She still got a consequence, but the change made the consequence about her behavior, not her feelings, an important distinction, especially for those of us who struggle with separating the two because of anxiety and “big” emotions.
Now, clearly I’m better at helping someone with the problems they have with their kids’ behavior in the moment than I am with my own children. Probably because I’m a step emotionally removed from the situation. But after my conversation with Melody this morning, I’ve really been pondering what it means to be free to change my mind.
I’ve changed my mind in so many areas over the years that sometimes I feel like a different person than I was 20 years ago. I used to be afraid of admitting it, but now it feels so freeing. . .when someone sees me doing something different with one of my younger kids than I did with my eldest and asks me about it, I freely admit that I have more information now and feel like the new way is a better way. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s a good thing. It would take a whole other post to list all the ways I’ve changed my mind over the last 9 years of being a mom. And after thinking about it more, I’m going to try and make a concerted effort to walk my kids through the process when I change my mind about something. Because I want them to learn how to be wrong. Or just how to not be threatened by new information because they feel a need to save face. I’ve already learned that perfection is impossible. Growth is more important than striving toward perfect any day. And I’m really good at being imperfect and changing my mind. Who knew that could be considered a strength?