We all like being right. Or at least not wrong. Arguments are usually the result of two of us trying to be right or perhaps one party being made to feel wrong.
Anthony and I nearly have it worked out; we can usually identify when we both want to be right and can give that up before an argument begins. Not that we had many arguments (okay, just that one before our wedding because he still hadn’t organised a band for the reception and it was the only thing he was responsible for. I’d done everything else and finding a band was the one job I’d given him (oh, looking back, was that mean?). I started the argument, making him wrong for not yet booking a band, at the same time making myself right for being so efficient and well-organised).
To his credit, he booked the band, and it alone was one of the many highlights of a fabulous day.
We’re also getting better at not getting upset when we’ve been made to feel wrong. For example, if I buy something new, and he comments on how poorly it’s made, it would be easy for me to feel like it was the wrong thing to buy and to be offended or upset. In reality, he was just commenting on the way it was made. He never said, ‘This DVD machine is a dud and you should never have bought it. You’re a failure, you hear?’
I just made it mean that.
It doesn’t always work in the heat of the moment, but it’s an amazing tool to be able to identify and give up the desire to be right, the desire to make the other one wrong, and the feeling of being made wrong. When it has worked, we’ve shared a laugh about how righteous we were or how we made a passing comment mean something it didn’t.
Having said all that, it didn’t work for me last week. With a four-year-old. In fact, I turned into another four-year-old.
I was tired and running late for swimming, the car was running low in fuel, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I still had to do before the market on the weekend. And Elsie asked what town we were going through.
Newbridge, I told her.
‘No. It’s New-long-bridge.’
‘Okay, New-long-bridge,’ I agreed. That’s what she’d come to call it since it does have a very long bridge in the town. ‘But its real name is Newbridge.’
‘No, it’s New-long-bridge,’ she argued, her voice more urgent.
‘You can call it New-long-bridge,’ I said, glancing from the speedo to the clock to the road to the fuel gauge to the teddy on the floor in the back just out of (a distressed) Maeve’s reach.
But the ugly ‘I’m-right’-monster had to rear its head. I couldn’t help my four-year-old self.
I wanted the last word. I wanted to be right. So I said it.
‘But its real name is Newbridge.’
‘No!’ she protested, and she started to cry.
I’m pretty sure a child doesn’t know how to give up being righteous. And I’m certain Elsie was never going to say:
‘Mum, I just like to call it New-long-bridge for fun. I’m only four and that’s the sort of thing four-year-olds do. And does it really matter if I call it that?’
She could have added:
‘And why didn’t we leave earlier if you didn’t want to be late. I wasn’t the one hanging out that last load of washing before we left so why would you be taking it out on me?’
What was I doing? Since when was the need to be right more important than my relationship with my little girl (or any relationship, for that matter)? What was I teaching her in that moment?
I pulled myself together and got present to where we were and the fun we should have been having, rather than thinking and worrying about anything else. And I apologised (which is usually hard; not only do we not want to be wrong but who wants to admit it? But it wasn’t hard to apologise to my little girl when I’d made her cry).
We made it on time and swimming was fun and satisfying, as it always is.
We drove home with a full tank of fuel and by request, playing the aeroplane game. As the pilot, I alerted my passengers (in my best pilot’s deep voice) to make sure their seatbelts were fastened as we were flying overhead New-long-bridge and if they looked down now they’d be able to see the very long bridge in the middle of the town.
And everyone was happy.