The Hot Cocoa that Bombed
It’s cold slushy Colorado day in mid-March, the kind of day that is really only good for staying in and snuggling on the couch (if you’re a grown-up). Occasionally snow flurries fall against the gray backdrop and the only sounds are of a rare car moseying down the street. Inside the house however, the temperature seems to be rising as everyone begins to anticipate the inevitable setting in of cabin fever. This puts my mommy brain in action mode: how do I make a day like this special for my young children- invite some friends over and have a treat! I assumed I was going above and beyond and would score extra mom points because I had hot cocoa akin to what one might be served on the Polar Express: hot cocoa bombs, a MUST for any self-respecting chocolate lover. What I did NOT anticipate were the grimaces and turned up noses of our young guests when I made this luxurious offer. Would you believe that there are children who do not like hot cocoa and therefore, do not see hot cocoa bombs as a life changing experience?! Up until that moment, I was not aware that those types of humans existed, so I had nothing as a backup besides water or adult beverages. Neither was an appropriate substitute and some poor children were left thirsty and disappointed. This was a shocking and confusing experience for me. The conversation looked something like this:
Me:You must be joking, everyone loves hot cocoa…
Child: No really, it’s gross. Do you have any other special drinks?
Me: Nah kid, I don’t and I think you’re really making a mistake.
Child: Can you call my parents? I want to go home...
I like to think of myself as a fairly self-aware and well-informed parent, and yet, I notice bias and error in my parenting all the time. In this instance, I fell prey to naive realism, assuming my reality—everyone likes hot chocolate—was true for everyone. When I shared this story with other parents, I felt that they were guilty of hindsight bias - they believed that it was obvious not everyone likes hot cocoa. Alas, it’s true, we're all unique snowflakes!
Let me share another example of my struggles with naive realism. After my years of being a child combined with years of experience practicing psychotherapy with children, I assumed that all kids like movies. That is, until I got to know my own children. You may not believe this, but my kids don’t like movies. They will be the first to tell you that they don’t want to watch a movie during a sleepover. They think they are either too long, too scary, or too boring. They prefer to play, do a craft, read, or even brush their teeth! No joke! On the one hand, I think this is cool, but on the other, this actually proves to be challenging. They dislike movies so much that I have to talk to their teachers about “movie day” at school. I have conversations with other parents about avoiding shows/movies when they are at their houses for playdates or sleepovers—I become “that parent.” And it’s not even because I’m trying to be so virtuous and anti-screen time, my kids just hate movies!
What’s my point here? My parenting is a constant work in progress and I believe that addressing my struggles with naive realism could provide some of the greatest ROI. If I can slow down and remind myself that despite my attempts at influencing my children, they are completely different from me - different tastes, opinions, and needs. I must open myself to the experience of getting to know them and understand their reality. I need to accept that it will be different from mine in minor and major ways.
In truth, we are all naive realists. The real naiveté though, would be to believe that I could escape this naive realism just by 'realizing' it. Of course, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem but the second step requires action. What would it take to remind ourselves that our own reality is not the same as those we interact with? I would like to borrow a page from my parent coaching days with PARR: pause, acknowledge, relate, and respond. In order to avoid a reactive response, I need to buy myself some time. I try to do this by pausing and simply acknowledging what is happening. It could be as basic as parroting back what my child just said to me, “You think mama is being really mean right now.” By interrupting my thoughts with a short statement, space is created for a more intentional response. From there, I aspire to relate to her by getting down on her level and asking her to, “tell me more.” By that time, usually enough time has passed that I can thoughtfully respond in a way I’ll be proud of. If I could rewind the tape I would have used his method for the hot cocoa bomb situation:
Me: [breathe] You don’t like hot cocoa? I would’ve never guessed that!
Child: Nope, hot cocoa is gross.
Me: No problem, let me see if I can find you a different treat.
Child: Thanks Yumi, you’re the best!
Imagine if we could expand this idea beyond our own children and remind ourselves that this is true of all humans. Do you think that would lead us to be more patient and compassionate citizens? Maybe that driver who cut me off isn’t trying to scare me and make me late for work, maybe they are experiencing their own sense of urgency and didn’t even consider what I might need as a driver. Let’s break out of naive realism by utilizing PARR! Pause and acknowledge, “okay, I was just cut off,” next, relate and respond, “they’re in a hurry and didn’t see me, I can continue on my merry way, I don’t need to scream out of my window.” I feel called to be mindful of others’ realities and knowing that just because it is not mine, does not mean it is any less important, valuable, or true.
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