How to Deal With Devil’s Advocates and Know-It-Alls Around Your Kids
By Janice Quirt
Photo © WR36/Twenty20
Sep 23, 2019
We’re heading into a busy time of family holidays, from Halloween to Thanksgiving to special days in December. With all that extended-family togetherness, the odds are high that we’ll be living, breathing and parenting in close proximity to someone who can’t admit when they’re wrong, or their close cousin.
You know who I'm talking about: the person who always has to be right.
And as you and I know, these people are out there always — they're not just a holiday treat.
The Love of A Good Debate
These cast members often really, really like to share information, opinions and profess to “love a good debate” or "play devil's advocate" or may say things like, "listen, just hear me out." But it can be draining to be on the receiving end of what can feel like a full-fledged assault. Maybe the person in question has some firm ideas about how we’re parenting, or not parenting, from screen time to the allowance or denial of sweets, treats and other parameters that we as parents like (need?) to have some control over.
Perhaps it’s not about the kids at all, but about personal life choices, whether eating or not eating meat, our political views or the length and colour of our hair (or our kids’ hair).
Relevant Reading: How I Recovered From My First Big Fight With the In-Laws
People who love to be right may try to convince us in any manner of ways of the validity of their argument and the “wrongness” of our own opinions. And in some cases it can be easy to avoid these people or trim our time with them. But when they’re family members, limiting their influence can be tough, unless we suddenly start training for a marathon, requiring us to be out of the house on runs for hours at a time.
Luckily, there are some ways I've learned to deal with these personalities that don’t involve such drastic measures.
People who can’t admit they’re wrong often appear to be very strong-minded and confident in their views. However, in reality I think they probably have low emotional intelligence. They might have very fragile egos. Admitting we are wrong is no fun. Most of us grumble a bit when we're wrong, but eventually get around to the point: we effed up. But some people would rather go to great lengths to insist that they are correct, even to the point of blaming other people or other situations than confessing to their own fallibility.
When dealing with people with low emotional intelligence, sometimes we have to be a bit more blunt than we usually are. I hate conflict, so I’m not always great at being clear about what I mean. But I’ve had to call out an extended family member on using racial slurs, even as they protested it was just a joke. I had to say very calmly, plainly and clearly that those sorts of expressions were not OK in my house and certainly not in front of my child. It wasn’t easy to say, but it worked.
Model Good Behaviour
It’s easy to get rattled when dealing with someone who can’t admit that they are wrong, but it’s important to model good behaviour and high emotional intelligence for our kids and for the people we interact with. When I was younger I hated being wrong and loved being right. It did feel uncomfortable to have gotten it wrong, and it felt great to get something right. But I also came to realize that being right at the expense of someone else’s contentment was no good. So I practiced saying I was wrong, and being OK with it. I did it more and more often, and found that it’s true what they say — you can be right all the time, or you can be happy.
I’m trying to choose happy as a way to show my kids and family members that I know I mess up sometimes and I always — well, usually — try to fess up.
Relevant Reading: Trying to be the Perfect Mom Will Kill Us All
You know that expression “when you point at someone else, three fingers point back at you”? There might just be a kernel of truth in the statements hurled at us by Father Knows Best. If they’re insistent that grandma be allowed to feed Junior whatever she wants as a special treat, maybe review your parenting guidelines to see if they can be a bit too restrictive at times. If Uncle Joe thinks that your kids might want to try out the latest video game — maybe he’s right? Perhaps we are the ones that need to pivot. The other person’s delivery could use some work, sure, or perhaps their persuasive style is a bit rough. But there could be the kernel of a sound idea in their rant, so, consider it. It's too easy to be immediately dismissive.
Talk About It
Finally, it’s easy to shut down in the face of someone who absolutely has to be right. We might want to a toss a “whatevs” over our shoulder and walk away. And certainly, if we’re really feeling attacked or out of control, we might need to do that to protect our own mental health. But trying to talk calmly can also have merits. If these people are in our lives for good, we might as well try to make the best of it. Try to stick to “safe” topics of conversation on which there is some level of agreement. Maybe gardening, baseball or a musical group are better areas to delve into rather than climate change, politics or feminism.
And if all else fails, you could always start mentally singing along and dancing to Little Miss Can’t be Wrong. Sure, your relative may wonder why you’re suddenly bopping your head and tapping out a drum beat in front of the turkey, but at least you’ll be happy.
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