My daughter is a synchronized swimmer. One of the little-known facts outside the sport is that these athletes paint gelatin on their hair before a performance or competition to keep their hair up and out of their faces. The practice is called, “knoxing.”
My daughter had 2 performances on Saturday, and so we began the morning with the tedious process of putting her hair into a bun with a thousand bobby pins, mixing unflavored gelatin with hot water, and applying it to her head.
Unfortunately, something went wrong. I’m not sure what it was, but the knox looked somewhat lumpy. By the end of her 1st performance, I realized with great dismay that the knox was in clumps all over her head.
“We’re going to have to re-knox before the next show,” I informed her in the car.
“No!” she pleaded. “It’s fine!”
“You haven’t looked in a mirror, yet,” I said. “Trust me, it’s bad. I’m sorry. I messed up. You’re going to have to rinse it all off and we’ll start over.”
“No, we can just paint over it!”
I shook my head. “I don’t think that’s going to work. It looks too awful.”
“But I don’t want to redo it!”
I was about to argue more, and then I stopped for a moment. Why was I trying to persuade her to redo it? I hate knoxing. If neither one of us wanted it done, then why was I insisting? Was it really for her benefit?
I realized that the reason I wanted to redo it wasn’t because I was worried about her feelings if someone criticized the way her hair looked. It was because I was worried about what people would think about me.
I could hear the whispers already. “That mom is horrible. Look at what a bad knoxing job she did. And she let her daughter swim that way!”
But glops of gelatin weren’t going to affect her performance.
I revised my statement. I thought about what she would want – to make her own decision. “Okay. When you look at it, if you want me to redo it, I will.”
In a blog post that I once did about Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, I included this quote from his book: “what people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame.”
As a parent, I worry that I’m going to get blamed if things go wrong for my child. It makes me reluctant to allow her to make mistakes, or to sometimes make her own decisions.
As a teacher, I do the same thing. If a parent questions a decision I made, I fear blame and become defensive. If a student doesn’t do what I envisioned on a project, I worry that people will think I didn’t teach well enough.
We need to regularly ask ourselves, “Is this about me or is this about the child?” Often we make decisions that are supposedly the best for the child – but they are really about keeping ourselves from being blamed.
In the end, my daughter decided to allow me to re-knox her hair. And it looked much better. But I would have been fine if she hadn’t – and so would she. That day I learned two things that I should never do:
- inflict my own insecurities on others
- put lumpy gelatin on my daughter’s head.