Black and white thinking is typically a less evolved way of thinking and seeing the world. How would that look in parenting? One way to recognize black and white thinking in parenting is to watch out for mentalities that can be answered with yes or no (black or white). For example, “Am I a good parent?”, “Is my daughter trustworthy?”, “Is my son’s therapy working?”. To create a more wholistic way of thinking, try turning each of those examples into a more rounded way of thinking: “How effective is my parenting?”, “How trustworthy has my daughter become?”, and “Where is my son in his journey to recovery?”.
In working with troubled teens I see them on a journey to recovery, but parents often want to know if their son is “fixed” or not. They know better than to use that word, but the mentality is communicated in other ways. I always try to broaden their thinking. Your son is on a journey and we are in one season of his journey when things are getting better. After a while he will likely have another dip of some sort in his journey, but then so will you and I. The main thing is that we are in this with him for the long haul and, like playing the stock market, let’s hold on through every dip and keep believing for that next comeback in his life. As long as he’s breathing, he’s in process.
If we are not careful to resist black and white thinking, we can pass the black and white thinking onto the teen. That is not healthy for the teen and it limits their ability to understand continuums. For example, they think things like “I’m fat and ugly,” instead of “I’m not the prettiest girl in my school but I have some nice features.” We must resist thinking black and white about ourselves and about our kids so that they do not think black and white about themselves!
Even better than thinking on a continuum, we are most healthy when we think of and understand ourselves and our kids as paradoxes. One of my favorite quotes from Brennan Manning explains this well. Keep in mind Brennan Manning was an alcoholic and a wonderful saint:
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.”
In what ways have you been parenting with a hurtful black and white mindset?