“Once, when a Republican congressman from Massachusetts accused Lincoln of having changed his mind, Lincoln replied, ‘Yes, I have; and I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.’” 1
I think that changing one’s mind based on rational discourse and informed discussions with people, based on a degree of maturity that reflects reasoned thinking, and based on moral conviction is totally acceptable. Mindless adherence to certain ideas can be just as unreasonable as constantly changing one’s opinion given the “winds” of change.
But when someone does change their mind, they are often labeled as being a “flip-flopper” and opportunistic. Some people might indeed be trying to take advantage of certain situations. Others might be making logical changes in opinion that occur during the journey of life. As Abraham Lincoln so astutely noted in the quote above, changing one’s mind should be the result of learned experiences and increased knowledge.
Instead of criticizing someone for changing their opinion, I think that most of the time we should be praising them for upgrading their knowledge base. And certainly, experience is an integral part of that process.
Parenting is such an example. How often do young couples in their pre-children era observe other parents or remember their own experience as a child and say, “Boy, I will never do [fill in the blank]!” (I know that I sure did!) They enter the parenting process without full knowledge of the multiple factors always at play – developmental stages, emotional well-being for child and parents, environmental factors, family dynamics, and this list goes on and on. Learning those factors and gaining experience often changes their opinions and their direction going forward. And these changes are more often than not for the better.
Let’s look at a couple of examples –
- “I will never give in to a temper tantrum. I will immediately discipline my child so that it will never happen again”
- Temper tantrums are a normal developmental process for children to deal with stress that at the time seems intolerable. Temper tantrums are often the child’s way to express frustration and demand the parent’s attention. A loving and sound approach to temper tantrums will be to PAUSE before responding, then to ASSESS the situation (Why did this come about? Was it something I did? What could I have done to prevent it?) and then to CHOOSE a response. A calm response (I am just going to sit here until things quiet down and then we can talk about the situation). If the response was wrong like you flew off the handle and yelled at the child, then a quiet discussion later can acknowledge the joint problem (You were yelling and screaming over something that I didn’t think was necessary, but I was also wrong to yell at you. We need to work on this together.) Each situation is unique but PAUSING, ASSESSING and CHOOSING in a calm manner problem is the right way to go. Is this “flip-flopping?” No, it is using knowledge and experience to be a better parent and lead to a more nurturing outcome.
- “I will never let my child stay up too late.”
- There are plenty of times when bedtime might need to be flexible. Rigidity in parenting can be a recipe for disaster. Yet, there needs to be some structure also. If getting your school-age child to bed at a certain time, say 9:00 on a school night, becomes a real struggle, then you need to seriously look at the routine and start the whole bed-prep routine (winding down after supper, bathing, brushing teeth and reading) maybe a little earlier so you are more likely to have success. Is that “flip-flopping” to change your routine to assure more success for your child? No, it is sound conscious parenting and to be applauded.2
Are changing parental responses “flip-flopping?” I would argue no. These represent maturation and adaptation. One could say that parents get wiser and alter courses appropriately. Often, they learn that no all disagreements (usually referred to as battles) need to be won. Tackle the serious issues and leave minor ones for another day.
In another blog post back in 2022, I discussed the issues of flip-flopping regarding capital punishment and my maturation on the subject.3 In that blog titled Thoughts from a Proud Flip-Flopper, I acknowledged that my thoughts have changed twice. As an idealistic child of the 1960s, I considered capital punishment wrong. When I became a parent, I thought that if something happened to one of my children that I would want to see the offender(s) suffer an equal or worse fate—and that fate would be of course be the death penalty. But then more life experiences occurred. I am now of the firm belief that capital punishment is wrong. It is wrong to falsely execute people. It is wrong to execute people at all. We perpetuate the evil when we kill people.
So, changing one’s opinions and course of action based on enhanced knowledge, learned experience and moral conviction is the right course of action. Yet when the same process occurs in the political process, politicians are labeled as “flip-floppers” and severely criticized for changing their stance on an issue. I agree with Abraham Lincoln – I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday – and will continue to seek change as positive, not as “flip-flopping,” and embrace my maturation. I encourage all parents to do the same.
- Meacham J. And There was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle. Random House, New York, 2022.
- Saul R. Conscious Parenting: Using the Parental Threshold. 2020. Robert A Saul. 78 pp.