Confession eases guilt; apologies mend relationships. One should follow the other. Good enough parents do both. Easy for some, not for many.
In a Ted talk, Rita Pierson, talks about making every child feel like a champion. But she shines brightest to me when she talks about apologizing to her students. Here is what she says:
I taught a lesson once on ratios. I’m not real good with math, but I was working on it. And I got back and looked at that teacher edition. I’d taught the whole lesson wrong.
So I came back to class the next day, and I said, “Look, guys, I need to apologize. I taught the whole lesson wrong. I’m so sorry.”
I had a high school teacher apologize to me once. He was the only teacher to be that strong. He was directing the Junior Play. I had a small part and at dress rehearsal flubbed my lines. He lit into me. I was embarrassed, but also knew I hadn’t studied my few lines enough. His yelling motivated me. No big damage done. Nevertheless, when he sought me out later and apologized he won my heart forever. He remains a star in my mind.
As I search my memories, I think he is actually the only adult who ever offered me an apology for behaving badly. My father came close when he was battling the cancer that took his life.
“I wish I had spent more time with my children as a father.”
Not quite an apology, but powerful words, that let me say in return, “That would have been nice, but the time you did spend with us was precious.”
My words seemed to comfort him.
My mother, who had a bit more to apologize for, never did. The closest to an apology was the sense following her death that her spirit hovered around me asking me to forgive her shortcomings. Now the Freudian minded shrinks would say that was wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps, but it mended our relationship and was one of the experiences making me in after life connections we do not understand.
Why when apologies are so powerful, do so many of us find it hard to say, “i’m sorry.”
The answer: we are afraid of being seen as flawed, weak, and less than perfect. We must confess to ourselves that we have done wrong. Knowing we have done wrong hurts and admitting so hurts and we humans are programmed to avoid hurt. Sad and not just for us, but for our children.
PARENTing ADVICE ABOUT APOLOGIZING
To be effective an apology must be sincere, should state what you did wrong, and should offer no explanations or excuses. Even adding “that I spoke out of hunger” decreases the effectiveness of an apology.
Making a sincere apology is easiest when you know you blew it and were totally in the wrong. Stating what you did wrong, and then adding “I am sorry.” is all that is needed in such situations. Three quick examples:
- I broke my promise to be home on time and here I am late. I am sorry.
- I yelled at you without hearing your side of the story; that was wrong, I am sorry.
- I forgot to wash your favorite shirt, I am sorry.
Gets a bit more complicated in some situations with children. You are responsible for teaching acceptable behavior and that means feelings will be hurt. But it really isn’t as hard as you think. Again keeping it simple works:
- I see that hurt, I am sorry.
- I’m sorry what I said upset you.
- I’m sorry.
The younger the child, the easier such apologies are accepted. As your children age, you might meet with some back talk, sulking, or walks away angrily, worry not.
Ignore sulking or walking away. Listen to the back talk and occasionally repeat, the words “I’m sorry” Once the venting has died down, go on with your life as if the event is over and done with, for it should be.
My book How to Hold a Successful Family Meeting will be a free down load from June 21 through June 27th. Apologizing and making amends would be a good topic for such a meeting.
Meanwhile, thank you for all you do, keeping caring and sharing, it makes a difference.
DISCLAIMER: FORGIVE MY GRAMMATICAL ERRORS FOR I HAVE DYSGRAPHIA. If you need perfect posts, you will not find them here. I have dysgraphia which means that sometimes my sentence structure is not that easy to follow or I make other errors. Still, most people understand me. All of my books are professionally edited, but not all of my blog posts are. If this troubles you, feel free to read elsewhere. If you persevere, you are practicing kindness by lifting my spirits for that means you find what I say helpful and that is one of my missions. Kindness always repays those who spread it.