Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

I'm Sorry

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Oct 19, 2012 8:52 AM

“Never forget the nine most important words of any family-
I love you.
You are beautiful.
Please forgive me.” (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

I apologized to my teenage daughter the other night. It was over something simple, but I made it a point to apologize to her because my initial response had been dismissive, and I thought she deserved the acknowledgment. And it got me thinking: how many parents think apologizing to their kids is unnecessary, or even a sign of weakness?

I've never been shy about apologizing to my daughter. To me, it sets an example in so many ways, not the least of which is teaching her the value of this social nicety. I want her to know that if she has done something to upset or offend another person, she should consider apologizing. I don't want her apologizing for every perceived misstep - or, worse yet, everything someone else might possibly consider a misstep - but I want her to take responsibility for her actions, especially when those actions offend someone else.

I think apologizing is also a good antidote to perfectionism. The act of apologizing - especially when we apologize without making excuses - acknowledges that we sometimes make mistakes. I don't want my daughter to think I'm perfect (and trust me, she doesn't!) because that gives her an unreasonable standard to live up to. By apologizing to her when I make a mistake, I let her know that I make mistakes, mistakes are okay and they're not the end of the world. A sincere apology can recitify a small mistake, and can keep feelings from festering, turning a small misstep into an irrevocable action.

What is a sincere apology? When I taught elementary school kids about apologies, I told them that a good apology is short, sincere and contains an intention to do better in the future. Repeating "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" over and over again is demeaning to both the person delivering the apology and the person receiving it, and should be reserved for great transgressions for which an apology may not be sufficient. 

Saying I'm sorry when you don't mean it is equally ineffective. We've all been on the end of "Well, I'm sorry, then!" apologies that make us feel worse than no apology at all. And saying I'm sorry without intending to do better in the future is equally hollow. Why bother to apologize at all if you have no intention of changing the behavior that offended the person in the first place?

Perhaps it's the complex nature of a good apology that makes so many of us shy away from them. While uttering the words, "I'm sorry" is easy, apologizing in a way that improves the situation is a nothing short of an art. When we add the obscuring cloud of emotion to the equation, apologizing is never as easy as it sounds.

How about you? Do you apologize to your kids? Is this all simpler than I am making it sound?

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