When We Apologize
“Our ability to hurt each other is enormous, but nowhere is it more powerful than in families, so nowhere are apologies more frequently needed — and resisted."1
Children profit when we teach them two things: The first is saying “ouch” when we’ve been injured by their unkind words or actions (see June 2012 Family Tip of the Month). We often give our kids a pass when they demean our cooking or mock our viewpoint or deliver a hostile hand gesture. Instead of saying “Ouch, that’s really hurtful,” we show them only anger (“Don’t talk to me that way!”)
The second lesson we can teach comes from saying “I’m sorry” when we’ve hurt them. We grab a stubborn child by the arm and pull her toward the door, and when we grab too hard and she cries out, we tell her we wouldn’t have had to be so rough if she’d been obedient in the first place. We don’t apologize. At other times, we lose our patience and exclaim, “You’re such a brat!” Afterwards, we might feel some guilt about what we said, but it may not occur to us to apologize.
Both “Ouch, that’s hurtful” and “I’d like to apologize” are ways we make ourselves vulnerable — not always easy to do with our kids. To apologize — to admit that we erred — can seem like we’re giving up our power as parents, relinquishing our authority and losing our position. Some of us mistakenly regard apologizing as revealing weakness, setting ourselves up for our children to take advantage of us. Not so.
Apologizing to our kids takes courage. It’s something our children need from us in order to learn how it’s done, a skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. To boot, if they learn the value of an apology, maybe they’ll offer us one when we say “Ouch.” Wouldn’t that be nice?
- Tannen, Deborah. I Only Say This Because I Love You. Random House Digital, Inc. May, 2002.