Have any of your children ever made a mistake? I don’t mean an I-accidently-stepped-on-the-dog mistake. I mean a big, nasty mistake that left intense emotional repercussions. A fallout you had to pick up and show them how to manage. Maybe Susie hit her brother. Maybe Timmy excluded a friend purposefully and hurtfully from play. Maybe Michael didn’t let Janet be part of his little singing group. Maybe Marie lashed out at Donnie and told him a hundred reasons why she didn’t love him. You get my drift.
When (it) hits the fan, it is my hope as a therapist that we do not make excuses for our children. We hold them accountable. We make it a teachable moment. And we lead them towards the path of apology – sincere apology. Apology is the cornerstone of healing. Apology allows for all parties to move forward. Apology is a conduit to freedom.
The one statement that can change the way you parent is: “I am sorry.” No, I am sorry but this is what you did wrong. No, I am sorry but it is my job to parent you. No buts. Simply, “I am sorry.”
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
Own every aspect of your misstep and you will teach your children personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, and conflict resolution. Most importantly, you will teach your children you are not beyond reproach.
The misguided, antiquated view of the parent as the scary authoritarian has shown to be ineffective in many areas. While there are aspects of old-school parenting I appreciate, I find difficulty in absorbing the rigid model when it comes to demanding respect. The belief there should be no questioning and that the parent deserves respect no matter his/her behavior is dangerous to the parent-child relationship. The tyrant doesn’t rule and the peasants do not have to submit. We have to be less concerned about laying down the law and more concerned with securing connection with our children. A child who feels connected naturally wants to follow the law. I am not suggesting in any terms that submissive parenting is the answer. It has been found to be just as dangerous to parenting skills as authoritarian styles. I strongly believe in rules, order, schedules, and respect. But I look at respect a little differently.
Respect is never demanded. Respect is earned. I don’t believe my children owe me respect simply because I am their parent. I think my children owe me respect because my behavior (for the most part-there are questionable days) earned it.
Respecting our children as individuals with their own minds and rights means we must acknowledge when we have made a mistake. They must hear the words from our lips, “I am sorry,” on more than one special occasion.
If you can’t own your mistakes as an adult; how can you ever expect a small child to do so?
It is hypocritical and erroneous. Now, there will be moments when connected children strike back. And, if you are anything like me, you will fight the urge to demand respect. You will swallow your angry words and you will use every inch of your being to attempt to do what is right by your little person. And despite all of this, you may still do the wrong thing. I am not proud to admit I have yelled at my children. I have spoken unkind words and I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. But there is something I always do – I sincerely apologize. In fact, I have to apologize weekly sometimes daily. Okay…wait a minute. I think I may be crossing the murky waters into oversharing now. But if it you gives you just a tad bit of relief to know I have all the education behind my approaches and I still struggle then I have done my job. No one should feel like they are on an island.
When I apologize to my children this is what I am teaching them:
- I value my relationship with them more than I value being right.
- I am a human and I make mistakes. When I make mistakes, I will acknowledge it and try to do better.
- I respect them.
- I value their feelings and thoughts.
- I will work to correct whatever blunders occur in our relationship.
- I want to move forward.
- When it is their turn to give me an apology, I will respond with the same forgiveness they give me.
- I mean what I say. I will only give sincere apologies not empty promises.
- I am role-modeling conflict resolution skills and I am doing a heck of a job at it! We need something to feel good about people!
- I display empathy and the whole world could use much more of it.
Saying, “I’m sorry,” forces me to put myself in my children’s shoes and allows me an opportunity to view things from their vantage point. It is a statement I will always carry in my back pocket because it is necessary to any healthy relationship. And I want them to have as many relationship-building statements in their vocabulary as they possibly can. As parents we all make mistakes. Let’s make one less by owning what we do wrong.