My friend commented recently that she had enjoyed watching my oldest daughter and I interact that evening. I shared with her that I had been a bit abrupt with my daughter earlier, cutting off a conversation that I felt we did not need to have at that time. While I was likely quite right to not engage in the conversation, I wanted to check in with my girl and make sure that she was okay, that I had not been too quick to decide on the necessity of a talk. Even if I had been right to not engage in the subject, I felt I could have handled her with more grace and consideration. That realization led down the rabbit trail of thinking about how often I apologize to my kids. I have lost count of how many times I have apologized to them each. They probably each receive a sincere “sorry” from me on a nearly daily basis. Why do I apologize so much? Am I a failure as a parent, or as a person in general? I would like to think not, so here is why I think I apologize so often.
First off, I have five children, and their ages range from nine months to eleven and a half years. As such, I have a pretty broad range of developmental stages in my home. So, in addition to each child having their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and desires, each child also has a very distinct set of needs that my husband and I have to meet. Add to that the regular responsibilities of being an adult; housework, cooking, budgeting, kid sports, volunteer obligations, work, my own interests (ha!), and I think it is fair to say I am often stretched a little thin. You could say I often feel a little like elasta-girl from the Incredibles, stretched to her maximum. Or maybe a more apt analogy might be saying I manage my life a bit like those fun plate-balancing folks put on their shows. No one really knows how they do it; and half the people watching are convinced it is some gimmick or illusion, while the other half are waiting for the inevitable crash as the plates hit the stage. I think the girl on the bottom, the one balancing the plates AND another plate balancing girl, might be my long-lost Asian twin! See the intense focus/fear in her eyes?
Okay, I am admittedly exaggerating, and digressing, but I hope you see my point. Being a little short on time and patience happens a little more often than I would like. When these pressure points come, I am much more likely to lapse into the type of attitude I have worked so hard to outgrow; snappy, rude, or impatient. All of these undesirable attitudes wear a similar face: a tightly drawn unsmiling mouth, and slightly cold eyes. An almost palpable chill could enter the room from my facial expression alone, if I were to allow these attitudes to dominate. These unhappy moods also sport a similar style of communication: a louder voice with a more harsh tone, and a quicker pace of conversation from me, with little to no allowance for others to speak.
Before we go much further I should probably extend a little grace to myself, and an explanation to you. I feel some form of internal or external pressure everyday. We all do, it is part of the modern life we lead. This pressure of course does not lead to a full-out mom-meltdown (very often), but one or more of those little quirks may emerge on any given day, at any given time. After these momentary lapses have occurred, or when I feel I have let one or more of my children down in some other way, I feel it is of the upmost importance to look my child (or children) in the eyes and say one simple thing.
I am sorry.
I am sorry for snapping at you.
I am sorry for not hearing you out.
I am sorry for those unkind words.
I am sorry for my facial expression.
I am sorry for not listening.
I am sorry for my attitude about your attitude.
I am sorry I did not make time to read you a bedtime story.
I am sorry for not coming to you right away when you started crying.
Whatever the rude behaviour directed at my child, by me, I try and own it and apologize for it as soon as I am able. That may be immediately, or it might be several hours later, or even years later. The timeline does not matter quite as much as the simple fact that when I become aware of my indiscretion, I apologize.
In apologizing I am teaching my children many valuable lessons:
No one, no matter what level of authority they have, can treat you poorly.
You deserve an apology when you are wronged.
I love you enough to humble myself before you.
I love you enough to protect your heart.
I am not perfect. I make mistakes, and I own them. As I have done, so can you.
I think the realization that I am not perfect may be one of the most powerful aspects of my apology. What freedom! My children are quite aware that I am not perfect, and they love me anyway. They now have the ability to go about making mistakes in life, apologizing, and resting comfortably knowing they are still loved. They do not need to be perfect. They are my children, and I love them. I am their mom, and they love me. Our family members all love each other. Warts and all.
The world would have our children believe they are subservient to us. Their lack of wisdom and experience somehow equates to a lower value, and unfortunately this attitude can also show up in our homes:
Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.
Children are to be seen and not heard.
I didn’t ask you.
I don’t have to respect you, but you have to respect me.
I’m sorry but…
I nearly shudder writing those statements. You may have heard one or more of those statements when you were a child; you may even have used one or more of them yourself. The above comments are ubiquitous, but they are lies. The Bible teaches us that whoever is least among us is greatest in the kingdom of God. So, even though children are often regarded as less important than adults, we can clearly see how God regards them. Jesus also encourages us to become like little children when it comes to our faith. He in fact declares that unless we are like children with our faith we will not enter the kingdom of heaven! So why do so many people behave as if children’s hearts are not hurt by our harsh words? Or why do we pretend their pain is small, just because they are small? It is so easy to focus on the oft quoted scripture: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1), but how many people fail to read on? If you were to continue on a few lines to Ephesians 6:4, you would read, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
We all make mistakes. We snap at our kids. We spend a couple minutes too long staring at our phones. We show up late for, or forget altogether, important events.
We wrong our children, and in doing so, we provoke them to anger.
When this happens, we need to take control of ourselves, and take responsibility for our actions. We need to get on the level of the little person we have wronged, and we need to speak with openness and honesty three simple words:
I am sorry.
When I do this my children often respond immediately with “I forgive you.” We then all move on with our day, not pausing at all to contemplate the power of those statements.
I am sorry.
I forgive you.
There is so much freedom in those few words, and more importantly, there is love.