It’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry

By Melissa Stefanec

It’s a Tuesday night that could be any Tuesday night, in any place and with any family, but it’s my Tuesday night with my family.

My daughter, who is 6, starts getting annoyed with her brother, who is 3. Their fight has something to do with robots and proper housing.

My daughter believes the blocks they are playing with have not been split between the two of them equally and, thus, her robot’s house is woefully inadequate. Some verbal back-and-forth ensues, and then my daughter decides she is going to settle the score. She knows how she is going to get more blocks. She hauls off and pushes her brother out of the way to retrieve what she believes is her fair share of robot housing materials.

Yes, this is my life — but how cool is it my kids build houses for their toy robots? As parents, we are all familiar with watching our kids do things they should not. When things get out of hand, we intervene and play the role of just disciplinarian. In this case, I gave a speech I know by heart. It’s the one where I say, trying to solve your problems with putting your hands on someone else actually makes more problems and sadness for everyone involved. I have several iterations, and I bet my kids can recite them all by heart. At the end of the speech, I usually tell the offender(s) to go to their room and regroup and then come back and apologize to the afflicted party.

Sometimes, an “I’m sorry” is offered immediately. Sometimes it’s screamed in anger. Sometimes it’s whispered or muttered so the offended party only catches vapors. Other times, it’s said in hopes of avoiding consequences. Every once in a while, it’s offered sincerely. There are many times when it’s not offered at all. That’s because — and let’s be honest here — saying I’m sorry and conveying that sorrow and really meaning it are all very challenging things to do. There are a lot of adults out there who go to their graves as novices at giving a sincere apology. Saying “I’m sorry” involves a level of emotional maturity that takes a lot of practice and discipline.

When we ask our children to say I’m sorry, it’s a tall order. However, it’s a lesson that has to be taught. As much as I like to think telling my kids to be sorry is enough, it’s not. It’s a start and a small start at that. Telling kids to say I’m sorry doesn’t teach them how to be sorry. The best way to teach kids the meaning of remorse is to model it.

So, what I am about to write is unpopular with a lot of parents. It goes against a lot of old-fashioned parenting, but I think it needs to be considered. When you do something wrong to your children or in front of your children, tell them you are sorry. Teach your children you are not infallible by recognizing your fallacies. Teach them we are all human and therefore all make mistakes. Teach them that strong people say I’m sorry.

Then, show them you are sorry.

When you raise your voice to your children, say I’m sorry and don’t stop there. Explain to them that sometimes mommies and daddies have a hard time handling their emotions. Make sure they understand how much you love them, even when you are angry. Give them whatever reassurances they need, whether emotional or physical.

When you offend your spouse or another loved one in front of your kids, make sure they are in earshot when you offer your apology. Demonstrate to them we all make mistakes and step out of line, even with the people we love. Teach them mistakes and hurt can be healed with a simple phrase or a simple touch.

Explain to them we are all works in progress. We all have bad or difficult days. We all get grouchy or snappy. Teach them this is normal human behavior, but don’t excuse it. Lead by example and recognize when you are having a bad day. Tell them tomorrow is another day — another day and another chance to do better.

Some parents I know believe apologizing to children shows weakness and a lack of defined leadership. Some parents think parents should be the boss, no matter how wrong they are. That mindset is only half true. Parents should be the clear authority in their homes. Whether right or wrong, what they say goes. However, never recognizing your faults only shows your children a lot of weakness. It shows them they need to be perfect and authoritarian adults, which I bet isn’t something most of us want to actually teach our children.

The strongest and best leaders can admit when they are wrong. After they admit they are wrong, they take steps to rectify that wrong. When I think about people I have looked up to and listened to in my life, that list doesn’t include people who thought they were always right, no matter what the cost. The people I admire most are the ones strong enough to admit fault, express remorse, move on, and keep growing.

Showing remorse and wanting to make amends isn’t something you should grow out of it, it’s something you should perfect over the course of your beautiful life. Teach your children to grow and how to be sorry. The world and your life will be a better place for it.