The Art of the Parental Apology: When and Why I Apologize to My Kids

When I was little there was no such thing as a parental apology. At least I had never heard of it. Did parents make mistakes back then? Maybe not.

As for me, I’m making mistakes on the hour, round the clock, year after year. I am developing as a parent too. Hopefully I’m not constantly repeating the same mistakes. But…. I am doing some of that too. What can I say? I’m seriously flawed.

And so I apologize.
Apologies don’t come easily to me, at least the genuine kind. Being from the South, I’m really good at saying “Sorry” when I bump the lady at the grocery store whose cart got too close to mine. I’m also good at saying “Sorry” for no good reason, like when I act like I’m going to pull into an intersection and then chicken out and hit my brakes, making the person racing into the intersection panic and hit their breaks. I say “Sorry sir!” in my car, where no one can hear me, except my children, who spend the next hour asking for the play-by-play of what just happened.

But the real kind, the heart kind, the apologies that you’ve got to dig down deep for, those are hard for me. And I feel the need for them more and more as I mature.

Me green with regret…or when I’m frozen from shock at the crazy thing my kid just did.

I apologize to my kids when I recognize that my shortcoming have hurt them. When I’ve judged in haste, or snapped at them, or promised them something that I can’t deliver on.

I apologize because I want them to learn humility. I know how hard it can be to access that emotion, especially when you feel entitled to their respect and to certain behaviors you’ve asked for a million times. No one feels more entitled than parents. We are the bosses after all. We MADE these people. We FEED these people. We PUT UP with these people. They can’t survive without us. We are entitled to a little bossiness, right?

The problem with this logic is that we’re raising adults. We are not raising underlings, or slave laborers, or robots. We are raising complex, emotional human beings, who are taking cues from EVERY THING we are doing. I know this quite well because my girls play with dolls. And those dolls have been lectured until their eyes crossed. They’ve been bossed HARD. It’s really helped me to feel humble, and a little humiliated. (In case you didn’t know, the frustrated Mom Lecture is useful in parenting about 0 out of a 1,000 times. Just based on personal experience.)

I apologize because I’m trying to model a way to live that will enable them to get along with tough people, cantankerous people like myself. I want them to be able to make a marriage last, because they’ve learned how to apologize and forgive their little hearts out over and over again.

I apologize because so often I’m just plain wrong. And I want them to know that I know it. I want them to see me recognize my failure and the accepting of that failure and, God willing the growth from that failure. I want them to know that to err is human, and that I can love myself fully while also seeing my ragged growth edges.

I apologize because it honors their personhood, however small and button-nosed.

I do not, however, confuse this practice with overly catering to my kids. Life can be weasley and they have to learn to be flexible when things don’t go their way. I don’t apologize if their favorite cup is unwashed or their friend can’t come over to play. I’m talking about true offenses, not things that hurt their underdeveloped sensibilities.
But when I really need to, I apologize. And I never regret it.

What about you? Do you find it hard to apologize? (I feel like I’m about to break into song here…It’s too late to apologize….) Share in the Comments section below.

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