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Do We Apologize Too Much As Parents?

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When you look back at how often you apologize to your kids, does it make you feel bad?

It had already started. Monday afternoon at 3:40pm, in the back seat of my car. Two children, already bickering and crying.

Usually we don’t get there until later in the week, Wednesday maybe, when the getting up early and the homework and the responsibilities and the staying up too late because of this practice or that Boy Scouts meeting starts getting to everyone.  Here it was, Monday, and the recriminations were already at fever pitch.

I shouted as I looked in the rearview mirror, which I hate.  What is shouting other than adding to the cacophony and making it worse? And then I drew in a deep breath and told my children, “We’re a team. This team is going to have a rough week.  We have three late nights thanks to lacrosse and other stuff. Dad is gone all week. We’re starting the week off tired because we were so busy this weekend. It’s going to be easy for us to get frustrated with each other and yell and cry, yet this week of all weeks we have to try even harder. We have to be on each other’s side.”

I was reminded of that moment earlier this week when I read this post by Heather Westberg King, writer of the blog The Extraordinary Ordinary.  She writes about seeking grace as a parent, and no matter whether you believe in God, I think you will understand.

Heather and her son Miles were having a rough morning.  There was a problem with shoes and being tired and getting to school on time and fighting with the seatbelt, things so many of us recognize. And then this:

I tried suddenly chatting with Miles about trivial things because as much as the quiet helped, I wanted to break it to get to my son. He was staring out the window, mute.  I tried a much-too-often-said apology for my impatience. He continued staring out the window. Then I got desperate or inspired or something and I prayed aloud. It was a hurried prayer because I was nearing the drop-off line and it wasn’t eloquent because my out-loud prayers never are (please don’t send me hate mail, but I get suspicious of eloquent out-loud prayers because they feel contrived and inauthentic to me, like putting on a show or using them as teaching moments while pretending to talk to God. I guess I just think that if you really really mean it, it comes out as messy as you feel, and we all feel very very messy.)

I said something along the lines of HELP and GOOD GRIEF I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO and it ended with, Please help us both feel lighter and happier than we do right now.

Then without a beat my boy said, “Instead of heavy and mad.” He said it like he fully expected that it was going to get better. He is six and and I’m thirty-six and there we were, just trying to figure it out together because nothing can be put in a box or said to be done a certain way with God and life and mystery.

How many of us have been there as parents? We beat ourselves up, as she says, because of our “much-too-often-said apologies” for our impatience, or our mistakes or forgetfulness.  But how many apologies are too many?  I suppose if, as a mother or father, you are continually making the same mistakes, the kind that harm or abuse, an apology is little comfort. Changing behavior would be the right prescription. But, if like Heather or me, you’re a regular everyday mom or dad who’s doing his or her best, and getting it right more times than not, I don’t think there should be or needs to be an apology quota. I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up for being imperfect. In fact, modeling imperfection can be a great thing.  Aren’t we teaching our children that we’re part of a team, made up of imperfect people, and that learning to both apologize and forgive are some of the most important life lessons?

My family is a team. We all blow it. I doubt I make any more apologies to my children than they will make to me, at least if we were to tally them all up at the end.  What makes me happy is that we apologize. We recognize the times when we haven’t treated each other with the kindness that is deserved and we say so. We acknowledge it out loud and in front of everyone.  As Heather writes, “… nothing is ever going to be all fixed and I’m never going to be doing everything right and we’re still here, crazy in love with each other.”

Crazy, crazy in love.

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