"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm Sorry

I heard two "I'm sorry"s before 7 A.M. today.  The first was when Mike was saying goodbye to me just after six.  I told him that the terrible headache I'd had for the past three days still hadn't gone away.  He hadn't caused the headache, but he said he was sorry to express his empathy over the fact that I wasn't feeling well.  About half an hour later, Tegan rolled over in bed, and the back of her head collided with my face.  It had of course been an accident, but I instinctively yelped when my tooth met my lip.  Realizing I was hurt, she too said she was sorry.

A couple of nights ago, Paxton was in our room talking with us, and Spencer had thought he'd gone to bed.  Trying to be helpful, he shut down the PS3 (on which Paxton had a game paused),  and turned off the TV.  When Paxton came back out, he realized that the progress that he'd been working on for the past hour and a half had been lost, and was understandably upset.  Spencer felt terribly about the mistake, and sincerely apologized.  

I myself have given dozens of "sorry"s over the past several days... from the small (bumping into Spencer in the kitchen) to the significant (expressing condolences to a high school friend whose husband recently passed from cancer).

I tell my kids I'm sorry when I've been less than patient.  I tell my husband I'm sorry when I've spoken unkindly. 

Yes, "I'm sorry" are two very commonly spoken words in this house, as I imagine they are in most houses.  Kids pick up on them - and their meaning - as well as any other words.    So I honestly wonder:

Why do parents think they need to make their children say they're sorry?  Perhaps more importantly, what exactly do they think that forcing an apology is going to accomplish?  Just like respect, being sorry is a feeling.   You cannot make someone feel something.  You could make your child SAY they are sorry, but if they're not feeling particularly sorry, what have you delivered, beyond insincere words?  I don't want my kids to deliver insincere apologies, and I certainly don't want to be the one coaching them to do so. 

Children learn how to treat people from their parents.  If they have parents that say please and thank you, then they will say please and thank you.  If they have parents who say sorry, then they will say sorry.  They will learn social intricacies like they learn everything else, as they experience them.    If they are around people who care about them, and care about others, they will learn.   No coercion necessary.  They are human.  They will screw up, they will make mistakes, they will unintentionally hurt someone's feelings.... and when they do, they will know, without even having to stop to think about it, that they should apologize.  It's what human beings do.  And what if they say or do something in anger, and just don't really feel sorry yet?

Let's be honest for a minute.

Adults do this all the time.  We'll have words with someone, or a confrontation, or a conflict.  Maybe someone has done something really hurtful, and maybe we responded in a way that we're not particularly proud of.  Deep down, we know that "I'm sorry" would be an appropriate way to follow up, but we're just not ready to say it.  Or maybe we're so angry or hurt that we don't even feel it.   So we take a day, or twelve days, or a month, until we're able to honestly say, "You know what?  I didn't handle that well, and I'm really sorry."   The difference is, as adults, we don't generally have someone standing over us saying, "Jennifer!  You go apologize to her right now!"

I don't make my kids apologize.  They're in charge of their own apologies.  And if I'm at a playground, and one of them does something that hurts or offends another child, and for whatever reason they don't apologize, then I will say that I'm sorry  that whoever-it-was did whatever-they-did.  Because I'll mean it.  But to be completely honest, I can't remember the last time I've had to do it.  Ninety nine times out of a hundred if an apology is warranted, then they will give it of their own accord.   And just like Tegan when she realized she'd given me a fat lip, they'll mean it.

1 comment:

C&A said...

Love the adult example. How true that is.


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