Patricia Holland tells a story of when she was coaxing her daughter to practice music, for she had a natural ability for it. She had good intentions and wanted to help her daughter develop her talent. But, she was “looming” over her daughter, and eventually she realized that it was putting a strain on their relationship because she was not encouraging her in the most positive way. She wrote a note and apologized to her daughter. Her daughter later said that her mom’s willingness to apologize “gave her a great sense of self-worth, because it said to her that she was worthy enough for a parental apology, that sometimes children can be right.”¹
Apologizing as Parents Teaches Important Lessons
I inwardly cringe when I hear phrases like “Mom’s always right” or “Mother knows best.” I’m far from perfect, and I don’t know any other perfect people, as wonderful as they might be. That means that we all have to apologize sometimes. When we apologize to our children, we teach our children valuable lessons. We teach them how to be humble, recognize personal shortcomings, and try to be better. We teach them that we care about them and their feelings are important to us. We show we were listening to them. We teach them how to say sorry and apologize to others. My mom was always really good about apologizing to us kids, and it helped me know how much I was valued, just like Patricia Holland’s daughter.
Recognizing when we have made a mistake or not acted in a kind way also helps set our children up to be independent and make their own choices. At some point, us moms won’t be around nor should we always make decisions for our kids. We raise our kids in hopes that they will make good choices and recognize what is best for them. We want them to think for themselves. Additionally, in the future we hope that they will rely more on their spouse (if married) than their mom.
As a side not, recognizing we moms are not always right is good for our marriages as well. If mom’s always right, then where does that leave dad if there’s a disagreement? Always wrong when he disagrees with mom? I don’t think so. Here’s a shout out to all the dads and dad-figures who are doing an amazing job at helping raise their children.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to apologize, especially when we are the leader. So, let’s get some of the myths out of the way.
Apologizing Does Not Mean You’re a Bad Person
Apologizing does not mean that you’re a failure. Too often, mistakes lead to feelings of shame. Shame can cause us to shy away from apologizing because we don’t want to recognize that we made a mistake. We sometimes try to defend ourselves to feel better about our actions. Instead, try to recognize that everyone makes mistakes. Recognize the positives in your parenting as well. Have a growth mindset where you understand that you are developing and growing as a person/parent instead of having fixed parenting abilities. Have compassion with yourself. If this is difficult for you to do, you might consider some self-esteem exercises.
Apologizing Does Not Mean That You Accept Their Inappropriate Behavior.
Often, an interaction that requires you to apologize is an interaction that also leaves room for improvement from the other person as well. Apologizing doesn’t mean you accept inappropriate behavior from them and they get off scot free. Rather, you are simply owning up to your own behavior. You can still hold your children accountable for their unacceptable behavior. Perhaps, though, they will find it easier to change and comply with our rules when you set an example for them of taking personal responsibility and apologizing.
Apologizing to Your Children Does Not Mean They Will No Longer Accept Your Authority.
It can be easy to think that when you acknowledge your shortcomings to your children that they will no longer view you as an authority figure. However, this is not true. Not recognizing your authority as a parent comes from inconsistent family rules, not enforcing family rules and disciplining when needed, or simply from the rebellious nature of your child. It does not come from apologizing when appropriate.
We’re In This Together
As parents, we have a wonderful responsibility to teach our children, and oftentimes that means we’re “right.” We want to and definitely should impart our wisdom and values to them. But, more important than being “right” in an argument or disagreement is letting our children know we’ll be there for them no matter what. We hope they’ll learn life lessons to grow up to be independent, loving, responsible, and contributive adults. We hope they’ll learn to turn to several trusted leaders and friends (us included), but that doesn’t mean we have to always be right or be perfect. It simply means we try our best to teach them and apologize, learn, and grow along the way.
So in summary, remember that everyone in this life is trying. Our kids are trying, and we as parents are trying. That often requires mistakes and failures, but those mistakes and failures can give us great opportunities to learn, grow, and extend compassion to one another.