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Sometimes “Sorry” is Hard to Say


Justin explores some reasons why apologizing to our children is so important.


I think about balance a lot.  Mostly, balancing all the elements of my life, and if I’m doing a good job at ‘balance’ and at life.   Keeping up with my responsibilities at work and home, watching my health, and honouring relationships with those closest to me are some of my primary focusses.

Since this is a parenting blog, I’ll tell you about how I try to focus attention and intention into the relationships I have with my children.  I think about how to grow, maintain, and protect those relationships.  I try to stay open to receiving feedback on how to better respect my kids, and how to see and hear them more.

Parent Relationships

Recently, I was scrolling social media and came across the posts of an internet family therapist with a specialization in attachment theory.  She underscored some thoughts on how NOT to do all those things that I just mentioned above.  She was making a point about the prevalence of estrangement within the relationships between parents from the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation and their now-adult kids.

She chalked it up to unwillingness on the part of the parents to be accountable, and to be open to receiving negative feedback.

Saying Sorry

This got me thinking about a strategy that I employ with my kids, which is to apologize to my children whenever I get the chance.

It’s not always easy.  But I think it’s worth it.

As individuals, there are a lot of positive outcomes that can come from looking inward for accountability.  But let’s focus on what good can come from modeling such things.

Vulnerability, accountability, resilience, empathy and respect, to name a few.  Perhaps most of all, we’re investing in the connection and relationship.

Parenting Author and Podcaster Janet Lansbury says in her blog Elevating Child Care:

We are powerful examples for our children of all that is human. We teach “I’m sorry” best by modeling it. Children need to hear us apologize to others, and also to them. They need to know that human beings are not perfect. When we say to our child, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” we give the child permission to make mistakes too.

It’s important in my relationship with my children that I model imperfection and humanity.  I want them to see me make mistakes, so they can also watch me make amends or adjustments and move forward as a better version of myself.  I want them to be able to do the same.

In her article in the Washington Post titled Should parents apologize to their kids? And if so, what’s the best way to do it? Gia Miller says:

Another reason to model this skill for your kids: Children who know how to give a sincere apology will be better equipped to navigate friendships on the playground and manage the turbulent teen years, and to successfully handle difficult work situations as an adult.

Navigating life and self-regulating are important qualities that I try to help my children work on.  One of our ultimate goals is to help them find their own practice of looking inward for objective responsibility and responding with resilience.  Practicing navigating grievances and hurt feelings at home are some of the ways that we try to get there.

From that same article Miller says:

As children get older, apologies should also help them identify and understand feelings. Roseanne Lesack, the director of the child psychology clinic at Nova Southeastern University, suggests that parents talk through the scenario after they’ve apologized, helping the child understand what happened, and identify their emotions.

What Stops Parents from Apologizing?

So what keeps me from always being successful in swallowing my ego and fessing up?  And what keeps parents from embracing accountability?  Perhaps a combination of not-having-the-tools, ego, and unwillingness to tolerate looking inward.  Hard to say.  I pulled the following from a blog entry on Parenting.com titled How to Apologize to Your Kids – And Why It’s Important:

Parents can have a hard time divulging blunders to their children because they believe apologizing equals weakness. “They have the idea that if they admit any mistake, they will lose control, and the child will jump in and walk all over them,” says Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., director of Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive. This is a common misconception, but it’s far from the truth.

The notion that I shouldn’t have to live up to the expectations that I’m trying to establish with my children reeks of inequity, and I for one, think they can sniff it out.

And I think that’s what Steph the TikTok Family Therapist was trying to get across to me:  Find a way to tolerate my own discomfort and seek accountability or risk damaging the relationships I hold most dear, or raising equally emotionally obtuse future adults.  Or both.

I’ll take the former option.  I’ll eat my words, or crow, or humble pie every day if it gives us a better chance at raising vulnerable and resilient young people.

My goal is to equip them with the tools to build a life well lived.  And owning up to my many mistakes seems to support that goal, so I’ll keep apologizing.