Don’t mess up an apology with an excuse

Date
Nov, 04, 2022

“When you hit a wrong note – it’s the next note that makes it good or bad”

Miles Davis

One of the hardest things about parenting is having to accept that we aren’t always able to do and say things to our children the way we feel we should.

Being a parent is fraught with perfectionism and impossibly high standards, not helped by the fact that we now know so much more about how telling off, shaming and shouting affects a child’s brain and self-esteem. This means, when we lose our temper, or when our child’s behaviour feels so triggering for us that we react from a primitive place, we might have a reaction that is either:

  • We feel righteous (‘That will teach them. They KNOW not to do that”)

    or

  • We enter into a shame-spiral (“What’s the matter with me. I’m a horrible parent. How can they ever forgive me?”)

When we feel defensive and find ourselves justifying our reaction, it is not a sign that we are a bad person. Nor is it a sign that we have no empathy. Often righteousness is a defence mechanism that we’ve erected early on in life, to shield ourselves from shame and blame.

The trouble is just, much like the tendency to berate ourselves, these behaviours prevent us from being attentive to the person who’s been affected by our reaction; our child.

The good apology

Many parents I work with are curious about this topic, and are heartened to learn that a sincere apology, offered to their child, is not lessening their authority and respect in the eyes of their child, – in fact, it does the opposite.

Yet, because we are rarely in the receiving end of a good apology, it might be useful to know what a sincere apology is – and what it isn’t.

Instead of:

Sorry if….

Say:

Say what you are sorry for
“I am sorry that..” (because it acknowledges that what happened, did in fact happen, and lets your child know that you care).

Instead of:

Apologising for your feelings (‘I’m sorry I got angry”)

Say:

“I got very angry when you did / said X. And I’m very sorry that I ended up (yelling or ____)”

Instead of:

“BUT”

Say:

“I could see that that was really upsetting to you / you got really scared”

Instead of:

“Can you forgive me”?

Say:

“I’ll try my hardest not to do that next time”

The hardest part about apologies, is resisting the urge to justify our actions by saying; “Sorry…. BUT”.
Yet, for an apology to be healing, we negate everything we said before the ‘but’.
Sometimes an ‘AND’ can be much more loving:

And I would like it, if next time, when we feel angry, we try to use our words, instead of hitting”

Doesn’t this let the child off the hook?

All too often, we want too much from each conversation we have with our child.
We want to repair AND teach in the same breath.
Remembering that timing is everything, and that a child cannot learn while in a state of stress, distress or overwhelm, we are far better off to save the other part of the conversation till we have both calmed down.

Repairing when things go wrong between us is always our job, because we are 100% responsible for the tone and quality of the relationship that we share with our child. Simply because, only we have the social skills and the power to change the dynamic.

If you recognise that your child often ends up coming to you, following a fall out, a good place to start might be to begin to rebuild the bridge of connection before your child initiates it. When we do, our child can rest in our love, and not work for it.

Remember, that it is not THAT we make mistakes that matters, but that we take steps to REPAIR and assume responsibility for what is ours in those moments. It is a beautiful opportunity to re-write the script – and add what the situation was missing in the first instance. And it sets a powerful example for our child to follow in time.

Louise Brooks

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