Sorry Not Sorry: The Culture of Apologizing for our Children

Mamas, please stop apologizing for your kids.  I see it every day.  I live it every day.  Your kid makes a mistake, you apologize.  Your kid acts like a kid, you apologize.  The truth is this: If your child legitimately screws up, let HIM apologize.  If your child is acting like a child, don’t apologize.  There is a difference between childish and foolish behavior.  Understanding that difference will change the way you parent and how your child sees himself in this world.

Trust me.  I understand completely.  I have three kids.  They all are typically developing, although I have one child who has some quirky tendencies.  There is no mold that can contain his creativity.  He learns by doing, asking, exploring, and he is 8.  He acts like an 8 year- old, and yet, I have apologized for his inquiries, his truth-telling and his exploration on many occasions.  Why have I done this?  I don’t want him to be an imposition. 

Where did I get this mindset? 

Picture it. Tennessee. 1976.  My mother was an amazing mother.  She was always selfless and taught me how to put others above myself.  She taught me manners from an early age: Speak when spoken to.  Don’t interrupt. Leave adults alone when they are talking. Don’t be loud. Don’t be obnoxious. The list goes on and on.  Thus, I didn’t speak to strangers until I was in 2nd grade.  I had internalized this overwhelming feeling of being an imposition to everyone.  Every time I heard my mother say, “please excuse Angie” or “I’m sorry she’s talking your ear off” or “I hope she’s not bugging you” it felt like an attack on my personality. Did my mother see me as an imposition? Of course not!  Did she communicate that I was one? Of course.  I still struggle today with feeling like a burden.  I find myself having one-way friendships all the time because I’m scared to overwhelm people with my struggles. One of the first speak-into-my-life moments that I had with my husband was when he asked me, “why do you always say you are sorry when you haven’t done anything to apologize for?” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I fear becoming an imposition; therefore, I apologize for breathing sometimes.

Fast forward to now that I am a mother.  I find myself having to pull back constantly when in public.  I don’t ever want my children to feel like impositions because I’m embarrassed by childish behavior. Childish behavior is ok.  It’s developmentally appropriate for children to act like children.  I screw this up all the time.  My youngest will talk to you about paint drying if you let him. He is very smart and likes to get to know people. There is nothing wrong with that, so I try not to apologize for his personality. Instead, I try to use those times as a social skills lesson.  Rather than shaming his inquisitive personality, I try to redirect him to another activity and thank the person for being so friendly. That wasn’t always the case, though.  Before I realized what I was doing, I used to grab his hand and whisper, “I’m sorry” to the person who he had been talking to.  There was nothing to apologize for and unfortunately, I was communicating to my son that being himself was something to be sorry about.

Are there times when apologies are necessary? YES!

Sometimes, our children need to apologize when they’ve done something foolish or wrong. When we were out celebrating with friends at an ice cream place, my youngest accidentally put a chair on a friend’s bare toe, and she screamed in pain.  That requires an apology…by him.  So often, we stand in that gap and apologize for our children when they should be apologizing. To teach self-regulation and responsibility for actions, we should teach them when it is appropriate to apologize.  Sometimes our kids act like jerks and need to be held accountable.  Don’t apologize for them.  Teach them to apologize and why they are apologizing.  We apologize because of actions that cause physical or emotional harm either intentionally or by accident, not because someone doesn’t like us. 

Take time to embrace this phase of raising your children and encourage them to be who they were created to be. It will change your life.  You will begin to celebrate the quirks, the unique behavior, the little pieces of God’s handiwork that make your child who he is.  Trust me. It’s only taken me 12 years as a mom to learn this lesson, and I still sometimes screw it up.  Embrace. Cherish. Love. Interact. Encourage. Free yourself from the burden of having perfect children and just enjoy them. 

Sam was crying over the spilled milk on his face. Ethan (in back) thought it was funny, clearly.

Sam was crying over the spilled milk on his face. Ethan (in back) thought it was funny, clearly.