The Three Most Important Words I Can Say To My Child

The Three Most Important Words I Can Say To My Child

It was another one of those stressful mornings. Everybody was running late, one of the dogs peed in the kitchen, the other threw up on the carpet, the littlest kid was cranky from teething, the middle one couldn’t find her shoes, and the oldest one was taking forever to eat his breakfast because apparently my hysteria wasn’t a good enough hint that I needed everyone to hurry up, get their crap together, and get in the freakin’ car. The fact that I wasn’t ready either was obviously beside the point. My stress needed a target and my kids fit the bill.

Once everyone was finally in the car, I gave a long, loud lecture to my older two about being ready on time and responsible for their own belongings. I thought it was a pretty solid lecture, I’d give it at least a B+. Lots of anecdotes, peppered with some profound thoughts—maybe even some quotable stuff—and all delivered with great passion (and by “passion,” I mean “anger,” but “passion” makes me sound like a lovelier person so I’m going with that).

My 12-year-old son was silent after my brilliant lecture, so I finally asked, “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me.”
He spoke in a very calm, respectful way. “It’s just that…. you got so mad about something that wasn’t just our fault. I know we were running late and I’m sorry, but you were running late, too. You weren’t ready either, but we’re the ones getting lectured. Didn’t we all do the same thing, make the same mistake, including you?”

He was right.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have raised dumber kids. Kids who are oblivious to truth. Airheads. Puppets who just nod and agree. But I digress.

My boy was right. And my big, fat ego didn’t like hearing it.

I tell my children daily, “I love you.” I say those words when I’m the happiest with them and when I’m the angriest. I say them a lot. A lot, a lot. We’re told constantly by experts and books and Oprah and cheesy Facebook posts that it’s important to say those words to your children and for them to really believe them. I completely agree. But there are three words that when strung together might just be even more powerful (though not more important) than “I love you.”

“I am sorry.”

Not a flippant “I am sorry.” Not in passing. Not out of frustration. Not in a hurry. Not followed with “but…”

A real, genuine, humble “I am sorry.”

That morning, I’m ashamed to admit, my first instinct was to defend myself, but thankfully, my brain and heart and common sense kicked in before I opened my big, prideful mouth, so I pulled the car to the side of the road, looked at my son, and said, “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I was so stressed out and instead of dealing with it in a mature way, I took it out on you and your sister. And that was wrong and completely unfair. You did not deserve that. I am sorry.”

His face instantly changed. My boy needed to hear that, and I owed it to him.

That morning wasn’t the first time I messed up. Or the fifth or the hundredth. I’ve failed as a mother many times. I’ve hurt my kids’ feelings. I’ve been selfish. I’ve forgotten. I’ve been late. I’ve been unfair. I’ve lost my cool. I’ve done all those things repeatedly, and unfortunately, I’ll probably do some of them again. To pretend I didn’t or won’t is not only unhealthy, but also detrimental to my children’s development.

“I am sorry” creates trust.
“I am sorry” builds respect.
“I am sorry” promotes humbleness.
“I am sorry” shows that everyone makes mistakes.
“I am sorry” teaches that admitting you’re wrong isn’t a sign of weakness.

And if we’re being honest, a consistent, genuine “I love you” can’t exist without a consistent, genuine “I am sorry.”

I will screw up as a parent. But the biggest failure I could ever make is allowing my pride and ego to be greater than my child’s need to hear me admit I’m wrong when I’m wrong. Owning my mistakes and apologizing for them doesn’t diminish my power as a parent. It increases it. My children will learn nothing from me foolishly acting as if I’m always right, and they will learn everything from me living my life as an honest, vulnerable, flawed human who isn’t embarrassed to say those three powerful words: I am sorry.

18 Responses to The Three Most Important Words I Can Say To My Child

  1. Stefanie April 21, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    so true!!! my son Zion (3.5 yrs) knows it better to say than I …

  2. Vanessa October 6, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    You have a wonderful way of putting into words exactly how I feel as a mom of four children….who have been yelled at for not being ready, missing the bus or forgetting things…..thankfully I have been able to say I am sorry to them…..three very important words!

  3. Dana N Pledger September 28, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    I just read this. As a parent with 2 adult kids, ages 25 and 22, I must agree with you. I substitute teach at a coupel fo the loal high schools also. When I do something there that I wind up apologizing to the students for, like giving the wrong instructions or not beng able to find somthing the teacher left for them to do, the look o their faces, well, its pure shock most of the time. These kids expressions look like they’ve never had an adult apologize for anything…ever. I almost always wind up metioning that to them too and get the response that they don’t. Most adults totally forget how to be human with kids and teens and often with each other. I try t provide a small glimpse of what I believe we should behave like with each other. My kids were raised to do the same. Heaven knows I’m not a perfect mother or person. I’m glad you show what motherhood is like and do it with sincerity and humor. Love your stuff.

  4. Marie August 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    I have 2 kids and 2 dogs and I saw myself and my morning in your post. Now I’m sitting here, drinking coffee while my little one is taking her nap and the older one is still in school. I’m reflecting on my morning and I’m asking myself and you … is it too late to say I’m sorry this afternoon? Is there ever too late for I am sorry? Love your posts. Thank you!!!!!

    • Candice August 19, 2016 at 2:37 am #

      I don’t think it is ever too late, it just might not be as poignant.

  5. May Steitieh August 18, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    Thank you so much!its very true and we “mothers” had and will have those moments but we shouldn’t forget to pause and say sorry when we’re wrong.
    I love your posts Kristina and they always inspire me.keep it up.

  6. Katherine Flemix August 17, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    Thank you so much! We have days like this and as a Homeschooler of 3 girls aged 11,16 &18, I have too many of these moments, and we are together ALL DAY LONG! You made me sit up and notice. God bless you!

  7. Theresa Reese May 22, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    Every parent can learn from this post – both mothers and fathers! I wish I would have read it when I was raising my 3 children. I might have taken some hints seriously.

  8. Annette January 30, 2016 at 10:01 am #

    Thank you so much! This was brilliant and I needed to hear it! Great honest post thank you!

  9. Ann September 15, 2015 at 1:44 am #

    Beautiful post. I agree completely that an honest “I’m sorry” ranks way up there with “I love you.” My six year old would agree. He asks if I’m sorry when I accidentally curse in front of him.

  10. Cornelia Becker Seigneur September 13, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    Yes! This. So true. I so agree and say this to my kids too. I remember my mom telling me that her father could never say he was sorry, so she made it a point to apologize to her kids. Humility is huge. Kids know we mess up and when we admit it, something happens. . . . I enjoy your parenting writing and humor a lot – my pen often turns to talk about parenting and family life as well.! Great to find your blog- Cornelia from Portland, ORYGONE 🙂

  11. Kaeli September 13, 2015 at 2:22 am #

    Great article. I just experienced a similar thing putting my kids to bed. I was getting frustrated with it all taking so long when I was the one dragging my heals the most. I have always said I’m sorry because I usually really am. I really like that my kids know as much or more than I do. In so many ways they are ahead of the game so I use their insight a lot. I often have to apologize for not being as enlightened as they are. Thanks again, kaeli

  12. Sharon September 11, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    So well written, and such a good reminder to us as parents. Although I couldn’t help but also think my husband in particular could do with a read of this! haha

  13. Debbie September 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    Great post! I actually did say these words often to my 3 boys. If I did something wrong or stupid, I would easily tell them I am sorry, adults make mistakes too and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to say we are sorry just as we expect our kids to! I was always very honest with my boys. Another thing I did and I know lots of parents who didn’t do this and that is when one of my boys did something to anger me or disappoint me, I would say to them…..even though you did something to make me angry or you disappointed me, I love you anyways and always will! I never wanted them to think even for a second that I didn’t love them! I used a lot of common sense when raising our boys and they are all grown up now and I see all this information coming out telling us the best ways to raise kids and what you should and shouldn’t do and I see that pretty much everything I did was spot on and all I did was use common sense….it doesn’t have to be hard!

  14. Wilma Kelly September 9, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    Kristina, I absolutely adore your parenting skills and sense of humor. You are brilliant! Both of my daughters became terrific young women in spite of my mistakes as a parent. Love your family and my friend Judy is blessed to have you for a daughter-in-law!! Love you, Wilma

  15. Kelly September 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    Thank you for this. You are the best. I needed this email today. I’ve had these mornings too.

  16. cleo brady September 1, 2015 at 10:31 am #

    I am a 36 year old mother of 6 daughters, my eldest is 14 and my youngest is 3 with a 12, 10, 8 and 7 year old inbetween them. I am still learning as i go, i lose my patience an unsurrmountable number of times of which i am always feeling guilty for. But your words really ressonated with me and rang true to how i deal with my children. If my kids have done something wrong and i didn’t deal with it correctly ( lost my temper) i will expect an apology from them but i will also apologise in turn and explain that while there behaviour wasn’t acceptable, neither was mine. Kids learn from our example, and if we can’t learn to be humble and show respect then how can we expect it from our kids. My life is hectic, we have 8 of us living in a 3 bed small house, with 7 pets and no car, we rarely get a holiday and if so its in the same country where we live but luckily the uk is pretty beautiful. But i feel very lucky and blessed, iget to stay home and raise them as their dad has a good job that affords us this and my kids are all happy, healthy, intelligent lovely kids. I could not be prouder of them, they are my absolute world.

  17. Claire B September 1, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    Beautiful post. So true and so easy to forget or pretend it’s not our fault or something we need to do. Thank you.