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.”
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.