Apologizing was not something that was cultivated in my house growing up. My Dad half-jokingly said that apologizing was a sign of weakness. It didn’t fit into his if-the-door-doesn’t-open-beat-it-down philosophy of life. My Mom never even addressed the topic.
While I agree with many of my Dad’s adages, this one I’ve decided not to adopt. I’m working hard as an adult to learn how to apologize, and I still suck. I catch myself all the time giving half-assed apologies.
So, with my kids, I am trying (key word here is trying) to teach them the importance of knowing when and how to apologize. My daughter, I hope, will learn quickly. She was born empathizing. However, at six, she has a fairly sophisticated range of excuses. It might be tougher than I think. My son is good at a lot of things, but when it comes to apologizing (at least to his immediate family), he’s crap like me.
Several years ago, I heard someone describe what an apology was on NPR (of course I can’t remember the show). I was stunned because it wasn’t anything like my version of an apology. After I was able to digest everything my unbelieving ears had heard, I realized the apologies I’d used for almost forty years weren’t apologies.
According to the unidentified person on NPR (I’m blaming my inability to remember who it was on baby brain), when you apologize you need to say you’re sorry and for what specifically. You need to acknowledge how hurtful your words or deeds were. Finally, and most important for me, you can’t provide any excuses.
My typical apology used to go something like this: “I’m sorry, but I was right in the middle of something.” Or, “I’m sorry, but I’m really stressed out right now.” Sometimes, I would include a baked good that was supposed to say, “I know I was wrong even though I can’t say that to you out loud.” I still find myself using those apologies a lot, but I’m conscious of it now, and, afterward (most of the time), I make a point to give a real apology.
Today, I yelled at my son for something he didn’t do (and used some words we won’t let our kids use). I apologized, but I used the old formula. He’s at hockey now, and, out of guilt, I baked banana bread for him. But, when he gets home from hockey, I’m going to give him a genuine apology without any excuses. And a piece of banana bread.