When my husband (who usually works from home) has to travel, it often throws off our rhythm for a couple days. The kids have to get up earlier so that I can take them to school, I have to get up earlier so that I can get the kids up earlier, and our days are overall just a little bit longer.

It isn’t terrible, it really isn’t. And as our kids have gotten older, it has certainly gotten easier. Gone are the days when I am physically dressing them and they are generally responsible for themselves once I’ve woken them up. Of course, it doesn’t always go so smoothly.

Like two years ago, when I discovered that our then eight-year-old daughter, who just ten minutes earlier had been awake in the bathroom, had decided that she was going back to bed. Thinking that we were ready to go (and we were already running late) I walked into her bedroom to find her in her PJs, back in bed.

My yell might have morphed into a horrifying screech as I directed her to get out of bed immediately and get dressed so that we could leave, now.

It was not a proud mom moment. I was on my third day of temporary single parenting and was dealing with end-of-semester teaching stress. Our daughter should have gotten up and taken responsibility for herself. She knew what she was doing when she went back to bed and she deserved to be chastised.

She just didn’t deserve to see her mom go full banshee on her.

That night after the dust had settled, we talked about where both of us had gone wrong. She knew what she had done but I had been wrong too. While my reaction matched my stress levels and irritation at the situation, it certainly didn’t match her infraction, so I swallowed my pride and apologized for turning into a wicked witch before any of us had really started our day.

It’s hard as parents to admit when we have been wrong.

My parents were loving and attentive, but the words “I’m sorry” were usually directed towards them instead of coming my direction. I know that a lot of people probably say this, but I was a pretty well-behaved kid and I usually deserved the punishment when I did disobey my parents. And as the eldest of four girls, I was the lab rat. There were stricter rules and expectations put on me as my parents figured out the best way to raise their daughters.

Like most parents, they wanted to raise moral and responsible young women and looking at my sisters and I, I think they did a pretty good job. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make mistakes along the way, many of which I eventually catalogued as occasional personal slights that were just more reason for my young adult angst.

To be honest, I’m probably still holding onto that mental catalogue somewhere.

So when we finally became parents, I determined that I was going to be different. Don’t we all determine that we are going to out-parent our parents?

But I’m human and I kept making mistakes. I expected too much of our littles and stressed out about the small things. When I was pregnant with our son I turned into a hormonal monster that overreacted at every little thing and our toddler daughter caught onto my ridiculous mood swings; I was unsure how to apologize to a little girl who still lacked the full vocabulary to express her emotions. I kept praying that she wouldn’t remember the mess that her mother became while pregnant with her brother. Thankfully, my husband and daughter survived those nine months, barely.

Once our son was born and our daughter’s communication skills continued to grow, I determined that I would do better. I would try harder to be patient, I would listen to their concerns and try to help them better express themselves, and I would take the time to focus on them instead of worrying about the outside noise.

And I would always personally apologize to them when I screwed up.

In nearly eleven years of parenting I have learned that it is the hardest and most rewarding vocation I will ever have. Our kids learn from us and I am as encouraged by their love and compassion for the world as I am discouraged by the yells I hear from our daughter when she’s angry at her brother, hearing the echo of my own voice when I’m frustrated with one or both of my kids.

Despite my best efforts, there are days that the stress from a day of work, the perpetual mess of my house, or PMS driven mood swings push me to overreact to even the little things. Sometimes I overreact for no reason at all. Do my kids push my buttons? Absolutely. Do they disobey or act irresponsibly? Yes, because they are learning boundaries. Do they need discipline when their behavior endangers them or those around them? Yep.

But even in those moments I have to remember to check my response to their behavior. In those moments we have to ask each other for forgiveness, them for their behavior and me for the level of my reaction to that behavior. I want them to learn that anger can be good and justified, but how we express that anger needs to be appropriate to the situation and not be the cause of hurt to those we love. I want them to learn the importance of looking at the whole picture (something I’m constantly learning as well) and considering how their actions and reactions affect those around them. I want them to learn the value of offering grace even when that grace does not appear to be deserved.

I don’t want our kids to believe that I think I’m always right. I want them to know that adults can be wrong too. I don’t want them to grow up believing that adults never have to own up to their mistakes. I want them to expect that regardless of age people have to take responsibility when they have wronged others. I don’t want them to feel like I’m ignoring their pain just because it sometimes seems so insignificant to me (and admittedly, I’m often not as patient as I should be). I want them to feel that their hurt is real and worth acknowledging so that they can learn how to process that pain in healthy, healing ways.

But just learning how to forgive makes for an incomplete lesson. Forgiveness is an important part of developing relationships, but is only the second half of the equation. They also need to learn to ask for forgiveness when they have wronged others, because that is how they maintain relationships. As human beings we hurt each other, and whether or not it is intentional, I want them to understand the importance of humility, acknowledging when they have caused pain, and penitently asking for forgiveness. And that is a lesson that can start with me.

I’ve committed to teaching them that lesson by simply telling them “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” It’s one of the best parenting decisions this imperfect but forgiven mom has ever made.

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4 Replies to “Our Kids Need Us To Say “I’m Sorry””

  1. Teaching kids that they are respected and valued is integral to building confidence. Thank you for sharing your personal experience! And I love your framing at the very end – “imperfect but forgiven mom has ever made”. That is perfection.

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!