Apologies are a necessary ingredient in the recipe of any relationship. All relationships need apologies to make right where we’ve gone wrong, ease any tension and keep the channels open for continued growth and building of trust. We especially need apologies in our relationships with our children.
In spite of our best intentions, children have a way of habitually perceiving circumstances skewed against themselves. Regardless of whether their environment serves up these beliefs (and they often do), children’s common assumptions often include the old arsenal of darts that are thrown at us from birth, “Nobody loves me,” “I have to perform for acceptance,” “I’m the only one,” and so on. Because of this tendency we must stay aware of their perceptions as they grow up and help steer them in the right direction. Regular open communication in a trusting relationship between us and our children is foundational in facilitating healthy relational development for them.
Of course, life with children and teens always requires the negatives of correction, discipline and consequences. So, I always figured it a good idea to load up preemptively on the positives so that the negatives would be outweighed ahead of time. Positives include time together, encouragement, bonding, appropriate praise, active listening, seeking to understand and validate them, and so on. Along with the positives, I include apologies. Apologies are in order for mistakes and offenses, granted, but I like to give my children a special extended apology every once in a while when the opportunity presents itself.
Extended apologies keep the communication open between us and prevent resentments from building up inconspicuously. Usually I give an extended apology when I apologize for something of lesser significance and when the mood is right. Apologies are best given when we have a few moments alone unrushed, I feel comfortable receiving her feelings, and she is able mentally and emotionally to receive my apology.
During any apology I always get her full attention. If I can’t, I’ll wait until another time when she’s feeling safe and comfortable with me. Secondly, I get on her level kneeling down (for younger children) if necessary so we can sit face to face. Thirdly, I ask her when I make the apology to look in to my welcoming and forgiving eyes. Not out the window, not at my hairline, not at my nose. Eye to eye. This is a challenge for most people but the apology goes much deeper if during it you make eye contact rather than looking away. Once I have her attention, I use the regular apology as an intro and then move into the extended apology. It usually goes something like this…
Regular apology: “(Name,) I want to thank you for sharing with me how you feel. It is very important to me how you feel (my hand on her knee). I want to say that I am so sorry for (whatever the instance)…being late/misunderstanding you/causing you to feel rejected/frustrated. Please forgive me (pause). I don’t ever want to hurt you. And I will do my best never to let that happen again (long hug, she lets go first).
And, would you be willing to help me not let it happen again? If that ever does happen again and I don’t realize it, will you promise to tell me (smile) so I can make it right? I promise you won’t hurt my feelings or offend me. And you know that I want to know how you feel. Remembering that can make it easier for you (smile, await her response).
Extended apology: This time (review) I misunderstood you and I’m really sorry. But I bet there must be other times that I have misunderstood you or hurt your feelings and maybe you never said anything; is that right? Maybe the timing wasn’t right or you felt unsure of how to bring it up? (wait for response) I understand. Well, I want you to know that I am very, very sorry for all the other times that I have hurt you when I didn’t know it. Do you remember any of those times? Do you want to talk about any of them?” And so on. And then I apologize for those and reassure her about coming to me in trust.
This approach may feel uncomfortable to you if you’ve never apologized to your children before. Consider that humility is necessary in apologizing to our children. And obviously, if we are upset, waiting until we feel more inviting is a good idea before we can apologize sincerely. However, taking the initiative and humbling ourselves before our children offers them a glimpse of our hearts. Such a glimpse is actually a gift to them of connection, authenticity and humility.
Apologies provide an avenue for us to share our humanity with our children in a constructive way and set an example of taking responsibility in repairing a breach in a relationship just as Christ has done with us (1 John 4:19). Furthermore, apologies prevent our children from experiencing duplicity in their relationships with us when we assume to be on good terms with them when they may have underlying issues that need attention (Eph. 4:15). Throughout the relationship trust is developed and maintained through sincere apologies and trust builds a solid foundation for the relationship to stand on during the teen years. From a young age apologies to our children are essential; however, it’s never too late to start making them and witnessing the positive changes that fall in line as a result.
Arranging a consistent time in your schedule to make apologies can be helpful. For example, scheduling weekly or monthly meetings can offer opportunities for each person to bring issues out in the open and mend any trouble spots. Some children may resist at first, but knowing that they have a regular platform for being heard and having issues resolved is a support and comfort to them. If your family issues are too overwhelming to manage yourselves, getting the help of a family therapist is an excellent longterm solution preventing any unnecessary future complications.
Perhaps in thinking about making apologies, you may feel fearful that your child will express anger. We surely have had our share of those moments. One of our children has been angry and bucking the system since she exited the womb. She requires lots of unconditional love and heavy-handed consequences. Regardless of the temperament we are dealing with though, we must remember that anger is a good God-given emotion.
Anger is like a red blinking light on the dashboard usually indicating that we have been violated or neglected in some way. Anger itself is not inappropriate, but the way that we choose to express it can be inappropriate. Our family implements guidelines and limitations regarding anger. For instance, throwing anger around at innocent bystanders when you are in a bad mood is unacceptable. We require moody kids to retreat to their rooms and punch a pillow until they are feeling better. Then we give them an opportunity to talk about it constructively. We’ve always taught them that people have feelings every day, and it is each individual’s responsibility to handle their feelings in a non-destructive way.
Wise it is to make mental and emotional preparations for times alone dealing with angry children. Sometimes it feels like a bull has been let loose in a china shop. Preparing with prayer is essential. Allowing her to express herself freely (within reason) while allowing her to feel accepted at the same time is the goal. Some apologies go better than others, and some need repetition, but in general apologies work in connecting with her heart.
When you apologize sincerely to anyone, you have done your part. Whether or not the other person accepts your apology is up to them. Your sincere apology gives you a clean conscience. Feel good about it. Forgive them, but don’t forget what happened so that you can maneuver successfully around the situation or avoid it altogether in applying what you’ve learned when it comes up again. Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free….little did I know that the prisoner was me!
In regards to the other party’s response, imperative it is to maintain boundaries and consequences after apologies. You certainly don’t want to allow your child to manipulate you with guilt refusing to forgive you and then turn you into their doormat. Maintain your parental role and power while making amends with the one you’ve offended, then move on. Give them a model to follow and then time to process. Keep the issue of their forgiveness separate from other issues. And eventually when they find that your integrity prevents them from manipulating you with guilt in other areas, they will be more likely to forgive you from the heart regarding the original issue.
Take time out, humble yourself and use sincere apologies to build trust and maintain growth in all your relationships, especially those with your children (Matt. 19:14).
Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such [as these] is the kingdom of heaven composed.
1 John 4:19
We love Him, because He first loved us.
Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God.
Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it].
Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].