Parenting and Apologies
by Dr. Alicia Meyer
From personal experience as both a daughter and mother as well as in my work as a professional, I have come to believe that one of the most beautiful gifts a parent can give a child is an apology. Every child needs to hear “I’m sorry, can you forgive me?” from their parents. No matter the age.
The reality is that no parent gets it perfect all the time. It is inevitable that we are going to mess up our kids. Most parents fail their children on a daily basis in both big and small ways. Modeling a posture of humility and ownership of our faults with our children helps them to internalize the truth that we all mess up sometimes and that that's okay. Messing up isn’t the most important piece. Owning it and trying to grow past that place is what matters. When we model this for our children it helps them to develop a growth mindset. No one is perfect, we all have things we are working on. You can read more about growth mindset here. It’s a hugely important concept for child development.
The other powerful thing that happens when parents are willing to apologize for and own their failures is that it gives children the freedom to not have to take a parent’s failures on as their own. We often set high bars for kids. It’s not uncommon for parents to have higher expectations for our children than we hold even for ourselves. Apologizing for having taken some of our frustration out on our children after a rough day helps them make a distinction between what is their responsibility and what is their parents'. My bad attitude is not their problem. My bad attitude is my own problem that I need to correct, own and apologize for. Having parents who model humility and apology can help set children up for better health in relationships as well as helping them to not internalize my stuff as their fault. We release our children from guilt they would inevitably carry when we say, “I’m sorry.”
Apologizing to your children when you have failed them (in big and small ways) does not mean you are weak. Tons of bravery and strength is required for a parent to admit when they are wrong. Our children need to hear us own our faults. The failures don’t matter as much as the work we can model to grow and do it better the next time. I’ve seen first hand the healing that can come in a family when parents are able to apologize to their children. It’s powerful stuff.
Have you given your child the gift of “I’m sorry"?