Like every other mother on the planet, I screw up. A lot. But also like most moms and dads, I strive to do right by my children, and that means having the guts to apologize when I make those big mistakes. In fact, I'm convinced that being willing to say I'm sorry—and mean it—makes me a better mom. Here's why.
1. Apologizing is Nurturing
My husband and I are raising two daughters, ages 12 and 14, and a son, 13. We formed our family through adoption, but our kids were already preschoolers when we brought them home. Transforming an assortment of scared kids and nervous grown ups into a cohesive, loving family wasn't easy.
In those early days, we relied on a maxim that we heard in a talk by Regina Kupecky, a social worker at the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio. Her advice, which still works for us today: Nurture more; control less. Focus on strengthening the bond with your child vs. laying down the law, and good behavior will naturally follow. Sounds simple, right? It is! Except, of course, when it isn't.
I get stressed and overwhelmed at times, and having three so close in age brings special challenges. Everybody talks at once. Everybody grabs for the last cookie. And every so often, I lose it. I scream at my children and pray that the neighbors haven't overheard. I say unkind things I regret. And then I take a few deep breaths, regroup, and apologize. While there's no question that it would be better to not lose my temper in the first place, extending a sincere apology afterwards reminds my kids that I do care about their feelings, and it reminds me that protecting our bonds with one another always trumps preserving my pride.
2. Apologizing is Modeling Good Behavior
As much as I'd love to be an example of self-control and Buddha-like serenity at all times, that's not happening. However, apologizing to my children when I lose my cool or otherwise mess up lets me model some life skills that are far more valuable. My kids know that when they inevitably stumble or lose control, they have the power to choose to recover from that mistake and make it right. Acknowledging a misstep can be hard, but it's the right thing to do. Being able to say "I'm sorry" signals strength of character, not weakness.
3. Apologizing Doesn't Mean Surrendering Authority
I'm not suggesting that parents speak to their children in an apologetic tone. We all know that mom who sweetly tells her out-of-control toddler, "I'm sorry, pumpkin, but we don't hit Mommy in the face with LEGOs." Maybe some of us are that mom—and that's okay! However, if straightforward and authoritative is more your style ("Don't hit!"), you don't need to change. All you need to be able to do is step up and say "I'm sorry" when it's warranted. Your kid will still know who's boss.
4. Apologizing Promotes Mutual Respect
We all want our children to be polite and respectful, but demanding respect without extending it in return teaches the wrong lesson. Offering your child an apology when appropriate extends respect for her that will eventually boomerang back to you. Children are incredibly forgiving, especially if we meet them halfway by acknowledging our mistakes, and with a foundation of mutual love and respect in place, kids will be more likely to say sorry to mom and dad when they screw up—just like us.
5. Apologizing Just Feels Better
Being a mom is so much harder than I ever imagined it would be. I never dreamed I'd make so many mistakes, and it can be tempting to wallow in my feelings of shame or self-doubt when I fail to meet my own parenting standards. Apologizing forces me to focus on my kids instead of myself, and in the end, we all feel better.