“I’m sorry.” There are so many ways you use this phrase (or something like it):
̶ You say it when you haven’t heard or understood what the other person was saying.
̶ You say it to express disbelief – “What did you just say?”
̶ You say it when you bump into someone accidentally, or interrupt someone.
̶ You say it to apologize when you’ve made a mistake.
As a parent, you use it quite often with your child, at least when he is little. You do this so you can teach him that there are words and behaviors which are inappropriate, and when he does inappropriate things, he needs to catch himself, apologize for doing them, and try to make sure he doesn’t do them again.
He’s playing ball, and since his hand-eye coordination is not yet perfect, he accidentally knocks over and breaks a small flowerpot in the yard. “Sorry, Mom,” he says.
How do you react?
You might say, “Be careful, son, you don’t want to keep knocking flowerpots and other things over. You need to aim better…” and then proceed to teach him how to improve his aim and his coordination. But he’s still little, so you can’t lay the blame fully at his doorstep.
Your daughter might accidentally knock over a vase as she’s putting on her jacket while running out the door to catch the school bus. “Sorry!” she yells as she disappears.
When you see her in the evening, you’re ready to ‘talk about’ the broken vase.
“You knocked over the vase this morning, and it shattered to bits.”
“Sorry, Dad,” she says, “I didn’t mean to, but I was pulling my jacket on as I rushed through the house, and I must’ve knocked it off by mistake. I’m sorry.”
How do you react?
Many, many parents I know would come back with something like this:
“Why were you trying to put on your jacket while racing through the house? You should get dressed quicker, or wake up quicker. You’re always rushing to make it to school on time. Today, you broke the vase. The other day, you forgot your lunch. Last week, you left the tap running. Why don’t you organize yourself better? (Or) Why don’t you sleep earlier? Why must you keep reading rubbish? Why must you watch so much TV? Why must you talk to your friends on the phone / chat or surf on the Internet till so late? Can’t you listen to music at a better time? Why don’t you play less in the evenings and finish your homework on time? Why don’t you stop mooching around and finish your work so you can sleep on time? Then you won’t be scrambling every morning… When you broke the vase, I had to pick up all the pieces. You were such a whirlwind that some shards of glass went right across the room. Your little brother/sister/ the dog/cat/… could have got hurt. I had to clean up and you know how little time there is in the morning… I got late for work… Can’t you just be more…?”
W-H-A-T in the world are you up to?
Your kid broke a vase and apologized. Say one sentence – if you must – and stop!
But it doesn’t stop here! Later that evening, you repeat your lecture. “Get to bed on time now, or you’ll wake up late tomorrow as well, and then rush and break or spill or forget something else…”
And the next morning, you say, “Get up now… Hurry up and get dressed, you’re getting late…”
I’m exhausted just writing this. Your kid is numb with frustration, annoyance, and the verbal barrage you’ve been subjecting her to.
But you haven’t run out of steam. 🙂 Mainly because you’re laboring under the mistaken notion that she’s listening to what you’re saying; because you feel that saying the same thing over and over again in twenty different ways (you’re creative!) will make sure she gets the message, and she won’t break or spill anything in the future.
But that’s not true, is it?
You keep on at your child, but he’s not listening. After some time, it reaches a point where even when you have something important to say to him (not as a reaction to something he may have said or done), he won’t listen. Your voice has become background music.
And of course, he’s not apologizing. What’s the point? You don’t seem to hear the apology. Instead, it acts like a spur, making you launch into an endless monologue. So he looks sullen and goes away; shuts the door in your face; doesn’t respond to your questions; doesn’t talk to you.
And you add a couple more worries to your ever-increasing list of worries:
1. Your parenting is not good enough – you’ve worked hard to teach her ‘good’ manners, and she seems to have forgotten them all.
2. Your child is turning into an uncivilized creature – she doesn’t apologize when she does the ‘wrong’ thing, she’s not acting like she’s sorry, she’s doesn’t change her upsetting behavior / attitude; instead, she acts as if she were the injured party!
3. Your child doesn’t respond to you – you seem to be losing your connection with him, and you’re frantic that he’s going to find other people to take your place in his life, if not in his heart as well.
None of these fears is even remotely true. On the contrary, your child is doing all he can to keep the connection alive.
He knows that if he listens to what you’re saying all the time, he will be enraged with you – he may even begin to dislike or ‘hate’ you. So he ignores you instead, tuning you out. This is the best thing that could happen, given the circumstances.
But it’s still your call, you know. You can turn the tide any moment you want. When she next apologizes, “I’m sorry, I forgot to give you the keys so you had to wait outside the house for two hours”, you can always say, “Okay, try and remember the next time around, and I’ll try and remember to take them from you too.”
You’ll find your child is still listening to you, and still talking to you – and that includes apologizing! 🙂