There are days when I put the kids to bed and feel like I should be handed an Olympic medal for my performance as a mom in the most trying of situations (OK, not many, but maybe once a year). Then there are days that I put the kids to bed, close the door, and fold my face into my heads thinking of how I handled the challenges that came my way that day.
One night last week, I visited a friend on a “face in the hands” day. I told her how disappointed I was in my handling of a situation and how I had to apologize to my daughter. This led to a conversation about how often to apologize to your kids and the tradeoff of losing perceived authority. It made me reflect on how much my view of this has changed in the last few months.
I’ve come to believe strongly that I should apologize to my kids each and every time it is warranted, and that this approach to parenting is one of the most valuable contributions I can make to my kids’ faith.
Why is apologizing so important in the context of Christian parenting?
1. It facilitates accountability.
If you are concerned that apologizing to your kids too often will make you lose credibility, consider that the problem is how often you need to apologize rather than that apologizing itself is an issue.
This is a hard truth. There have been times I have acted in frustration with the kids so often that I felt I had to pick and choose when to apologize so I wasn’t apologizing all the time. I realized one day that this inconsistency is as confusing as not apologizing at all. The truth is, no one wants to apologize to their kids all the time. If you commit to apologizing each and every time you owe it to your kids, it actually creates an accountability that helps change your behavior.
2. It clearly defines right and wrong.
It’s tempting to think we can quietly move on after adult “misbehavior,” but if we don’t address the inappropriateness of what we do, it creates an ongoing double standard. As adults, we tend to think double standards are bad because they are unfair, but the real problem for kids is that double standards are confusing. Morality doesn’t vary based on who you are. We owe it to our kids to create a strong understanding of the morality that God has laid before all people, young and old.
3. It provides for a natural space to discuss behavior in the context of faith.
Apologizing in a meaningful way requires a full stop and a heart-felt conversation. I explain what I did wrong and why it “makes God sad”. I always make it a faith lesson because any moral failure is, by definition, a failure against God’s standards. To simply address behavior as wrong fails to take advantage of an opportunity to tell our kids what the Bible has to say about it.
4. It provides for the teachable moment that our sin nature is universal.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Every time I apologize to my kids, I discuss this concept.
For my 3-year-olds, I ask, “Does mommy behave badly sometimes?” (Yes) “Do you behave badly sometimes?” (Yes) “Who is the only one who is perfect all the time?” (Jesus) I consistently reinforce that I will never be perfect, but I want them to trust that when I do misbehave, I will tell them so they can learn from my mistakes too.
5. It provides for the teachable moment that God loves us ALL the time.
There is never a time more powerful to teach this than when kids assume God must be mad at them or at us. I end every apology conversation with, “Does God love us even when we misbehave?” (yes) “Does that mean we should misbehave because God loves us anyway?” (no) “We want to behave because God loves us and we love Him. But when we do misbehave, we can always know He still loves us and wants to help us do better.”
6. It is a natural transition to a prayer experience.
If you get into the habit of closing an apology conversation with the point that God wants to help us do better, it’s a perfect time to pray with your kids by first asking for God’s forgiveness and then asking for God’s wisdom to be a better parent in that area. Seeing this demonstrated first-hand gives your kids insight into a prayer area they may otherwise not experience.
7. It gives kids the experience of forgiving.
It’s easy to forget how often we are in the business of letting our kids know they did something wrong. They get a lot of experience apologizing, but if we never apologize ourselves, they don’t experience the act of forgiving.
8. When you get better at handling situations, that becomes a teachable moment too.
I’ve been working on not responding to my 3-year-old’s tantrums with yelling. The other night she threw a fit and I remained particularly calm. Afterward I took the time to actually debrief with her on my response. I asked, “Did mommy yell tonight when you were yelling?” (no) “Was mommy kind even when you were not?” (yes) “Does that mean mommy behaved how God wants us to behave?” (yes) “I’ve been asking God to help me be the best mommy possible. God helps us in that way!”
Kenna’s reply: “Mommy, you did great tonight and I adore you.” I can think of no greater compliment.
What do YOU think? Should you regularly apologize to your kids? Why or why not?