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May 19, 2019

“OK, now apologize to your sister.”  Been there, done that.  Both as a child and as a parent.  I had to apologize to my big sister a lot when I was a kid.  And I had a few times when I had to tell one of our 3 daughters to apologize to a sib.

Apologizing is just a part of life.  You’re human, and you’re going to do things you need to apologize for.  Sometimes even when you don’t think you need to.  How you apologize is as important as that you apologize.  Maybe more important, in fact.  The difference between a good apology and a bad one isn’t rocket science, and it’s not that complex, but if you’ve never been taught it, you can do as much damage (or more) with a bad apology as you did with the original offense.

There are a few simple things that make for a good apology.  First, sincerity.  Remember when you were a little kid and your mom or dad or teacher told you to apologize?  What your classmate or sibling got was often less than genuine.  Most of us gave lots of insincere apologies when we were forced to apologize.  We said we were sorry, but we really weren’t.  We got lots of these disingenuous apologies, too.  So we all know that an insincere apology doesn’t count.  It’s really not an apology.

Confessing your offense and owning the blame for it is a second part of a good apology.  Simply saying you’re sorry won’t do it.  Sorry for what?  Identify the offense.  You don’t need to be subtle or poetic about it.  Being direct is key here.  “I was wrong when I ________________________…”  You fill in the blank with what you did or said.

Then what I think is the last part of a good apology is asking to be forgiven.  You can do this in many ways.  Sometimes it’s right to ask if there’s anything you can do to make up for your offense.  Other times, you know there’s probably nothing you can do, so you just have to seek forgiveness.  “Will you forgive me?” is a good way to do this.  Simple.  Direct.

There are a few things to weed out of your apology vocabulary, too.  For me, the top of this list is turning an apology into an excuse.  This usually happens when you say, “I’m sorry, but…”  Whatever you’re putting after the but is there to justify you or excuse your behavior.  And that always negates an apology.  There may be reasons for what you did, but when you include them in your apology, you’re justifying what you did or said, not apologizing for it.  So leave the but out.

Next on the “don’t do this” list is using “if.”  This is when you say, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”  “If” makes it into an accusation, not an apology.  The underlying message is, “If you’re so weak (or ignorant, or unspiritual) that what I said or did hurt you, then you need to grow up and get over it.  A smarter, or stronger, or more spiritual person wouldn’t have been bothered by it.  This is really your problem, not mine.”  And that’s not an apology.  So if you do the “if” thing, stop it.  In fact, you probably need to apologize to the people you did the “if” thing to.

The last thing on bad apologies is closely related to the first thing on my don’t-to-this list.  Too many words will make a bad apology.  Don’t over-apologize.  Economy of words is your friend.  The more words you use, the more likely you’ll end up explaining, and then excusing yourself.  So don’t use so many words.

You’re teaching your kids how to apologize by how you apologize.  You do apologize to your kids, don’t you?  And to your spouse?  You don’t need to make it a big dramatic production (that would push it out of the sincere zone), but you shouldn’t be afraid to apologize in the hearing of your kids.  And you sure don’t need to shun apologizing to your kids.  You’re going to make a ton of judgment calls as they grow up, and not all of them will be right.  When you discover you’re wrong, apologize.  Don’t push past it to the next thing.  And don’t bring up another offense they’ve committed so you can change the subject and get the spotlight off yourself.  Yes, I’m reading your mail.

Sometimes, you need to teach your kids with direct instruction on what makes a good apology.  Teach them the difference between a good apology and a bad one.  Look for the teachable moments and step into them.  This could be when they need to apologize, or it could be when they should be apologized to.  You won’t lack for opportunity to teach them about apology.  You just need to be ready for the opportunities when they come up.


From → Marriage, Parenting

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