What is an Apology? A Lance Armstrong Teachable Moment [Part 1 of 2]

My husband and I practice mindful parenting and gentle discipline. This means no spanking, and no hitting. At all. Ever. This also means that there is a lot of talking in our home. We do not subscribe to any hard and fast parenting “rules”, rather we work together to establish flexible “guidelines” so that our two children aged 4 and 7, will learn to feel secure and confident, heard, loved, and respected.

In our home, we talk about our feelings, and we encourage self-expression. We talk about what it means to show respect and to be respected. We talk about boundaries and personal space. We talk about why it’s ok and healthy to be mad, sad, angry, confused and unsure. At the same time we remind our children that being perpetually mad, sad, and angry for prolonged periods of time is unproductive and unhealthy. We don’t believe in guilt or shame. We don’t make promises to our children, and we don’t ask them to make promises to us. Instead, we talk about “doing the best we can,” and doing our best to “honour our word.”

We also spend a good deal of time talking about the ways in which we can remedy our hurt feelings, and how to get along with others without displaying questionable, objectionable behaviours. We talk about owning our behaviours and feelings, and that just because we feel miserable, it’s never ok to drag the entire universe into the depths of our misery. Sometimes my husband and I raise our voices, and we get loud. Our children know that when this happens, it’s because WE are frustrated. Our children know that OUR frustration, and the way we express that frustration is not “because” of something they “did” or “said.”

Our children know that can always come to us, and if they are “in” their feelings, we go to them. We never let our children sit in “punishment” with their bad feelings. We apologize to our children, often.

The other day my 7yo replied to my husband in a way that he thought was disrespectful. I could hear them angrily discussing what transpired, and neither of them was backing down. On the positive side, both my daughter and husband were allowing the other person to talk, but each was convinced that they were “right.” As my daughter was running up the stairs to tell me what happened, I heard my husband bellow: “You owe me an apology!” My daughter burst into the room sobbing. “What happened?” I asked. She explained her version of events, and I listened without interruption or comment. When she had finished explaining, I told her that daddy would probably have his own version of what happened so a mutually agreeable solution was necessary.

I asked my daughter what she thought she should do. She shook her head as she told me she didn’t know. Clearly she was still “in” her feelings so I began to talk. I told her that daddy seemed to think she needed to apologize for something. She looked at me with a look I couldn’t decipher. So I said, “Well, if you don’t know what you did, there’s no sense in apologizing is there?” She shook her head in agreement. I continued,  “If you didn’t do anything, you don’t have to apologize.” Her eyes grew wide. “No one can “make” you apologize” I said. “An apology comes from the heart. It’s a feeling that happens inside you.” As I said this, I gently tapped her chest. She immediately threw her arms tightly around me, and we hugged.

“So what happened?” I asked again, smoothing her hairline. She took a deep breath quickly followed by an audible sigh of relief, and told me what transpired between her and her father. We hugged again. As I hugged her I said, “Whether you apologize to your father is up to you. My guess is that he isn’t looking for an apology, but, like you, he too wants to be understood and have his wishes respected.” I’m don’t know if she apologized to him or not—I didn’t ask—but the house was soon quiet and I later spotted them talking and laughing.

The universe is full of Teachable Moments. It’s a gift to be able to experience the many opportunities we have to grow and learn, to right our wrongs, to apologize, and/or to make amends and clear the air. Unfortunately many of us do not view these “gifts” as opportunity, but rather as punishment. This creates a situation in which our apologies—delivered under stress and duress—are half-hearted. The tone of our apology is compromised because we deliver it while still harbouring anger, resentment. The end result is that we transfer those feelings and behaviours onto others and we fail to “truly” acknowledge our part.

Fear is a terrible, overwhelming feeling. Fear makes us re/act in ways that are irrational. Fear-based apologies are not productive. Oftentimes we are afraid that if we don’t follow through with forced reconciliations and amends, someone will withhold their love from us. But this is a lie. Guilt is not love. Shame is not love. Coercion and conformity are not love. Apologies mean something.

Please click here to read Part 2 of 2.





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