Parents mess up. All parents mess up, even deeply committed Christian parents. But not all parents are willing to admit it. Two of the most wonderful words children of all ages can hear from parents are “I’m sorry.” They’re also two of the most difficult words for parents to say.
Too often, we assume that to have the “upper hand” as a parent, we must seem infallible. We must never admit our mistakes, which might show weakness to our children. And then they’ll try to exploit it. Parents who believe and practice this do so at their own peril.
The truth is, parents who are willing to say “I’m sorry” actually rise in their child’s esteem. Meanwhile, moms and dads who refuse to say these two powerful words place a huge divide between themselves and their children.
Kids aren’t stupid. They know when you’re wrong. They know when you’ve made a mistake. When you refuse to admit your mistakes, children begin to see you as someone who cares more about being right than doing right. It’s hard to recover from that.
Why Parents Must Say the Words I’m Sorry
Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t apply only to the small things, like being late for pickup or forgetting to bring home ice cream as promised. “I’m sorry” are two words parents need to use for big blunders as well.
Apologies are necessary for individual offenses, yes, But parents also need to address prolonged, harmful patterns of communication—demanding too much, blaming, withdrawing, smothering, and so on.
Let’s face it: Not every parent grew up in a healthy home. Often, you’re doing your best to parent your own kids despite your negative, dysfunctional family of origin. You want to be a good parent, but you’re often guessing at how to do it well. You didn’t have the best example to follow while growing up. So you struggle to communicate with your child in a healthy way.
In many cases, parents should explain how their own painful backgrounds have colored their perceptions and shaped their responses. These stories help the rest of the family understand how they got this way, but they aren’t excuses for bad behavior.
What a Parent’s Apology Communicates to Kids
The offending parent must own the offenses, apologize, repent, and begin to rebuild trust. A full apology communicates, “I get it now. I realize how I’ve hurt you, and I’m deeply sorry. I want to open the lines of communication with you. I’ll do my very best to do better, and I need your help. Will you tell me when I mess up again? I have a long way to go, but I’m stepping onto the road today.”