Apologies: Why So Difficult for Some of Us?

Parents don't have to be perfect, or even close. But we do need to take responsibility for our actions, delivering a heartfelt apology to our loved ones (including our children) when we have wronged them.
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Lonely thoughtful girl sitting on the floor
Lonely thoughtful girl sitting on the floor

My husband is a very proud man, and sees it as a sign of weakness to apologize. He is a good father but sometimes he does things that upset to our kids. He thinks if he says he is sorry they will respect him less. Now our kids are mimicking him. They refuse to take responsibility when they make a mistake.

Parents don't have to be perfect, or even close. But we do need to take responsibility for our actions, delivering a heartfelt apology to our loved ones (including our children) when we have wronged them. This not only heals the connection with them after an upset; it lets them learn that making repair attempts is part and parcel of maintaining healthy relationships.

Unfortunately, many of us were trained in the fine art of defending ourselves at all costs. We cannot tolerate being seen as wrong, so we explain and justify our actions rather than taking ownership of them. This typically magnifies the hurt and fosters disconnection.

Parents often feel that if they acknowledge their mistakes, their authority will be undermined in the eyes of their children. On the contrary, when we demonstrate genuine remorse after we have temporarily lost our way, our children learn to do the same.

An apology must be genuine; simply saying "Sorry" does little, if anything, to make things right when we have hurt someone we care for.

I have found that when the following four steps are included in an apology, forgiveness and reconnection are almost always guaranteed.


1) The first step is to say I'm sorry without justifying what we've done. When the dust has settled, there may be a chance to clear up misunderstandings that could have contributed to the falling out. But initially, the focus should simply be on delivering a genuine, "I'm so sorry" without adding layers of explanation.

"I'm so sorry I threw away your picture, sweetheart."

2) Second, we need to specifically acknowledge how our mistake affected the other person. This allows the injured party to know that we have made the effort to imagine how they were affected by our behavior, offering reassurance that we truly did not intend to inflict harm.

"Now that I know you were saving that picture for Grandma, I can see why you were so sad when you found out I'd thrown it away instead of keeping for you to give her next weekend."

3) Third, we show the other person that we want to avoid doing the same thing again. Humans are imperfect; I am not suggesting that you promise never to make mistakes. But in this step we let the other person know that we are committed to avoiding a repeat of whatever happened that was so hurtful.

"The next time I'm not sure if you're saving a painting, I'll do my best to ask you before I throw it away."

4) Finally, in the fourth step we ask the other person what they need from us to make things right.

"Is there anything you need from me to help you feel better about this? Is there anything standing in the way of offering your forgiveness?"

As for your husband's reluctance to apologize because he believes he will lose face with his kids,it is true that many adults have grown up believing that their ego must be defended at all costs. You cannot legislate humility, or lecture him on the merits of apologizing. But perhaps you can share this article with him and respectfully request that he consider the impact of his behavior on your youngsters.

Invulnerability and toughness are not signs of strength; it takes a big person to stand squarely in their missteps and do whatever is needed to make things right with those they love.

When we take ownership for how we show up in our relationship, our children cannot help but learn that this is an essential ingredient in living a life of integrity.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

To learn more about her online parenting courses, classes and personal coaching support, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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