When I finally unleash my children upon the world as adults, they’ll have at least one skill that is sadly rare in this world of screw-ups and insults and grudges. It’s not something they can include on a résumé, and it’s something I hope they have very little occasion to actually rely upon: they will know how to deliver a decent apology.
I never gave the idea of apologizing much thought, growing up. I was a quiet kid and kept to myself a lot of the time, so I didn’t find myself in the middle of very many schoolyard fights. Once high school rolled around, I was sucked into the inevitable sturm und Drang of adolescence, but even at its worst I didn’t find myself delivering a ton of apologies. Maybe I was causing offense and hurt left and right, but I didn’t think so… the stuff I got involved in was generally mutual and burned itself out pretty quickly, at least until I found myself on the receiving end of a Mean Girls sort of assault that eventually convinced me to go to college a year early rather than continue to spend time swimming through a problem I just couldn’t resolve.
By the time college rolled around, I pretty much always had a steady boyfriend. I didn’t quite leap from one to another, but I was always the type to be in one long-term (OK, six months at a time, but when you’re 18 that feels like forever) relationship after another. Any relationship means you have the occasional argument, but I was generally – at least up until Willem – drawn to very stable, predictable sorts of guys, not long-haired, hard-partying frat boys. (And yet, look who I married…)
Willem insists that I never apologized during the first several years of our marriage, though I contend that I was just less prone to fighting back once I realized he was right about something. I would figure out his point, acknowledge it, and move on to the next thing, whereas he was all too willing to argue about things even though I knew I was right. So we would hash out a point, I would persevere, and eventually it would be over. Sometimes it was a mutual, “Phew, I’m glad that’s over” kind of reaction, and other times he would apologize, and either way it continued to be a little aspect of life that I didn’t much think about.
Then my second child became verbal.
Up to that point, Emily would occasionally be asked to apologize for a given behavior, but it wasn’t a regular part of our daily routine. Once Jacob learned to talk, he very quickly learned how to argue with Emily, and a new age was born: the Age of the Apology. It didn’t take very long after that to realize that these children had absolutely no idea what constituted a decent apology. They would look at the floor, mutter, “Sorry,” and then get all self-righteous if I suggested that it seemed like a pretty half-assed effort. “What? I said I was sorry!” I realized that most people, even (especially?) adults, give pathetic, unsatisfying sorts of apologies, often as a vehicle to actually blame the other person for the whole thing anyway, and I think that’s at least partially due to the fact that most of us don’t receive any sort of lesson in how to negotiate relationships, including the inevitable apology.
So I thought about what I wanted to hear, when I had them apologize to each other, and I came up with a template. An apology rubric, if you will. A decent apology involves admitting what you did, acknowledging how it hurt the other person, and explaining what you’ll do the next time or how you’ll make it better. “I’m sorry I smashed your Lego spaceship. You worked hard on it. Next time I’ll ask before I attack it.”
They’ve gotten pretty good at it, over time. I try to convince myself that there is at least that one up-side to the constant bickering.
Back in the Madhouse again… I have so, so much to write about, but I haven’t carved out the time or focus to do so over the last week. At least I’m still playing, here.
I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I know you take the time to click here and you expect to read new things, and that makes you disappointed. I’ll try to post more next week…
How about them, did they join in? Did you?
Allison – Allimonster Speaks
Barb – Spencer Hill Spinning & Dyeing
Batty – Batty’s Adventures in Spooky Knitting
Dave – Notes from the Field
Eileen – Art Deco Diva Knits
Evil Twin’s Wife – The Glamorous Life of a Hausfrau
G – Not-A-Box
Haley – Aimless Tangents
Jennifer – Ask Poops, Please
JMLC – Daydreams and Ruminations
Kate – One More Thing
LC – LC in Sunny So Cal
LeeAnne – This is the life…
Lisa – As If You Care
Louise – Child of Grace
Marcy – Mittentime
Melanie – usually, things happen
Nikki – Land of the Free, Home of the Depressed
Peri – knitandnatter
Sara – yoyu mama
Yorkie – Den of Iniquity Prime <– New to the list!!