Posted by: Kate | February 10, 2011


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!!


  1. Hey, round two of the Madhouse for me, and I’m still not on the blog roll! Do I offend?

  2. Ah, no… I just forget things easily. If I dare to delay the slightest bit on something before doing it or writing it down, then it falls out of my head and promptly evaporates.

    You’ve been added now. I’m sorry I didn’t add you sooner, and I’m sure you felt ignored and frustrated because of it. I’ve added you to the list, and I won’t take you off again. 😉

  3. Sorry – I haven’t blogged in about a year and a half, although my blog is still active. Maybe I should get back on that. Topics to blog about cross my mind all the time, but I just don’t make the time to do it.

  4. Well I am going to give my kids a HUGE lesson in apologies tomorrow, I completely lost my cool and said some pretty mean and unthoughtful things so tomorrow they will hear a little talk from their mommy in how wrong she was, breaks my heart that I was so unkind.

    • Ugh… I hate when that happens. And it happens regularly here. I figure, it’s modeling good real-world skills right? You’re proving to them that their behavior matters because it impacts other people, that their mother is human and therefore is not infinitely patient or forgiving with bad behavior, that it’s OK to have conflict even when it gets loud or unpleasant because it’s part of life and it’s better for them to learn that conflict is survivable now than to grow up with no idea how to handle any sort of clash, and that it’s possible to acknowledge and apologize for your actions, even if they were completely justified, because what matters is not your intent (we all know that, regardless of the situation, you would never intend to upset/hurt your children’s feelings – it’s just impossible to always maintain your cool when those tiny little fingers just keep on pressing your buttons) but the impact it had on others.

      See? I’m an excellent helper; I can justify anything. 😉

      Hang in there… it’s wonderful to know that your kids are so emotionally/mentally normal that you can lose your cool with them, because the alternative is having kids that are either robotic or so fragile that you don’t dare treat them like they’re normal, someday-responsible human beings.

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