I don’t make my child apologize

I don’t make my child apologize.

That’s right, if she yells at another child on the playground for messing up the perfect grid of “treasures” she’s collected from the uber-disgusting public sandpit, and even pushes said child out of her way, I won’t make her say she’s sorry.

Don’t panic—calm down—I didn’t say I would ignore the situation! No, I’m a very consistent parent. Parenting a highly spirited child forces consistency, and I know if I let one situation go ONE TIME, we will be fighting battles related to that for months! But parenting this child of mine has also made me look carefully at my parenting reflexes, and whether they are truly teaching the principal I need my child to learn in this moment.

Because my parenting reflexes say, “Stop that right now and tell him you’re sorry!” But when I evaluated that reflex response, I realized that I was instructing her to lie, because believe me, she was not sorry.

She’s not one to back down easily—or ever—and she feels very justified in her actions! And while I wanted her to feel sorry, I could not force her to feel anything, so I needed a different approach.

So I changed from, “Tell him you’re sorry,” to “Sweetie, you know that wasn’t kind. We treat people with kindness, like God treats us with kindness. I need you to say “I was wrong, I shouldn’t have pushed you.”

“I was wrong.”

Whether she’s feeling it or not, it’s the truth, and speaking truth helps a person believe truth. And in almost every case, she started adding the “I’m sorry” herself, because saying “I was wrong” out loud made her feel regret for her unkind actions.

This is, to be honest, one of the things I most want my children to carry with them throughout their lives—the ability to admit when they’re wrong. It’s so freeing to admit mistakes, to confess and be able to move on with your life.

My mother is a great example of this. When I was young, even though I would classify our relationship as “good”, we clashed a lot. My personality, like my daughter’s, is strong and loud and stubborn, and my mom just didn’t know what to do with me! All her love and best efforts sometimes unintentionally left me feeling like something was just wrong with the way I was made. Since I’ve grown up, she’s also continued to learn and grow, and she has called me several times and brought up a situation from my childhood and said, “I want you to know I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

It takes a lot of humility to tell your child you were wrong, especially when your actions at the time were motivated by love but not always received that way…but it leaves a legacy.

And our relationship continues to grow stronger because of it. 

By my mom establishing a pattern of admitting when she was wrong, she raised a daughter who is now teaching the same thing to her own spirited, stubborn, and strong daughter … who will then hopefully pass it on to her children one day too. 

And I hope that I never stop learning better ways to love my own daughter, and even when I mess up without realizing it and just move on with life, I can trust that God will show me someday where I was wrong, and I will have the grace to apologize to my own grown-up daughter, so our relationship can always move forward, in grace and in God.

Anita grew up in Belize as a missionary kid. She has lived in 3 countries and traveled on 5 continents but can’t resist the allure of subzero winters so she now lives in MN with her Egyptian husband and two daughters. She blogs about God, motherhood, and appreciating beauty at anitamatta.com, and pretends to be trendy by posting pictures of coffee as @anitafmatta on Instagram.