Sorry, Not Sorry
We want our children to be able to admit their mistakes, and be kind and respectful towards all human beings. Teaching them how to sincerely apologize plays a big part in it. But in order for them to learn – they need to see us do it. Our season 5 guest, Parenting Expert Einat Nathan has written an apology letter to her kids – and did not neglect to mention what she does not apologizing for. We have translated this iconic text to English – parents, read (and think).
I would like to raise children who know how to ask for forgiveness. Who would know the pain of others as they know their own. I wouldn’t necessarily want them to take on other people’s pain, but let them see the pain, beware of hurting, beware of excuses and ideologies that make it okay to regularly hurt another person. I would like them to understand that sometimes there is no clear right and wrong, there’s only two people who think they know. That sometimes there are a lot of good intentions but it turns out that someone gets hurt, and as a result someone is in pain, and for that a sincere apology is needed.
Because asking for forgiveness allows us to get closer to each other, to be more vulnerable, more human. Forgiveness allows us to recognize subjectivity, that everyone has a whole world of private reasoning, sensitivities, hurts and interpretations. And when one world meets another world, sometimes someone gets hurt, someone is not fully understood. How much power is there in a moment between two people when one acknowledges the hurt of the other without “but”s, without excuses. You simply say sorry for the very act of hurting another.
In order to raise children who know how to say they’re sorry, who can enjoy this human and intimate moment, we must remember that they need to see us do it. They need to experience a real apology. Only then might they not feel so humiliated when someone asks them to apologize. Only then maybe they’ll understand the real meaning of an apology when they receive one. Maybe then they’ll realize that forgiveness is strength and not weakness, that after an honest apology there is a better feeling for both parties.
So, I apologize, my children
I’m sorry that sometimes when you are in distress or angry, all my look tells you is: “Why do you always have to screw up my dinner?” I’m Sorry that sometimes I don’t understand what the big deal is that you didn’t find the shoes you wanted, when you cried over a stupid toy that broke, when you got angry that something you wanted wasn’t available in the store.
I’m sorry that I’m impatient sometimes, that I want you to go to bed already and say “right now” and “Go. Move!” and all kinds of words that prevent you from feeling joy. I’m sorry for saying “awesome!” and “really?” when I pretend I listen to all your stories but I’m not really there.
Sorry for yelling and demanding that you not yell. For eating from the pot and scolding you when you reach out. For preaching physical activity and choosing the couch. For curing like a drunken sailor with words I forbid you to use. I know none of this makes sense.
I’m sorry for trying to correct and set you straight, reprimanding you when I see in you my own weaknesses. I know you don’t need it and it doesn’t really help.
I’m sorry for putting on you all too easily predictable labels of the girl in charge, the angry boy, the fun girl, the crazy boy, the girl who can draw beautifully. I know that each of you has all the qualities he needs. I know that my job is actually to bring you together with all of your qualities and not to reduce it all down to what I think you can do.
I’m sorry that sometimes I burden you with my heart’s desire for you to be good brothers and I am so disappointed when you are cruel to each other. I know that deep down you are also good brothers, and especially that you manage your relationship outside of my jurisdiction.
I’m sorry that I sometimes forget that my time with you is very precious to me, and I am easily distracted by the phone screen, by leftover work, by unnecessary preoccupation with everyday stuff. I’m sorry that three minutes after I finish on Instagram and turn to you, I get annoyed that you are doing the exact same thing to me. When it comes from you, it always feels like an educational failure to me.
I’m sorry that sometimes I focus so much on what seems to be missing in you while each of you is a magnificent universe unto yourselves. Please know that when this happens and I fail to encourage you, to appreciate you, I am really looking mostly in the mirror, seeing my own weaknesses, judging my own failings, recognizing how stingy I can be with encouragement and praise.
I’m sorry that sometimes I use you to fix what’s broken in me. Sometimes simply because you are my children, and because we are together, I don’t feel you are separate from me, and you become my wish, a thing that should allow me to feel better. And it’s not fair, because you are you, you are yours. And I can’t really fix my brokenness through you. It’s like knowing that if you’re smart then maybe I’m a little less fucked up than I thought, or wanting badly for you to have lots of friends, because it’s an excellent medicine for the wound of my eternal loneliness. Or sleeping with you, hugging you, pulling you in even when it’s not always what you want at the moment, because this is my love language and it sometimes works better for me than words.
I’m sorry for impossibly high expectations, or for unfairly low ones, that I know make you feel like you can’t, or make you feel confused.
I’m sorry for all the things you experience as hurt and I don’t even know about.
And here are the things for which I am not apologizing
The job of parenting, as you will also learn when I celebrate being a grandmother, is a painful job because in many places you have to put aside the easy, and go for the hard. Put the ego aside and go for the goal. Look at costs and profits in the short term, but also in the ranges of many more years.
You may not be able to understand it today, but I hope one do you’ll know why I must sometimes leave you in your own struggle without swooping in to fix things. Because growing up is painful, being independent is wonderful but it is also burdensome, taking responsibility is pleasant but it’s difficult, and connecting with other people is glorious, but connection is something that requires humanity, consideration, listening, concession, honesty, imperfection and so much more. Some of it I can demonstrate to you. Some you must discover through trial and error, by yourselves.
I will not apologize for not fighting your wars, solving your conflicts or providing you with operating instructions for any difficulty. I will not apologize sometimes forcing you to do what you can do for yourselves. I will not apologize for the fact that I sleep well at night even when you had a hard day, because the difficulty is yours and I don’t pretend it to be mine.
I will not apologize for the fact that I also need the company of adults and I am not fulfilled only with pretend games, watching your TV shows, being interested in the material you study or hearing about the latest conflict with your best friend. I will not apologize for the fact that my relationship is important to me, and my work, which I love so much, also takes a part in our life together. I won’t apologize for the fact that you really aren’t my whole world, but don’t ever forget that my whole world can’t be without you.