You've probably heard it said at some point that parents should never apologize to their children.
On the contrary, apologizing to our children when we're wrong can help build a relationship of trust between our children and us, no matter how young or old they are. It can also model several other healthy behaviors.
Every parent can look back and think of mistakes they've made, times they didn't listen intently when they should have, and occasions where they may have failed to guide their children appropriately.
During my daughter's middle school years, I found myself readily admitting to her that I didn't know how to parent a teenager and sometimes apologizing for misjudging her intentions because I was afraid she might try something that I tried when I was younger.
At times, I was making rules because of what I thought they should be in light of others' opinions and policies, rather than what might be best for her. There was a year or two that I was more concerned (and frightened) with what I thought she might be doing than trusting in her character and giving her the benefit of the doubt that she made wise choices in the past, and so could continue to make them in the future. At one point, she had to tell me, with frustration, "Mom, I'm not the same as you when you were younger. I'm not going to make the same mistakes. Trust me that you raised me right, and I will make the right decisions." Wow. That was so humbling. And I had to not only apologize for prejudging her motives but ask for her forgiveness for exerting my own baggage and insecurities onto her.
Today, my daughter is nearly 30 years old and can readily apologize when her attitude or actions are disrespectful or hurtful toward her parents. And that ability of hers might not be present today if she hadn't learned from a young age what it's like to have parents apologize to her and admit when they were wrong.
We can easily make mistakes or outright sin against our children. We can fail them by acting like we're listening to their words when we're really not. We can discipline them with wrong motives or react to them in anger when we should've responded with patience and understanding. We can punish when we should've extended grace. And yes, it's possible for us to be selfish at times and to not act like adults while at the same time expecting them to.
Your children, regardless of their ages, still watch what you do and learn from you. So here are three reasons why it's important to apologize to your children:
1. Apologizing to your children models responsibility and accountability.
We want our children to have a good work ethic, experience healthy relationships, and be upstanding citizens and contributors to society. Yet, learning to take ownership for their wrongs, take responsibility for their actions, and confess, rather than blame, is extremely important in building a child's character and preparing them for adulthood.
Suppose they see you lecture a cashier or show impatience to a food server and not be aware of your heart and attitude or apologize for your behavior. In that case, they may learn that same sense of entitlement and refuse to apologize for their behavior, too. To apologize to someone is a way of saying, "I acted entitled, and I was wrong. I regret it, and I'm sorry." When they hear you say it to others and to them, it teaches them how to be sorry for their own actions and apologize.
If we don't take ownership of our faults and apologize to our children when we've wronged them or did something wrong that they witnessed or discovered, then we are teaching them to follow our example and not take responsibility for their wrongs or learn to repent.
2. Apologizing to your children models humility.
Today's culture will reinforce to your children a "me-first" mentality instead of Christ-like humility. The sinful nature that resides within all of us, according to Romans 3:23, already naturally makes us put ourselves first. That's why Jesus taught that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). Apologizing is a tangible form of dying to self.
Pride causes us to accuse and blame others rather than maturely admit when we are wrong. Teach your children to apologize when they selfishly edge others out, act from impure motives, seek to impress at the expense of making others look bad, or when they are selfish or unkind.
When we, in a superior position over our children, admit we are wrong and regret it, we humbled ourselves. And that is good for us and good for our children to see. In addition, when we apologize and then ask for our child's forgiveness, we are further humbling ourselves. We are saying we need something from them – their forgiveness. And when we ask for it, we are putting ourselves in the position to ask humbly for something only they can give. That is not empowering your children. That is humbling yourself. And Scripture exhorts, "humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up" (James 4:10). I would rather hear my child say that I was humble and readily admitted when I was wrong than I was proud and "could do no wrong." As a parent, how humble you are may be directly related to the health of your relationship with your child.
3. Apologizing to your children models how a healthy relationship works.
In a healthy marriage, there is an exchange of apologies and an abundance of forgiveness. In a healthy friendship, we must learn how to say we're sorry for the times we've offended another, even unintentionally, in order to restore the relationship. A healthy parent-child relationship is no different.
When you apologize to your children, letting them know you care about how their hearts might be feeling in the wake of your wrongdoing or wrong attitude, you are modeling what is required to keep a healthy relationship with God. Our primary goal as parents should be to make our children less dependent on us and more dependent on God. It should also be the desire of our hearts that they have a solid and growing relationship with God. For that to happen, they must learn to repent of their sins that stand in the way of a healthy relationship with God.
After initially repenting of our sins and receiving Christ's forgiveness and eternal life, we are to continually confess the sins that stand between God and us and are impacting our degree of fellowship and intimacy with Him. We don't continually confess our sins to God to get Him to love us again or save us again; we confess to restore the fellowship - to let Him know we are sorry for the times we have hurt His heart, offended His holiness, failed to put Him first. When we apologize to our children for a bad attitude, snapping out of anger when we should've been more patient toward them, or for thinking about something else when they were speaking, and our minds were not on them, we are modeling to our children how to maintain a relationship. That is what is required in a healthy relationship with God, as well – admit when you are wrong, apologize, and do what you can to restore the fellowship and health of the relationship.
Regardless of your children's ages, as you continue to admit your weaknesses and apologize to your children when you are wrong, you are showing them Christ-like love, humility, and a heart that is set on restoring a healthy relationship.
For help in modeling Christ-like behavior to your children see Cindi’s books, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom and When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter: Affirming Her Identity and Dreams in Every Stage of Life.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When God Sees Your Tears , and When Couples Walk Together , which she co-authored with her husband of 32 years. Find out more about her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, at www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.