I remember it like it was yesterday. We were thick in the season of “terrible twos” while simultaneously adjusting to life with a newborn and living through the life crisis of having to move home from the mission field. Life had been hard. Life had been scary. Life had been tense.
Until one day the tension became too much and I snapped at my little man.
I don’t remember why I snapped or all of the events that transpired, but I will never forget the crushed little eyes looking back at me. I knew I had messed up, making this anxious little boy’s world even less predictable than it already was. I also knew that what I did next was important. However, I didn’t realize that it would help determine the culture in our home as we moved into raising a little boy and not a baby. I had two choices: humble myself and apologize or move on and excuse my actions because I was the adult in the situation. Thankfully, I chose the first option, and what resulted was beautiful.
I put my pride and reasons that I snapped to the side, and I sat my sweet boy down and apologized. I told him that even grown-ups have bad days and say things they shouldn’t sometimes, and I asked him to forgive me. Not only did I repair his spirit and restore our relationship in that moment, but that simple act changed the culture of our home.
Over the next few weeks, I noticed that he started to be more repentant when he messed up. Not only that, but he began to use phrases like, “Do you forgive me?” without prompting. There was more peace in our home and as a result deeper relationships.
In a moment of humility, I chose to apologize for my own sin, and shift the culture of our home from “We are the adults. We can do whatever we want,” to “We are all sinners and mess up sometimes. Let us teach you how to reconcile when you mess up.”
Here is what happens when you make a habit of apologizing to your children:
Apologizing helps preserve attachment and connection with your children.
Very few things will disrupt attachment between a parent and child like the parenting mentality of “My way or the highway.” Children (really everyone) thrive through secure attachment and connection with their parents. But it is hard to have a deep connection with a parent that does not seek to right their wrongs and restore what is broken. I think back to that afternoon with Auggie, and fear what would have come of our relationship if I had chosen to put my pride and need for his obedience above righting my own wrongs. I fear that over time, he would come to expect those responses and instead of being crushed, just grow more distant every time I messed up.
Apologizing teaches children how to handle their own wrongdoings.
I was amazed as I watched Auggie begin to apologize to us with a truly repentant heart. Prior to this incident, getting him to apologize was nearly impossible. We would sometimes struggle with him for over an hour to get him to apologize after doing wrong. Now, on a daily basis (sometimes hourly, because boys are rough) he “makes things right” with his little brother and says things like, “I’m so sorry I hurt you, Bubby. Do you forgive me, Gideon?” We never directly told him to say these words, but by seeing his parents model it for him, he quickly learned to do the same for others.
Apologizing models our need for the Gospel.
One of the first truths that a child needs to understand the Gospel is the concept of sin. Having worked in children’s ministry for years, one of the main issues that a young child has in understanding the Gospel is their lack of understanding of their own sin. By creating a culture where everyone apologizes in our home, we are enforcing the truth that all have sinned. We show our kids that our sins can damage relationships if not repented of, which gives the perfect platform to talk about how our sins separate us from God and that we must choose to repent and follow Jesus.
As moms, we know that we aren’t perfect and we will mess up. I encourage you to think about how you handle those “mess-ups” and what kind of culture you are creating as a result. Saying a simple “I’m sorry,” may have a far greater impact than you expect.