It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I realized it. I was sitting on the couch soaking up every minute left of the weekend when my tornado of a toddler scurried past my feet into the kitchen. As he did, he mumbled. I could hear his voice, but wasn’t sure what he was trying to say. Sometimes his brain thinks faster than he can speak so he rushes his words, leaving them tied together in an indiscernible string. It was up to me to untangle them and make the sentence he was trying to say. When I finally did, I was taken aback.
“He said he was sorry.”
I stared wide eyed at my husband in the next room, my mouth still agape. From the outside looking in, any stranger would have thought I was simply basking in the light of my son’s good manners. I work hard every day to instill in him respect, kindness, and integrity, I insist an apology when one is needed. I remind him to say please and thank you, and I encourage him to say nice things instead of naughty ones. I’m raising my sweet boy to one day be a good man, and I don’t take this task lightly. So I was not surprised in the least by what he said. It was the why that left me speechless.
He hadn’t turned over his juice cup, he hadn’t stepped on my toe while running. My son didn’t lose his temper because he didn’t get his way, and he hadn’t done anything to apologize for. He was completely blameless when he uttered those words.
“Does that surprise you? Look who his mommy is.”
Since the day my son was born, he’s been the spitting image of his father. He’s got his eyes, his nose, his feet, and even the same curve-as-they-grow toenails. My husband couldn’t deny him even if he wanted to. The only feature my son inherited from me was my mouth. Whenever I start to wonder what role I played a in his development, other than being a housing unit for over nine months, he smiles and there I am.
As he’s gotten older, I’ve realized he didn’t just get my mouth literally, but figuratively, too. Every ounce of my personality passed through the umbilical cord and into his little body. He’s impatient just like I am, though you won’t hear me admit that to very many people, especially not my husband. He can trip over his own two feet, which is something I’ve had a lot of experience with throughout the years. He is stubborn to a fault, which I can tell you he didn’t get from some stranger. When he’s old enough to pronounce it, I’ll teach him to refer to the stubbornness as determination. It sounds better to future employers.
He’s my mini-me in all areas other than the looks department. I’m proud he is. It makes my heart swell to the point of busting to watch my boy mimic me. It thrills me to hear him talk like me, see him walk like me, and even dance like me. I love it. Except for when his actions reflect my sorry nature.
I live life apologetically. I apologize daily for things that are not my fault.
A coworker has a flat tire- I’m sorry. My husband forgot his phone- I’m sorry. Your dog died- I’m sorry. I’m the queen of apologies and I wear the crown well.
It is only now as an adult in my thirties I realize the harm that comes from being a sorry adult. The problem isn’t the need I feel to apologize. The problem is the undue blame I inadvertently take ownership of by doing so. I willingly accept responsibility for things I have no control over, I place blame on myself even when I don’t deserve it, which in turns leaves me feeling unworthy and below par. I see myself as a constant letdown to family and friends because of mistakes I’ve never even made.
My son is now trying to follow in my footsteps before the tender age of three. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been guiding him along. The day I realized I was raising a sorry child was the day I realized I had to stop living life as a guilt ridden sorry adult, if not for my own sake, then for his. It’s been a struggle, but day by day I’m un-learning the need to apologize.
By the same token, I’m teaching my son not to say he’s sorry, at least for things that aren’t his fault.
In order for him to understand the purpose of an apology, he also needs to understand when there doesn’t need to be one. It’s a lesson just as important as the apology itself. It’s one that will allow him to take ownership of his actions, as well as the consequences that follow, without assuming responsibility for someone else’s. Understanding when to say sorry and when not to will lead my son to a freedom of self I am only beginning to comprehend.
Though I still coax an “I’m sorry” out of my son when the situation warrants it, I am quick to point out when an apology is not needed. It’s critical for me too. As his mother, I won’t let him harbor undue blame and allow him to walk down a road that will eventually lead to low self esteem and struggles with self worth. He doesn’t need to take the blame or apologize for anything he didn’t do. He’s going to make enough mistakes on his own he’ll need to apologize for without adding anymore on top them. His pile will be plenty.
I won’t be adding anyone else’s anymore, either. Little ears are listening and I can’t lead him astray. No apology in the world is worth that.
(Image: iStock / Liderina)