One of the most important lessons we try to teach our toddlers is to say they’re sorry when they hurt someone or make a mistake. Sometimes they say it out of reflex or habit. Sometimes they say it simply to try to stay out of trouble. Sometimes they say it and don’t mean it whatsoever. But recently, my daughter has been saying it in a way that has moved me and touched me. And it turns out she’s the one who taught me a lesson.
She has taken to saying, “Mama, I’m sorry for your mad.” Now, some might see it as insincere since she isn’t apologizing for a specific act. But it’s the opposite. She knows her mommy was upset. And she also knows she was the reason why. And she’s sorry for that. Whatever it was that made me mad is secondary, almost insignificant, in comparison to her acknowledgement of my feelings and the part she played in them.
An apology for what was done is nice. But it will inevitably happen again. Even as adults, we repeat the same mistakes. Things happen or things are said that we don’t really mean. So an apology for what you did is good. I hope you really do feel bad you did whatever you shouldn’t have. But it means so much more to be sorry for the way it affected me.
Maybe my toddler says it because she really doesn’t know or understand what upset her mommy. And that touches my heart even deeper. Because it doesn’t matter what it was. All she cares about is that mommy was hurt by it. And she’s sorry anyway. She doesn’t need an explanation of why I was mad. She doesn’t need to agree with it or understand it. She just knows she doesn’t want me to be and she doesn’t want to be the reason for it. And it’s one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever received.
We are so quick to hand out apologies to perfect strangers – because we bumped them with our shopping cart or we elbowed them in a big crowd – but we withhold them with those that matter most, and they’re the ones who need it the most. We are hung up about not being wrong, not being at fault. But does it even matter? That lady in Target will quickly forget about me and my “oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” within moments. But my mom, who I may have said something I never should have to, will not soon, if ever, forget. An apology will not fix it. She may not accept it. But it will matter. In that moment. Much later. Forever.
The next time you are at odds with someone you love – a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a friend – don’t worry so much about what you did to upset them. Just accept that you did. Own the hurt you caused, whether you meant to or not, whether you “get it” or not. And just say you’re sorry. We get wrapped up in the idea that as long as we didn’t MEAN to hurt you, it’s not that bad or we don’t even need to be sorry. If you love someone, you shouldn’t want them to hurt, least of all by you, so just say it. “I’m sorry for your mad/sad/hurt/upset.” It won’t always fix it. Cuz lemme tell ya, even after that cute little apology, I am still peeved as I pick up the thousand cheerio pieces she spilled from the box I told her not to touch, but it sucks a lot less. And the truth is, she probably isn’t sorry she touched it. She wanted the dang Cheerios and she will most definitely do something like that a million times over. But she is sorry she upset me. And that counts so much more.