October 11, 2009

Monday Manners 10/12/09

"I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't."
--W. Somerset Maugham

"I'm sorry." Why are those words so hard to say even when you really are sorry? There are some times when I literally can not force them out of my mouth and even when I do, I just sound mean. I need some time to compose myself first.

Saying you are sorry is a pretty big topic in parenting, in etiquette, and in empathy. I'm actually sort of surprised I hadn't thought about it sooner. The first thing that came to mind about kids and apologies is that you really should not force them. It seems terribly rude for a child to do something wrong and not be apologetic, but it's a teachable moment. As a parent, what I ultimately want is for my kids to genuinely feel empathy with the person they have wronged. I want them to put themselves in the others shoes and think about how they would feel. But these are children we are talking about and sometimes they don't feel sorry, at least not at first. Just like me, they may need some time to work through their own emotions before they are ready to admit to making a mistake.

I have found myself apologizing for my kids when they have failed to do so. It's pretty easy to be sincere when I feel embarrassed or know exactly how the other person feels. Later I speak with my kids about what happened and, in general, they come up with an apology on their own. I'm not always sure they follow through with it, but I hope they do. I try to model this by making sure I apologize later for my mistakes.

Saying you are sorry should really be done in person, but if that's not possible proper etiquette is to send a handwritten note. Depending on the offense, an apology and a note may be appropriate.

You should check out this article on Ask a Beauty. It's basically everything I said here, but written better. And if you need one more reason to always remember to give a sincere apology, here's scientific proof that Saying Sorry Really Does Cost Nothing.


  1. Properly apologizing is something my 5yo daughter struggles with a lot. When she does something wrong you can tell she's really unhappy about having done it. I think to her, saying "sorry" feels like loss of face or giving up something. But she doesn't have any other way of resolving her unhappiness with the situation. This often ends up with her (unhappily) laughing off the transgression or some sort of manic escalation of her behavior.

    However, if and when she does apologize properly, e.g. with a full and sincere "I'm sorry I did X and caused you to feel Y" rather than a throwaway "Sorry!", you can see the weight being lifted off her shoulders. Being able to atone right is a very liberating experience.

  2. I know that feeling well. That's the one I have to try to overcome before I can offer my own apologies most of the time. For some reason I got the impression that as a parent, I shouldn't have to apologize for anything I do. So saying sorry is like admiting I don't know what I'm doing. When I'm calm, I know perfectly well I have no idea what I'm doing :)

  3. Such tight circles lately...Finding this along with the one on guilt. These topics have been very strong in my life of late.

    We show Aly what it takes to mean "I'm sorry" by apologizing when we are wrong, no matter how bad it hurts, we don't make her say sorry, that is meaningless. We may ask her if that was what she really meant to say or do and she takes it from there usually knowing she'd offended.

    After having everyone at The Bank tell me they were "sorry" but couldn't do anything after charging us 350 dollars in fees, I made it a point to stop saying "I'm sorry" unless I actually did something wrong and am working to change it. They were right, they are sorry and not in the way they thought. I know this is a bit OT, but it kinda relates, in that people need to be more aware of what they are saying. We (in general) just throw words around haphazardly not realizing the power they have and I think that is a disservice to our kids, I know it was for me...growing up thinking "atheist" was a curse word!

  4. I agree Stephanie. I try to be very careful about what I say these days. Words mean things and we are only as good as what we say.