A Conscious Parenting Skill--How to Offer A Meaningful Apology

The Importance of an Apology

As a parent, some of our most challenging times come when we lose ourselves in our own stress, anger or pain— and hurt our children.

We may criticize them. Judge them. Mock them. Ignore them. Create situations where they must take care of our emotional needs. Raise our voices at them. Fill them with our fear.

There are so many ways to harm another human! It is inevitable. It happens. Just yesterday, I lost myself while in a conversation with my daughter. Nothing dramatic was at stake. I felt so reasonable in that moment, actually. Regardless, I hurt Clara. I was so merged with my point of view, so unknowingly indignant about my perspective— that I was blinded to the fact that what I was saying was causing harm. And I did not notice until Clara’s eyes filled up with tears! She bowed her head and cried silently for a moment, got up, and declared, “I need some space.” ARGH.

I share this with you (in full vulnerability) because I write so often about my profound appreciation for conscious parenting. I read about it. I practice. But I don’t have it all figured out. I make mistakes more often than I would like. We will all cause harm in our children at times. Yes, it happens. And still, that does not make it okay. No matter how intentional or aware we may feel, our children provide us a direct pathway into our emotional wounds and all that remains unresolved within us. We may find that our emotionally triggered responses have less to do with our child’s behavior and more to do with how we are translating their actions. If we value our children fully as humans amidst their own journeys, if we truly have their best interests at heart, if we desire to see them in nurturing relationships that allow them to feel safe and fulfilled, we MUST offer a template of what taking emotional responsibility looks like. We must work to embody the values of healthy communication, mutual respect, and an awareness of how our actions affect those around us.

An apology is a wonderful way to show humility and openness in our relationships with our children. We seek to embody the idea that we are learning and expect to make mistakes. We also own up to our mistakes in order to love more fully and to live in a healthy way. Some of us have not been on the receiving end of a heartfelt apology from our parents. So, we may be creating something entirely new to us—something perhaps we long/have longed for but have never received. That is okay—love is large. We can do this!

Key Components to Offering a Meaningful Apology

Let’s begin with a few guidelines on how to offer a meaningful apology when we hurt our children.

  1. State specifically how your behavior was unhealthy or how it violated your intrinsic moral code. An example might be, “In our discussion about homework, I raised my voice at you. It is important to me that I don’t treat you with anger. I want you to feel safe in our relationship.”

  2. Apologize with emotional connection. “I am truly sorry that I raised my voice at you” or “I apologize for treating you with anger.” Avoid statements like, “I am sorry you feel that way” or any statements that use the word “but.” Feel free to ask questions here that will allow you to emotionally connect with and understand the pain of your child’s experience. Keep apologizing.

  3. Offer insight if it will be valuable to your child. Do not use insight as a way to have your child hold your pain. Do not create excuses either! You can provide context that might allow further evidence that your reaction had nothing to do with the child’s behavior. You might say, “I take full responsibility for raising my voice at you. I think I was stressed from my work day and brought it into this situation in a way you did not deserve” or “I notice that when I feel out of control, I act out in anger at you. This is something I learned from my own childhood but I am going to work to change that as it is hurting our relationship.”

  4. Make an offering (ideally) or ask your child how you can repair the damage you have caused. If you have an issue with raising your voice with your children— you might offer, “I am going to start pausing when I notice I am feeling anger in our conversations so that I do not hurt you in this way again.” Offer something REAL. I think it is important to at least start making amends on our own. After you make an offering or if you are stumped, you can ask “How can make this right? What else can I do?”

  5. Do not ask for forgiveness. Do not ask for anything for yourself. You are showing up to take responsibility and to aid in the healing process of someone you have hurt. Show up with that intention in your heart. Full stop.

A Few Suggestions

  1. Wait until you have thoroughly cooled down before trying to make amends. Know yourself. Tend to yourself first.

  2. Allow for a time and space that honors your child. Privacy is important. Timing is important. Consider your child’s readiness.

  3. Set a clear intention before having an apology conversation with your child. Feel the love and concern you have for your child. Practice feeling emotional generosity for them. Rehearse if you need to. Be absolutely committed to their healing.

A Word about Prevention

A little prevention can go a long way to making reactivity less likely. A proactive way to approach our own fallibility in tense moments is in…

Creating space to care for ourselves. When I notice that I am feeling more agitated in my interactions with my children (and partner), I take it as a sign that I need to create some space to work on my own emotional health. I create habits to allow for me to clean up my brain a bit. My morning meditation practice was born from such a time. Create a list that really works for you in helping you ground yourself again. My list includes meditation sessions, doing yoga or attending my Bar Method class, walking in nature, talking things out with John, getting a better night’s sleep, working with our coach, reading more on conscious parenting, creating a life edit if my work schedule has grown too demanding, or taking a break to focus on relaxing. A list can be an empowering thing! The truth is that we deserve time to take care of our own emotional needs.

Utilizing the power of a pause. One of the greatest tools we have in our lives is our own awareness. ANY time we feel worked up or triggered with regard to our children’s actions, we must try to practice the PAUSE. It is as simple saying, “I can tell that I am not in a grounded place to talk about this right now. I care about you but don’t want to hurt you. Would you mind if I talk to you about this ______?” Name a specific time. So powerful. With the help of the PAUSE, we are refusing to harm our children with our reactivity. Our children will watch us protect them from our unconscious, reactive selves. And what our children witness, they absorb. I must say this technique is simple, but it is hardly easy (especially for those of us who grew up witnessing anger).

Relationships offer spiritual work. The point is not to be perfectionistic—as much I sometimes wish to offer my children a perfect love. We are offering our children a template for emotional health and connectedness whether we like it or not. Why not offer them our best awareness and effort? Being able to offer a sincere apology as a parent is one major way, we show how resilient, connected, humble, warm, and devoted love can really be.

What are your thoughts on offering an apology as a parent? Does this approach feel different to you from the way you were raised? I would love to hear what you think!

Margi Dehlin2 Comments