Motherhood

Two Words to Say to Your Child

Two Words to Say to Your Child

Confession: This weekend, I lost my temper…

I was tired, and seven-year-old Anton was fussing about putting his dessert bowl away, and it was a pandemic winter, and I just snapped.

“Anton, ugh!!! I don’t want to hear it!” I shouted. “Go to your room! Right now! Enough!”

He stormed off in tears.

I sat there on the sofa, knowing that I’d overreacted. At first, I felt guilty. But you know what’s funny? My friend Lina Perl, a brilliant therapist and mother of two, says these “ruptures” can actually be a good thing.

“I talk to a lot of people who feel like bad parents if they yell at their kids, but good parents make mistakes all the time,” she told me. “You’ll get annoyed with your kids, they’ll hurt your feelings and vice versa, you’ll lose it with them. No two people are ever totally attuned to each other.”

And, she points out, these conflicts are actually necessary. It’s how we teach kids to manage the difficult emotions of being disappointed, let down, scared, etc. And, afterward, you have the amazing opportunity to reconnect or “repair.”

What does repairing mean?

You want to go back to your child when things are calmer, explains Lina: “Say, ‘I didn’t feel great about yelling today; I got really frustrated, but I don’t want to yell like that, and I’m sorry if I scared you.’ In that moment, you’re acknowledging your role and theirs. And give space: ‘Was that scary for you? How did you feel?’ You are reconnecting. You’re basically saying: I’m a good person, you’re a good person, we’re all trying our best.”

In doing this, Lina explained, you’re doing two powerful things:
1) You’re modeling what it’s like to take responsibility for your actions. You don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen, and you don’t have to apologize aggressively. You’re modeling what healthy repair is like.
2) You’re reconnecting with your kids. Imagine if your own parent had come back and said, wow, I don’t feel good about what happened, let’s talk. How healing would that be? How much better would you feel? You’re helping them feel like good people and you’re showing that even people who lose it are good people — you can always try again. You’re showing them that they, too, can lose it sometimes, and they can come back and repair it!

There’s no perfect way to do this — but if the feeling you all have at the end is having your experience be acknowledged, then you’ve done a great job. “Just circling back and making an effort to reconnect after something like that is SO GREAT,” says Lina.

So, I knocked on Anton’s bedroom door.

“Mommy?” said his little voice.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “Can we talk?”


Thoughts? Do you ever apologize to your children? My mom once apologized for overreacting when I was five years old, and I’ve always remembered it.

P.S. How to be a better listener, and talking to kids.

(Photo by Cheryl Rosaria/Stocksy.)

  1. Kay says...

    I wish. I come from a culture where the parents are always right no matter what, and God forbid you ever talk back to them or point out they’re less than perfect. My parents have never apologized to me for anything and there’s a deep sadness (maybe even resentment?) I feel because of that. Feelings were just not discussed, for fear of upsetting the “natural order”. BUT I make it a point to keep it real with my kids and have made talking about feelings and saying the norm in my household. It’s a magical way to connect, and to teach respect, too.

  2. Claude says...

    Yes, I recently apologized about saying my daughter couldn’t swim. To me she can’t, I think either you know how to swim or you don’t, but she explained to me that she’s learning and saying she can’t is offensive. So I apologized. Also she’s missing her lessons so there’s emotions around that.

  3. Christine says...

    I’m a teacher and I’ve had to do this a couple of times this year. Twice I had classes just push me over the edge to where I cried. I yelled, cried, and had to step out and collect myself. Then come back and apologize and have a heart to heart with them. And middle schoolers are a tough crowd! One class has been much more empathetic and compassionate ever since. And the other, well, it’s full of 6th grade boys.

    • beth says...

      You are a very special person!

    • Rebecca says...

      As a teacher and a mom to two boys, I also want to extend the possibility that the class full of 6th grade boys is also processing the situation and the heart to heart, just maybe not showing it as gracefully. Your willingness to admit your overwhelm is incredibly important for those future men, even if it doesn’t seem like it right off. Hang in there!

  4. I’ve done lots of losing it and lots of repairing in the last year. Since last summer when my husband began medical school and started living in a nearby city during the week, I’ve been quite isolated with my two young children, 2.5 and 10 months. My eldest has at times borne the brunt of my depletion, exhaustion and anger (it’s mostly a global anger on behalf of everyone, especially the women, in the US taking care of children with very little recognition or support). I’ve felt heartbreak for the moments I’ve yelled or held her to standards beyond her years.

    So, when I recently discovered the book, “Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!” about a young girl’s sometimes pesky behaviors that drive her mother to yell, even when she really doesn’t want to, I felt like the book was written for us.

    We’ve now read it so many times she’s memorized the words, and each time we’re reminded that sometimes acting pesky or frustrated or mad is part of being human, and that most of all, we can still laugh and love each other very much.

    • Brigitte says...

      My son and I love that book!! It has helped us connect when we are driving each other wild!

  5. Stephanie says...

    I apologize to my kids (3 and 8) allllllllll the time. Pandemic parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s really hard and I’m making mistakes daily. My kids are always SO appreciative of the apology. And they say the cutest things in order to try to make me feel better about the situation. My 8 year old even wrote me a note that says “its okay” with a heart drawn next to it. It hangs at my desk so I can see it every day. It’s a good reminder. We’re all going to be okay.

  6. Courtney says...

    Yes we do! And mostly too because I wish my parents had done it when I was little. Nothing dramatic but those type of conversations mentioned above never really happened. That said, loved reading this.

  7. Sara says...

    I lose my temper with my children more often than I’d like to, but I have ALWAYS apologized to them afterwards. (which my parents didn’t really do growing up) If I am ever feeling guilty for how I have treated them, I remind myself that feeling guilty and analyzing my own actions is a sign that I truly care. We’re all just doing our best.

  8. Karin says...

    What a great post. I grew up in a very calm, “rational” home. My parents rarely expressed anger, and as a result I have a very hard time with confrontation. Of course I married someone whose family was all about blowing up, yelling for 15 minutes, and then getting over it. It took me DECADES to understand that someone getting mad at me doesn’t mean they hate me and it’s all over.

    I also children sometimes push our buttons because consciously or unconsciously, they *need* us to get mad, or *need* to have a little explosion to let off steam and move ahead. For instance, back in the day my son was taking forever to learn to tie his shoes. My husband knew he could do it but just wasn’t trying. Frustrated, he blew up one day and yelled at our son. Son got red in the face, then immediately tied his shoes and never had a problem with it again.

  9. Alli says...

    These opportunities to teach our children are so important. As someone who was in an abusive relationship, I am always careful not to make excuses/blame for my outbursts. For example, instead of “I’m sorry, mommy was just upset because you (emphasis on ‘you’) wouldn’t clean up your toys.” Instead, I’m deliberate about owning what I said/did and letting him know that I (emphasis on the ‘I’) shouldn’t have reacted like that.

  10. Angeline says...

    Growing up, my dad had a hair-trigger temper and probably undiagnosed bipolar disorder — on days when he was in a good mood I could talk back to him or take out the typical teenage angst on him and all he would do was chuckle, but on other days when he was in a foul mood the slightest wrong look or move from me would get me a backhanded slap across the face or hour-long yelling at high volume, or both. (To this day I cannot hear loud male voices suddenly raised in anger without my heart constricting in my chest.) Whenever he felt bad about it, he would offer to buy me ice cream from the ice cream truck (the most expensive kind he knew was my favorite, the kind that came in a cone with chocolate chips and sprinkles on top, not for me the cheap popsicles on sticks), which would show up on our street every Saturday afternoon without fail. I would always pretend to not want ice cream that day until the last possible minute, just to make him wait for my forgiveness, ha.

    My mother however was a controlling and manipulative nasty piece of work who never apologized in any way, shape or form. She would always refuse to give me permission to leave the house for anything except school or running errands for her — no birthday parties, field trips, movies or just plain hanging out with my friends. (As you can imagine that pretty much put paid to any semblance of a social life, pre-Internet.) On the ultra rare occasions when my dad overrode her and I actually got to go out and have fun, the minute I got home she would immediately and deliberately make me do all the chores I despised the most, just to harsh my buzz. I got so pissed once that I literally broke the mop handle in two from the amount of pressure I was applying while cleaning the floor! Once when I was about 4 or 5 and my sister had just explained the concept of saying sorry when one had done something wrong, I immediately turned to my mother and said she should apologize for being mean to me, and she immediately got defensive and yelled that as the grownup that meant she NEVER had to apologize to me, which ruined my world view and expectations of justice. As a result of her petty mind games and treating me like dirt all my life our relationship now is completely non-existent, which suits me just fine.

    • c says...

      i can relate to this, angeline, and i’m sorry for those of us that come from less than idyllic homes…

    • Catherines says...

      I’m so sorry to hear that, it is awful to grow up in such a difficult environment. My kids are now almost 19 and 16, and I always did the Joanna thing, because that’s who I am, but my husband almost never apologizes, to me or the kids and it has caused tensions between us; my parents never apologized either, my mom did most of the yelling and slapping but to be fair, she had 5 kis in 7 and a hafl kids and my dad was always working, so…
      My point is that we are not our parents, nobody taught me to apologize and explain, I just did it because it’s in me. I’m sure you are nothing like your parents too. (Remembering all that bad stuff kinda of hurts though) Love! Catherine

    • LEE ANN says...

      This really resonated with me, in particular this comment: To this day I cannot hear loud male voices suddenly raised in anger without my heart constricting in my chest.
      It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t “normal” to be scared of men.
      I don’t know if that initial fear reaction to anger will ever go away but I working on a healthy next response.

  11. Kelly says...

    Thank you for this timely post since I ruptured on my four-year-old the other day (cringe), reading the comments has been like group therapy!

    Like many other commenters I grew up without apologies so it’s not surprising that my sister will get mad at me on the phone and hang up. Often she calls the next day like nothing happened and I don’t know how to respond. Should I acknowledge it and risk “poking the bear”? Or should I move on without getting to air my frustrations.

    I, often, know to apologize to him, and frequently try to humble myself to do so when needed, but I needed the reminder to give him the space to talk too. When he is hurting I want to ask “how was that for you?”

  12. Jessica says...

    Ugh. I’m sure all parents worry about this at some point or another. But the other day, I was looking at my 2 year old daughter in all her sweet innocence, and I couldn’t help think “I hope I’m not ruining you.” Reading through these comments gives me hope I’m not.

    • Kelly says...

      Yes to this! “I hope I’m not ruining you” is constantly in my head after a rupture. You are not alone.

    • Karin says...

      As my mom would say, if you’re asking “Am I ruining my children?” it’s a sign that you are NOT ruining your children!

  13. Leslie says...

    I think it’s great to model for them that families forgive and move on. If you can’t be real with your family who can you be real with? And the real you was just kind of pissed off at that moment- if anything he got to know you a little better that day.

  14. Mary Modes says...

    Just the other day I told my son he’s giving me headache for talking too much. He hugged me and said “do you need a massage? Sorry for giving you headache. I cried and felt terrible for what I said.

  15. SusieG says...

    Years ago, I felt badly about my behavior with my daughter during a disagreement. So I wrote her an apology letter mixed with a love letter in her lunch box and asked to talk further when she got home. My husband shared it with a mutual friend of ours. Our friend said, “OMG, I would have had an entirely different life if my mother would have done that just once.” It stuck with me and I still regularly apologize to her and let her know when I’ve fallen short of my own expectations. Happens a lot now that she’s a teenager :)

    • Kelly says...

      I wonder a lot about how different my relationship with my parents could have looked with apologies! I try not to be too hard on them since every generation learns and grows as parents, BUT I’m reminded that a simple apology is/should be timeless.

  16. Maureen says...

    When I lose it I try to demonstrate for my children what is looks like to:
    1) admit my mistake; 2) apologize to them; and 3) ask for their forgiveness. I ask them to go through that process with each other when they get into tense arguments or blow ups with each other. Modeling healthy behaviors helps kids to become responsible adults and resist the normal urge to hide and blame when they make a mistake. It also helps your kids realize, that “Mom is not perfect, she makes mistakes – maybe I don’t need to be perfect either!” You never know how a kid internalizes their parents freakouts. Some kids let it roll off their shoulders and some kids think there is something wrong with them (me growing up). I don’t want my kids to feel like they are responsible for my behavior/attitudes and carry that weight around on their little shoulders.

  17. Thank you for the honest, hopeful post. Yes, I apologize to my kids. My partner, not so much. I have talked to him about it but it’s SO HARD to admit we made a mistake!! Mainly I hope we are modeling how to grow and love for our children, giving them tools for handling life.

  18. Samantha says...

    I am Asian and when I was little and my mom blew up like that, she never apologized, but just brought me a plate of cut up fruit. that was her language.

    • Ray says...

      I once read a post like that..how asian mums sometimes show love by peeling grapes and cutting up fruit..thats so sweet

  19. J says...

    I do not have children, but, like many, I still feel the rifts from my own childhood. I think one of the most powerful things you can say is, “I’m sorry.” It says, you are more important to me than my pride. It also models the idea that we are all wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. You sound like a great mom who is great because she is trying her hardest to be great for her family and herself.

  20. Cindy says...

    One time when I was teaching junior high math, I lost my temper with one of my students and barked at her. The next day, I stepped out into the hall with her and apologized. I will never forget the look of surprise and gratefulness in her eyes, and our relationship was smoother from that day forward. Such a simple thing!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So beautiful!

  21. M says...

    I just want to say to all the parents who feel guilty about yelling at their children (myself included)…I grew up with two loving well-meaning parents who never yelled. If anyone was upset in our house it was generally suppressed and ignored. I don’t think this was healthy… as an adult, I had no concept of what healthy conflict looked like and if I had any kind of disagreement with a friend or my boyfriend/husband, I thought it meant our relationship was over. As a parent, I too struggle with feeling guilty over yelling at my young kids, but they so readily accept an apology and quickly move on. I think it’s good for kids to know nobody is prefect and we’re all just tying to do our best, which looks different every day.

    • Heather says...

      Yes to this! I grew up in the same environment re: conflict and my husband had a very loud “yelling” family (might be a west coast/east coast cultural dynamic as well), and any conflict for me is very challenging and emotionally exhausting. But I’m learning! Making a mental note to model healthy ways of dealing with conflict with our child as he gets old (9 months old now).

    • Lisa says...

      Same. I come from a family where strong emotions just weren’t dealt with. I was always told not to be so emotional, so I learned to suppress them and as a result have struggled with depression and anxiety as an adult. With therapy I’ve been learning how to manage and acknowledge them, but also how to teach my children to manage them. The other day my husband and I had a very rare shouting incident – the strain of being in lockdown for the third time, mourning a miscarriage, homeschooling, professional frustration and potty training gone awry just got the best of us. Afterwards we said sorry to each other (and our children) and that release just felt so good. I don’t want my children to be afraid of their “big feelings”, but to know where they come from and how to deal with conflict. It’s one thing I really want for them.

    • Claire says...

      YES! i never learned healthy conflict and always assume that a conflict means the end of a relationship. Only relearning it now in my late 20s!

  22. Stacy S says...

    Oh the comment section here! All the people here make me feel seen and understood, and I’ve never met any of you!
    I grew up in a family that talked about our feelings/emotions. However, I don’t believe that was the case for my husbands family. We have a strong willed 2 year old, and I’m trying to incorporate being open with emotions and explaining why we do or don’t do things to him instead of just saying no/yelling. It’s been a struggle to keep on the same page regarding discipline and I’m tired. I know there’s got to be someone else out there who’s in the same boat?

    • Oh yes! My kids are older, but gradually it dawned on me that my family of origin was loud and talky and my parents were visibly angry AND affectionate in front of me. And my husband’s family of origin was the opposite. So he and I have needed to talk about this and we are trying to live these processes out in front of our kids – requires a lot of communication on our end.

    • Kate says...

      You‘re not alone! I don‘t remember my parents ever apologizing to me as a child, even though my mom would have had plenty of reason to do so – and I‘m making a very conscious effort to be different with my kids: to explain why I say no to something, and if I snap and yell, I always apologize. My partner didn‘t really regret when he yelled, he felt like he was right and as a parent, that was okay to do. After such incidents, I told him how I felt about this (very bad) and asked him to apologize to our kid. It wasn‘t easy. It took some pushing on my part, which was hard for me. But usually, in the end he -grudgingly – did do it. I feel like while we‘re still not totally on the same page, I‘ve modeled the „explain and stay on eye-level instead of resorting to authoritarian methods“ so much that he‘s veered into my direction more. So, I feel like it got better and my effort paid off. But it‘s still not always as I wish it was.

  23. Susan Young says...

    My daughter is now 21 and from a very young age I made a point of apologizing to her when I was being less than the person I wanted to be. This was especially important during those teenage years for both of us. I attribute this willingness to own our mistakes to our great relationship.

    • Kate says...

      This is so great and encouraging to hear! I‘m happy for you (and your daughter)!

  24. Sally says...

    Apologising wasn’t something my parents (my dad particularly) ever did. I went to bed in tears at least 3 or 4 times a year, after getting told off about something, thinking that they didn’t like/love me any more. It was honestly the worst feeling. And I remember telling myself, when I was about 10, that I’d never let my children go to bed on an argument.

    In the 32 years I knew my dad, I can honestly say I never heard him apologise for anything, or even just back down when he was wrong. I loved him very much (he died in 2017), but he was a pretty self-obsessed and difficult guy. It was always his way, or no way.

    • c says...

      my dad won’t apologize either and i think it’s tragic. it keeps him at distance from everyone.

  25. Emily says...

    I’m going to be a first time parent in a few months and have been following a couple instagram accounts that discuss this very thing! In case anyone else needs resources:
    @biglittlefeelings
    @drbeckyathome

    • Emily says...

      Hi fellow Emily! I have a two year old son and I basically ONLY follow those two accounts. They are both incredibly helpful. Just wanted to say you are most definitely in good hands with them!

  26. Gertrude's Tine says...

    My hope is that I’m not adding to my kid’s therapy bill. He had an outburst the other night – not wanting to get ready for bed, moving like molasses delaying brushing teeth… until I flared up in anger. He responded by stomping around. We both took a breather and were able to settle into bed. When we talked about our mutual feelings I said ‘would it help to say what you were feeling instead of stomping like ‘mommy, I wish you would fall into a vat of syrup right now and swim and swim and get sticky and messy. Or mommy, I was so mad I wanted to pop a bunch of balloons.’ We made it into a game coming up with silly things to do to express our anger instead of shouting or stomping.

    Again, I really hope I’m not exponentially increasing his future therapy bills…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That is so sweet. You sound like a great mom.

  27. Claudia says...

    Thank you for this. I am struggling with parenting two teens, with the older one in particular. I am worried that we won’t come out of the teenage years unscathed and I’m seriously considering seeking help. Go gentle resonates, not just as a reaction, but to be gentle with myself, reminding myself that it’s ok to ask for help.

    • Ellen says...

      I hear you. Teens can be very challenging! Have you ever read “How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk”? I know it’s been around for several decades, but I’m literally just reading it now. Helpful for all age groups! <3

    • cg says...

      If you feel you want professional help, there is no shame to seek it. Better to err on the side of “get as much help/support as possible” than not enough. I am a parent of a teen on the spectrum, and teen years are most definitely difficult what with hormones and all. I just want to say: I hear you. I see you. I feel you. Do what feels correct for your family.

  28. Colleen S says...

    Yesterday, my dad got on my 25-year-old sister’s case for choosing to not meet our sister’s boyfriend based off of several very valid reasons. He called her immature, and told her she wasn’t giving him a fair chance. She’s 25, and able to make up her own choices. Even if he did apologize, no one would believe him. He only does it to make himself feel better, he never means it. Sorry to rant like this, I don’t have an outlet.

    • S says...

      If you haven’t yet discovered Dr. Becky at home on Instagram, I highly recommend following – practical strategies like this and great explanations!! https://instagram.com/drbeckyathome?igshid=g72ij6y131u4
      Lina Perl sounds just as amazing.

  29. Hannah says...

    This is how “blow ups” with my Dad would often end, and to this day it warms my heart to look back on. We’d fight about something, he’d send me to my room, and then a little while later he’d come in and apologize and we’d talk about it (and I’d end up apologizing, too!)

    My Dad’s general philosophy on life is, “everybody’s just trying to make a living.” Meaning, everyone is doing their best and empathy and compassion is key – even when we don’t understand it. This applies to people (why did that person react that way? why did that person make a different decision than I would have?) and animals (why do coyotes have to eat rabbits, it’s cruel!) Everybody and everything is just trying to get through life and it’s not always pretty or straightforward but it’s important to remember — everybody’s just trying to make a living.

  30. Marisa V. says...

    I just had a baby and reflecting on how I want to raise him I think back to my own childhood and how my mom never apologized for her actions or hurtful words. So much can be healed by making yourself a little vulnerable and saying “I’m sorry” and asking if you can talk about it. That’s something I am committed to as my child grows.

  31. pmia says...

    Thank you for this.

  32. janine says...

    My child has lots of energy and enthusiasm, which I love (and he’s an only child), but recently he kept dancing around and running around while I was cooking, and I kept telling him to please be careful, the burner was on, there was boiling water which could burn him, the oven was hot, the kitchen was not the place to fool around or play fetch with the dog, etc. I said he could do those things in the living room. When he started bopping around again near a pot of boiling water, I lost it and SCREAMED at him (and did tell him to go to his room) – although it was clearly for his own safety, I felt horrible and he cried. Of course, I later apologized for yelling, but I also pointed out that I kept repeating myself numerous times and he wasn’t listening, and that I yelled at him to keep him safe, because I don’t want him to get hurt! Of course, he understood.

    • NH observer says...

      I love this! My seven-year-old is just the same; in fact, he literally does LAPS around the kitchen/living room/dining room (all one space in our open-plan house) and has now finally gotten adept at dodging around an open refrigerator or cabinet door. I have to confess I’ve given up shooing him away while I have something on the stove (simply because it happens every evening), but I’ve drawn the line at using the oven and he seems to get that. That’s lovely that your child understood your explanation!

  33. MB says...

    Thank you so much for sharing, and it’s so reassuring to see so many of us are in the same boat! Pandemic parenting with little ones makes me feel like I’ve done an ironman by the end of each day, and it’s not always possible to be as patient as we aim for. Apologizing for when I’ve reacted to strongly is always well received by my kids, and similarly my kids now apologize. When my 4 yo’s behavior isn’t ideal, I say to her “your feelings are okay, but your behavior is not okay”. I think I read that in the ‘How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen…’ book, which I’ve turned to a lot these last 11 months. I feel it’s important to help the little ones understand that big emotions are normal and don’t need to be hidden, but even when we have big emotions we can still make good choices with our actions.

    • Erin says...

      Yes to this! My kids are 7 and 10, and we’ve had a lot of conversations over the last few months about how it is OK to have *any* bad feeling you can think of. You’re allowed to be frustrated, sad, angry, fed up, disappointed, etc. etc. etc. But not every way of dealing with your feelings is OK … saying “I’m so fed up!” is fine, but slugging your brother because you’re fed up with him is not. We also talk about how everyone has bad feelings sometimes — even grown-ups, which I think is a really important message for kids to hear. And even grown-ups sometimes make the wrong choice about how to handle their bad feelings, but we try hard not to and talk about what we could do better next time.

  34. Laura says...

    Supernova looks fantastic. It reminds me of a wonderful movie I saw years ago called “Away From Her” which made me ugly cry from start to finish.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes!!! One of my favorite movies.

  35. Yes, always. I think the only way to teach them how to express remorse for their own actions is to to do so yourself when you mess up!

  36. K says...

    I just want to add that giving space for children to really feel and process their emotions, including their emotions surrounding the apology, is so important. Growing up, my dad would apologise so quickly for his outbursts but I wouldn’t be ready to forgive and move on. I still wanted to storm but I learnt to smile instead.

  37. Cheryl says...

    I had wonderful, loving parents. But I can still feel the pit in my stomach when I knew my mom was going to start screaming.

    Now that I’m parenting a sweet, goofy but stubborn son with very selective hearing during a pandemic, I also find myself losing it more frequently and over things I regret. I’ve started waiting until everyone is calm and we’re walking the dog or playing trains soon after to start a conversation about what happened and sometimes, I apologize.

    I don’t know if I’m getting better but this post makes me feel like I’m on the right track. I often repeat something Michelle Obama wrote when I need a moment of self-coaching. Her mom always said she wasn’t raising children, she was raising adults. My frog and toad and freight train-adoring boy will grow up to become a friend, coworker, and possibly a partner, husband, and dad. I think that how to manage conflict, along with understanding consent, may be the most important things I teach him. Thanks for your honesty and this site.

    • Ophelie says...

      This is being written months later, but just in case you see it: you sound like such a thoughtful, wonderful mother!

  38. Amelia says...

    My mom has never apologized to me for anything and probably never will. I’m 31

    • Diane says...

      Mine either – different generation for sure. I am 50 and my mom is in her 80s. Alzheimers has clouded her mind and sometimes she is downright mean and nasty but sometimes she is her sweet self. She rarely tells me she loves me either. I think it was how she was raised and I don’t have kids but i try to actively break the cycle.

    • celeste says...

      I’m sorry. xoxo

  39. Monica says...

    It’s a rare day when I don’t have to do this kind of repair work. We use “I’m sorry” in combination with restorative practice, it varies, but usually includes “what can I do differently” or how can I help you feel better?”

    We also practice asking forgiveness with our kids.

    Our latest addition has been “I was wrong.” My husband grew up in a home where everything was his fault and never his parents’ fault. I didn’t have much guidance either. We want to give our children the gift of wrongness. It’s ok to admit that we’ve been wrong, because WE ALL are wrong sometimes.

    We strongly want our boys (future men) to be able to honestly admit when they’ve been wrong and ask for forgiveness and what they can do differently next time. It’s humbling to model that, but it’s the good fight.

  40. Amy says...

    So helpful to read today. Thank you. I think lots of parents have hit those breaking points too.

  41. Thank you so much for this. I snapped today and I’ve felt horrible all evening. I even snuck in to lay beside my sleeping little ones to try to quell my anguish. This gentle reminder helped to mend my heart.

  42. Carolanne says...

    My mother was a coiled spring throughout my childhood. Her terrible and often violent temper is vividly remembered by all of my siblings, but my mother never apologizes to anyone. She knows that her relationships with her children are fractured, but it’s too much work for her to even try to repair it. For that reason, apologizing to my own daughter is so important to me. Then we make a plan for how we can do better next time. She’s just four now, and children can forget specific incidents, but fear and mistrust quietly build up over the years and can completely alter how you feel when you are around someone. Even seeing a text message from my mother makes my shoulders tense, despite the not having argued with her in many years.

    • Elle says...

      I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone and your reply resonated with me. Sounds like you are a on a better path as a mom. I, too, learned from my upbringing that I needed to do better with my own family. I am trying to be braver and set better boundaries with my own parents or people who do not respect me and my boundaries but it’s something I have to work on all the time. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing.

    • Kate says...

      I, too, wanted to thank you for sharing. I have a very similar story with my mom, too. By now, I also feel sorry for my mom for not being able to see this and apologize. But doing it differently with your own kids can be very healing, I find.

  43. rachel simmons says...

    YES. We do this often in our household, the grace/forgiveness/i screwed up/ mommy had big emotions talk and language are very familiar with our 5 yr old daughter. its soooo important. we also encourage this kind of language/skill with her friends when they offend and upset one another. life skills!

  44. Julia A Smith says...

    Something I cherish about my relationship with my two teens (one newly minted teen in particular!) as compared to that with my parents is that we can snap at each other, apologise, talk and be good. It’s a life skill that they are already way better at than I was at their age.

  45. Alice says...

    It’s amazing how often those two words are all that is needed to repair a relationship! My mom taught me this, and I didn’t realize how rare of a skill acknowledging your mistakes is till I was an adult in relationships. It takes self knowledge and an ability to grow to do. When used appropriately (not over used, for things that aren’t your fault, or insincerely), an apology is powerful.

  46. katie says...

    This is so helpful Lisa. We’ve done “it’s okay to be angry, it’s not okay to be mean.” But this love you/like behavior phrase resonates so much with frustrations we’ve had at home. Copying down to share with hubs!

  47. Mags says...

    I regularly apologize to my kids which may mean that I regularly yell at them inappropriately too. I’m an imperfect human, but I’m trying and that’s what I want them to see.

    • Navneet says...

      This is totally how I feel, I do a LOT of apologizing! But I agree – we’re showing them we can reason out our feelings and modeling it for them as well.

    • Peggy says...

      Honestly this is extremely helpful in adult relationships too! It’s okay mama, none of us are perfect. You’re doing a great job.

  48. Tricia says...

    Love this! I had a similar experience with my dad when I was little. He came home from what I imagine was a hard day at work and overreacted to something I did that I don’t remember now. The part I do remember was that he came back to me and apologized afterward. Such a legacy in one small moment! I try to be intentional about apologizing to my own young kids now, too.

  49. Ann says...

    WHew! Love to hear that this happens to you too. This usually happens to me right after I’ve read something frustrating/scary/annoying on my phone or email and then I take it out on my 4 year old.

    She has taken to calling these outbursts ‘rascal mama’. I always apologize and talk through it with her.

    The other day she was wildly fussing about having to wash her hair. I walked away and when I came back she said, “Whoops, sorry, I was being a rascal mama.”

    • Isabella says...

      Oh, “rascal mama” is adorable!

  50. Jules says...

    I love this post but I’m mainly moved to comment to share my appreciation for the headliner photo you chose. It just always makes my heart glow when I see my race represented because it is just so rare in this country. Thank you.

    • SG says...

      Yes! Especially when it doesn’t have anything to do with “Asian” or “Asian-American” in the actual article. We are still just people. We are here.

  51. Kate says...

    My parents have never apologized to me for anything, and it’s a big part of why we don’t have a relationship now. Being vulnerable and able to admit our mistakes is such a big part of connecting with another person. Kudos to all of you parents out there being self reflective and for doing this hard work.

    • C says...

      Same here. I grew up with a parent that constantly lost his temper and punished me for things I didn’t deserve. I’m nearing 30 and have never received an apology. For this reason, our relationship is really strained and difficult. Props to the parents who are doing things differently.

    • Hoiho says...

      I grew up a bit frustrated at things my parents did (i.e. raised us in a slightly cloistered, strict christan environment and all the ideas this entailed). But, one of my friends who had been through much bigger things than me said that we need to forgive our parents because, for all the things they may have done wrong, they’ve often done a lot of things right and supported us to move onto our next steps in life (for me that was university at the time). This advice has stuck with me. My parents are very imperfect but they love and support me. This conversation made me lower my expectations of my family and to just love their imperfect selves, as they love me. I get that I’m lucky and that for some people family is a much more complicated concepted.

  52. Charlie says...

    Yes! This is so important. Not only can an apology and repair teach kids how to repair in their own friendships / relationships, it also:

    – Shows your kids what is and isn’t ok behavior
    – How responsible people respond when they make a mistake
    – That they deserve better, and can expect better

    I have a close friend who recently confided that she’s been in a number of abusive relationships. And i think it stems back to her her parents: They were always right, she always had to adjust and put up with it, and she never felt like she had the right to expect better or be treated better. Alternatively, my mom did apologize, taught me to expect others to be kind and honor boundaries, and how to stick up for myself when that didn’t happen – even with her. I realize now how much that taught me self worth and trained me to keep healthy relationships – and avoid harmful ones.

    The behavior we model for our kids is what they will come to expect from others + feel they deserve.

    • Isabella says...

      Charlie, thank you for sharing this, and for the way you’ve articulated it!

  53. Julia says...

    Dear Joanna, I too had a weekend that made me loose my temper because it’s just all become too much and it takes so little to loose it these days. And with my community mostly shifting online (and specifically to this community here!) in this pandemic, I couldn’t help but wondering if anyone here had maybe a hard weekend too. To see this post from you on this Monday morning makes me feel so much less alone! So many seem to be struggling and it’s extra hard if little kids have to take the brunt of it. I remember so well to be on the other side of this with my mother. While I have often apologized to my two little boys when it gets to this, I will make an extra big effort to apologize to them EVERY TIME from now on. I still wish I would never loose my temper ever, but right now it’s very unrealistic to just hold it all in. And kids can really drive you crazy sometimes haha

    And most importantly: YOU ARE DOING GREAT! You seem like an amazing mother and your boys are so lucky to have you.

    • Casey says...

      Julia, you are doing great too. And you are right, this is all just too much for us as humans.

  54. Casey says...

    I needed this today. And could have written it. Basically same events unfolded in this house this weekend. I lost my temper with my 7 year old. I do make a point to apologize when I screw up, but I don’t think I’ve been great about giving them the space to express their feelings about it. My 9 year old came to me when we were still heated, but each cooling off. He said, “Mommy, I have a theory. I think O might feel scared when you yell at him because you normally don’t do that.” Talk about my heart being ripped out of my chest. I had great chats — and apologizes — with them after that.

    • M says...

      Oh my, what sweet kids you have!! You sound like an awesome Mom, Casey

    • Julia says...

      Yes doesn’t it just rip your heart out when you see how vulnerable they are? I wish I could remember those moments right before I lose my temper, making me pause and do the right thing (which means not getting ruffled to put it in Janet Lansbury’s words). How nice would that be…

      And Casey, if you are the person responding to my comment above yours, I am sending you lots of love. How sweet of you! You are doing great too.

  55. Elle says...

    As a mother of twin daughters, as well as a counselor, I did my very best to model sincere apologies. I was, and am, a flawed parent despite efforts to be a mom-of-the-year-trophy-recipient. With that said, we barely survived the teenage years. I felt like when we had a rhythm established with one, the other would melt down. They took turns, I swear it. And in their hormonal/angry outbursts I would occasionally respond in kind. Those dark days are now two years past. Friends, currently enduring the same with their own teenagers, recently asked for advice. And I, in turn, went to my daughters. While apologies were said by all then, and again and again after the fact, the incidents are remembered. They remember my hurtful words far more than they remember their own. Their advice? Go gentle. I share this only because knowing what I know now – and if I were parenting moody teenagers in this pandemic winter – these words would adorn many a post-it on many a mirror and hidden nook. For sanity’s sake.

  56. Daniela says...

    I’ve always remembered a moment when I was a young child, and my mom apologized for losing her temper. I don’t remember what it was over, but I do remembering her saying “people who are angry are actually often a little sad.” To me, this holds so true and it’s really stuck with me – often when I or someone else is angry I try to see if it is actually due to being sad (or disappointed) over something instead.

  57. B says...

    Wow. These comments here make me feel so seen. My parents NEVER apologize or think they are at fault for anything (even when I tell them they hurt me). I am now in my early 30’s and we are in the midst of a really challenging time in our relationship because they never take responsibility for anything and just get defensive and shift the blame. I am so thankful to my husband who is an A+ apologizer for teaching me how powerful it can be. I wish they would learn to let their guard down and treat their children (and others in their life) like real people and realize they are flawed, multi-faceted humans like the rest of us.

  58. Anna says...

    I really believe that a sincere apology from someone we love can be one of the most healing things in the world.

  59. Ashley says...

    my daddy spanked me one time, for reading under my desk when I was supposed to be cleaning my room. I’m sure he had told me many, many times and just was at the end of his rope. It was the one and only time he spanked me, and he came back a few minutes later and apologized. His apology is one of my main lasting childhood memories.

    • Katha says...

      I remember one time I had an argument with my mom (I guess I was around 11 to 13?) I don’t know what it was about but we were yelling in each others faces. And then she slapped me and left my room.
      She apologized. She was crying and very much upset because it was something she swore she would never ever do. And that it happened to her really made her feel guilty and helpless.
      The thing is that for me it wasn‘t a big deal. I don‘t remember feeling hurt by it. As strange as it sounds. It was more like an eruption and after that the storm had settled. Like ok I guess I deserved that. Although that’s not true and she made sure to tell me that.
      But I remember this incident and we‘ve talked about it a few times since then. She still feels guilty and I still tell her that I forgave her right away.

  60. Katharine says...

    Once when I was a kid, my mom gave me a card with a handwritten apology. She was driving and passed it to me in the car, let me read it quietly and gently explained that she wanted me to know that she was sorry for…I don’t even remember!! But I do remember holding the card close and cherishing the feeling of being treated with such kindness and respect. Kids crave that the same as adults!

    • Kiana says...

      This kinda brought tears to my eyes. Hope I remember to do this when my kids are old enough to read.

  61. Kali says...

    This! So good. I started trying to do this after reading No Drama Discipline (really really good book!) and seeing it in the amazing Big Little Feelings instagram, and it has been a powerful practice. It puts you on the same level as your child, teaches humility and empathy, and helps give them the vocabulary to talk about feelings. After an unfortunate epiosode of losing my sh*t the other day, I was apologizing to my 3 year old daughter and right after she said sorry to me and that she should have listened better!

    • Daniela says...

      Talk about teaching emotional regulation and holding yourself accountable – so wonderful that you’ve modeled to your kid to do that at a young age!

  62. Elle says...

    My mom never owned any of her mess ups, EVER. It matters. I made a vow I would always own my stuff with my kids or anyone, really. I live for hearing how I messed up, owning it, and trying to connect and do better. I am eternally envious of a friend who had a bit of a similar intense childhood as me and a mom who was a mess but, unlike my mom, her mom has pulled her aside and owned her mess and apologized. Their relationship wasn’t magical overnight but it really does make a difference and they have a better relationship for it. Meanwhile, my mom has doubled down on not owning it, no apologies, and we now haven’t spoken in nearly two years. It matters. Own your sh%t. Everyone makes mistakes but it’s admitting it and repairing it that make it exponentially better.

  63. T says...

    I had to teach my husband how to apologise. He was paralyzed by the fear of being wrong. I explained it like this … once trust is broken, you can choose two paths – the first is to try and atone without an apology, all your efforts will be viewed through the lens of you having done something wrong, and you will gain very little ground, very slowly as you work to rebuild trust. IF, however, you apologise first (thoughtfully and genuinely) you reset the trust, sometimes further back than it was, but you indicate to the other person that you intend on atoning. Those acts of atonement are now viewed with forgiving eyes, eyes that WANT to see the good. Repair moves so much faster with that contract back in place.

  64. Irene says...

    Always!!! Our kids use the same model to calm down and apologize if they snap at us too (even the 2 year old). It helps them focus on how to move forward with everyone’s feelings in mind, not just about the apology, but about the frustrating situation too. This is not a parenting technique that my husband or I grew up with, but one that we wholeheartedly support! To this day, our own parents have difficulty showing humility or respect when they are wrong around us, and I love that our kids have already learned to be comfortable with that! It’s such an integral part of learning from mistakes! And in learning to deescalate situations in the first place.

    • Daniela says...

      I’d love to hear how you do this! Do you send your kids for some quiet time to reflect in their rooms? When my husband and I have kids I’d really love to parent similarly to you and your husband so I’m all ears on tips on this.

  65. Lisa says...

    I grew up with a mother who was very loving and frank. So if I was being a pest, she would say “I love you. I don’t like your behavior right now.” For me, this has grown into my being able to say to my own daughter: “I love you. We need to have some space from each other so we don’t say things to hurt the others feelings.” (My daughter [9] has a hard time knowing when to stop). This lets us both cool down. With my son [7], as my frustration grows, we talk about it: “Hey, H, I’m feeling very frustrated and my patience is running out because you aren’t listening.” Taking that time to explain how I’m feeling (and vice versa to hear how they are feeling) has been so helpful. I want them to know I am fallible and so are they; no perfection is required and grace should be freely given. And, we ALL apologize on our own schedule. When the kids hurt each other, we take the Daniel Tiger approach: I’m sorry that X happened. How can I make it better?

    • Dana says...

      Lisa, I love the concept of actively letting your kids in on the process of you losing your cool. I feel like it has the ability to really diffuse the situation. I will absolutely use this with my 2.5 year old when the time comes. Thank you!

    • Sarah says...

      We just watched that Daniel Tiger episode today! My kids are almost 7 and a bit old for Daniel Tiger, but they started rewatching it a few days ago and we all find it is full of great advice. I really like adding, “How can I make it better.”

  66. Lisa Gray says...

    I have teenagers and um, well, it seems like one of us is apologizing on any given day. It’s hard! And important to model. We are human and no one is perfect. These are trying times and It is unrealistic to think we will always make the best choice, even when we know better.

  67. Caitlin says...

    My mom apologized frequently when I was a child, for yelling, losing her temper, etc. The biggest impact that had on me was that I always knew her being upset with me was temporary and she loved me. It also made apologizing feel natural to me as an adult.

  68. JO says...

    Great post!
    Apologizing is so important. My seven year old daughter is highly emotional, willful, and prone to meltdowns. No feeling goes unfelt. I was the opposite type of child– even keeled and always aiming to please– and now as an adult, I am frequently baffled and frustrated by this hotheaded little person whose reactions I can rarely predict. I’m an elementary school teacher and I assumed I had parenting in the bag. But I’ve had to truly train myself how to be the mom that my daughter needs. Learning to apologize has definitely been an integral part of my crash course!

    • Lisa says...

      I feel you, Jo!!! I grew up a total keep the peace people-pleaser and my oldest son felt like he was from Mars for a good 4 years. So head strong and for a bit I even thought he had Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Training yourself to be the parent your kid needs is SO TOUGH on top of normal parenting. I’m with you and BRAVO!!!

    • A says...

      I have a very feeling and sensitive daughter too and as a teacher I quickly learned how different those roles are. In the early days I had to actively work to take off my teacher hat and find who I was as a parent so that I could meet her needs too. Apologizing is so important in our house too. You can’t run a family like a classroom. Although I do apologize in the classroom too when necessary. We all make mistakes, even “grown ups”.

  69. M says...

    Dr. Becky Kennedy has some great scripts for this kind of situation on her instagram (of all things!). I find it great both for talking to kids and understanding myself as a kid. https://www.instagram.com/drbeckyathome/?hl=en

  70. possibly my favorite post yet, thank you for sharing.

  71. Sarah D says...

    Honestly, I think that teaching my child to apologize by modeling apologies (sincere, non-modified apologies) has been my most vital success as a parent. My child is such a great apologizer–she knows when she’s messed up, and we don’t have to prompt her to apologize thoughtfully. (She’s 11). And I do credit her dad and me with teaching her to do so because WE do it (to each other and to her) all the time. Whether we’ve fully lost our temper, misunderstood something that was said, or were just a crabby-pants, my house models good apologies regularly.

  72. I say sorry all the time, I explain my feelings and why I think I overacted. Their response is always the same. Its okay mum, you have lots of your plate or its okay mum I understand or sometimes they take ownership for their part. I never did before but the relationship with my kids is so much better since I became ‘human’.

  73. Kate says...

    Reading this has made me realize that my own mother has always done this. Wow. Despite the dysfunction in our home she definitely modelled healthy conflict resolution with us which has served me well in adulthood. I have no qualms about starting a positive cycle and coming back to take ownership and apologize after an upsetting incident.

    However, when she would circle back and say, “Sorry I lost my temper earlier, it’s not fair to talk to you like that” as a kid I would just be like, “Yeah, whatever” and begrudgingly accept the apology…so it’s not a magic pill for warm fuzzies and healing but in the long run definitely creates mutual respect, safety (especially the extra step mentioned above where you share feelings) and most importantly, models healthy coping mechanisms!

  74. annie says...

    i’m 35 and i still remember my mom telling me she was sorry for yelling on days when things got to be too much. it mattered to me that she was telling me she’d been wrong. kids often don’t know that adults CAN be wrong. it was good to know my mom and i could talk like that, and now, i know how to apologize, too. :)

  75. Roxana says...

    This is a good post, and the comments are so encouraging on so many levels.

    Like others have shared, my parents (however loving and well-intentioned) never apologized to us growing-up. There were times when I really resented it, because the implication was that their part in whatever conflict we were having was faultless (of course it wasn’t and very rarely is for anyone). My mom, in particular, grew-up in a really dysfunctional home where my emotionally abusive grandfather put everyone on the defensive. It’s really hard for her to admit when she’s wrong.

    I vowed to be and parent differently, and making a point of apologizing has been so good for me and my kids. God has used it to help me know and understand my kids better. My seven year old daughter and I are very different. A few months ago I’d lost my temper with her (I really over-reacted), so I went to apologize and ask for forgiveness. I was met with a torrent of emotions. The poor kid was bottling-up a lot of angst. She is far more sensitive than I’d realized. I felt so badly. She let it all out. It was hard, but good. She isn’t naturally one to just let out her thoughts and feelings, but I didn’t realize how much she was holding in because she is otherwise an outgoing and spunky seven year old. My nine year old son, on the other hand, is like me and says what he’s thinking and feeling when he’s thinking and feeling it, which can sometimes be really hurtful. It’s easier for me to understand him, since we operate similarly. Either way, neither extreme is healthy, so these exchanges have been a good opportunity to acknowledge things about ourselves that need to change. For us, this means asking God for help to respond in gracious, constructive and wise ways when we’re feeling angry, frustrated, impatient, hangry, etc.

    As an aside, Gary Chapman of The Five Love Languages wrote a book The Five Love Languages of Apology. I haven’t read it (erm), but I bet it’s good!

    • Luella says...

      Yes! This is me too.

  76. Whitney says...

    I apologize to my kids all the time. I do not want to portray an unrealistic expectation of being an adult. I make mistakes, I’m not perfect, nor do I want them to think I am.
    Something we taught our three kids to do is when someone apologizes to you, never say “it’s okay”, because it isn’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t be apologizing in the first place. Instead, graciously accept the apology with a “thank you for your apology”. It’s important to accept an apology, not the behavior that warranted it.

  77. Sara says...

    Love this ❤️ thank you so much for sharing

  78. T says...

    With my husband, who I knew was *it* right away, I was determined to not let my biggest faults (being argumentative, insecure, sharp-tongued and mean) ruin us the way it had for so many of my previous romantic relationships. I’ve never insulted him in a fight, we’ve had maybe two fights with raised voices, but our mantra is “I love you more than being right.” He’s a natural apologizer–and he taught me how to be too! We joke now that our six month old’s first words are going to be “sorry” because of how much we say it!

    Being “right”–or “winning” (which is usually just hurting the other person when you feel hurt) is so much less fulfilling than being loving, and it turns out, so much easier when you practice it a bit.

    • Mariana says...

      Loved this :) you sound like a wonderful couple.

    • Sarah says...

      Love this, T. The best wedding we got (and the only advice we remember) is that we have to value peace over being right, and I have come back to it so many times!

  79. Shona says...

    YES. This concept has both changed how I feel about myself as a parent, and how I communicate with my kids. I still use it now with a 17-year old and 14-year old (because those moments don’t ever end, really). And you know what, they do it back–which is just amazing–apologizing for snapping at me or saying something rude because they were in a bad mood. It makes me sad that I never had that sense of being seen and acknowledged with my own parents, but so thankful that I get to chart a different path.

    • Marla says...

      And my husband and I apologize to our 19, almost 20 yo, and our 22 yo – to your point about it never ending. We’re all human.

  80. Meghan says...

    Joanna, you model this in the COJ community you’ve created. I’ve always seen you as a mentor- like a cool, older sister (been reading for nearly 10 years!) and you apologize & model repairing in the comment section. I didn’t see healthy apologies often as a kid so your example, posts like this, or books like Why Won’t You Apologize by Harriet Lerner are appreciated! Xo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh, that means so much to me! Thank you so much.

    • Amy says...

      I just want to second this! Joanna, you always are so gracious with your apologies.

  81. rme says...

    Love this.

    I just want to challenge the notion of being a “good person.” I’m a psychotherapist, and I spend a lot of time dismantling this idea with my clients. We are all complex people who sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things and cause harm. Becoming attached to seeing oneself (or ones parents for that matter) as “good people” can make it hard to integrate the bad. The narratives we write about ourselves and our loved ones are powerful, and can really inhibit our ability to make sense of our experience.

    • Sarah says...

      Needed this today. Thank you!

    • Annie says...

      Wow, I love this so much!! I have felt so much relief in my own life when I let go of the idea of being a “good person” and became OK with being a “regular person who tries to do good but still has all of the hallmark regular problems that most people have.” It has taken my life off of this weird pedestal where I was previously “falling off” the pedestal every time I was cranky/disorganized/didn’t immediately feel happy about someone’s else good news etc. Finally I was like… maybe I am not a 100% selfless/organized/insert positive trait here person… but I am a regular person who is TRYING every day and that felt more heroic and much less despairing. It’s so nice to hear that you are helping clients integrate their lives more in your professional work, RME – I’m sure you are really changing lives!!

    • Jody says...

      I couldn’t agree more. I personally feel that ordinary challenges in a family prepare kids for life— where people get cranky, have conflicts, lose their temper, get tired of each other, etc. It’s good to show that there’s a limit to people’s patience. That we all need to be mutually respectful, and so on. As a parent I think a lot about resiliency and how the price is low to learn when you’re young. My focus as a parent is to prepare our kids for independent adult life (and love and enjoy them!). We do a lot of apologizing in our family for sure. But the big picture is giving myself some grace— it’s not healthy for our kids to be treated like fragile flowers. The fact that their loving, always trying, normal human parents are “real” is good preparation for life.

  82. anonymous says...

    My parents had a pretty tumultuous marriage when I was growing up. They stayed together and are doing so much better. Still. It was a rough (and at times, scary) childhood.

    There was never any physical abuse, but the words they used were plenty violent. They often dragged my sister and me into their disagreements and asked us to choose sides.

    All of this to say: my dad apologies every couple of years–with a catch in his throat and tears in his eyes. My mom never has. I don’t really know how to articulate what this truth makes me feel.

    But I guess I just wanted to put it out there that it does make me feel lots of things. I’m learning how I do and don’t want to parent my own children. And I’m learning to forgive people who did and didn’t ask for forgiveness.

    Thank you for this vulnerable post. Didn’t realize how much I needed it!

  83. illana says...

    100% agree — wholeheartedly apologizing to my kids has been one of the biggest learning opportunities of my entire life. I get to practice being a human, and it reminds me to let go (over and over) of the delusion of perfection that we are always carrying and think we can try to achieve. These moments are some of the real-est, most connected moments I have in life, and very often lead to even more amazing moments, because then the kids and I end up all feeling extra-willing to be vulnerable, and often more sharing happens. My kids are now 12 and 16, and I do love that modeling this behavior is great for them, yet honestly — it’s incredibly beautiful and special for *me*. Hopefully over all these years the practice (along with meditation) has helped to make these times a bit more infrequent, and I think/hope I’m now quicker to realize my reaction and correct it.

  84. Mel says...

    I was a pretty good kid and rarely got my Moms frustrations (she was/is also a wildly patient/loving woman). But I distinctly remember her snapping at me pretty hard one time (I was 10ish? give or take 5 years), I have no idea what it was about but she came back to me on the couch laid her head in my lap and said ‘i’m sorry babe, it was a long hard day and i’m so tired and didn’t have anything to give you and i’m just sorry’ (something along those lines) so I played with her hair and kissed her and we just sat there. I wasn’t stressed that she had snapped just really surprised. When she came back I remember thinking ahhh there’s my Mom. I do the same for my 4 year old. I told her the other day ‘I have no problem admitting when i’m wrong, you’ll soon it’s one of the best tricks in life to be able to do so’.

    • Sage says...

      amazing, mel!! <3

  85. Katha says...

    Oh there has been a lot of yelling in our family this lockdown winter. We all tend to yell a lot anyway. I hate to yell at my kids but I‘m easily triggered these days. I do apologize.
    I do express my anger about their behavior. But I‘d like to believe that I‘m never mean or insulting. And I certainly never belittle anyone with words.

    I remember a lot of yelling between me and my parents, too. But never did I not feel loved and accepted. Thinking about as an adult I guess I always felt like I had equal rights in that matter.
    (You scream, I scream, we all scream for … never mind.) And they apologized as well. And they never put me down.

    • Angela says...

      No guilt here over being a yeller. I don’t feel damaged for being yelled at. I grew up in a house of loud talkers and yelling. However, my parents never apologized when they were wrong. My kids know I’m a human with feelings and I’m quick to impatience. I apologise when I’m wrong and make attempts at repairing instead of pretending it never happened.

  86. Julie says...

    I’m 40 and my mom and I rarely fight, but the times when we do disagree and it’s her who gets short with me, she always always calls me back within minutes to apologize. And it matters every time, I am always appreciative.

    My father never, ever apologized for anything. Admitting he was wrong made him the bad guy, and as someone who compulsively needed people to like him, that wasn’t an option. We haven’t spoken in almost a decade now.

  87. Alicia R says...

    My mom apologized to me for losing her temper and punishing me for something I didn’t do when I was a kid. I will never forget it. It was so kind, and to be treated with that much respect even as a kid – mind blown.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes! You feel SO respected as a child, especially by an all-knowing, all-powerful parent.

  88. Agnès says...

    My parents have never ever apologized and it cost me a lot to learn to do so. Now, i really enjoy it in a way. I never want to lose my temper or to hurt anyone; but when i do and apologize, i feel i m a better person. I hope my son remembers that more than my losing my temper.

  89. kat says...

    Helpful to hear about the struggles as we’re facing this with 6.5 and 3yrs. As a kid of the 80s I occasionally got spanked. What I most remember is sitting on my floor crying afterwards and my mom coming in to sit on the floor with me (usually dad spanked). I can’t remember what we talked about, or even what the punishments were for, but I remember that time sitting on the carpet with her and connecting.

  90. ERP says...

    I needed this so, so much. Thank you Joanna!

  91. gfy says...

    Also:
    I’m sorry
    Please forgive me
    Thank you
    I love you

  92. Molly says...

    I was raised in a home where my mom always came to my room to apologize after voices were raised or words were exchanged. I usually do this with my kids now too. But interestingly, I remember sitting in my room after a fight with my mom & waiting, a little smugly, for her to come in. Even when I was bawling & upset I always knew she would apologize so I would just sit & wait for it. I’m sure that was better than the alternative but I would have wanted to smack the teenage me because I definitely felt like I had the power in those situations. When I go into my kid’s rooms after an argument (they are tween/teen), I do apologize but I always make sure we are BOTH owning up to our roles in it. Very rarely (at this age anyway) is it one sided.

  93. M says...

    I’ve also told my kids several times, “Hey, what happened back there wasn’t about you, it was about me.” (I was stressed about something else, etc.)

    This came up in conversation with a friend once and it brought her to tears. Basically, she said if she had *ever* heard her mom say that, it would have a made a huge difference to her growing up. I’m a huge advocate of being emotionally honest with your kids.

    • This language and your example are so important. <3

  94. Rosie says...

    I grew up with parents who were always trying so hard to be strong and they definitely passed that on to me. I think my mother would sooner drop dead than admit she had made a mistake. The idea always seemed to be that if you want to be resilient you have to always believe that you are right even if that means gaslighting people. It took me well into adulthood to realize how toxic that mindset is and I’m still working hard to break free of it. My wife is so good at making everyone feel heard and I’ve learned a lot from her willingness to be vulnerable. I love this.

  95. Sarah K says...

    My husband never apologizes to me or to our kids. I can’t ever remember my dad doing it either. Is it a man thing? They are both good, decent men, but wow an apology sometimes would really make a difference. I apologize to my kids but it is hard.

    • Erica says...

      My husband and I worked alot on the idea of apologizing — he never used to apologize, and if he did it wasn’t a true apology (think “I’m sorry you feel that way” <–$%#@). He's definitely come around, even to the point where I've had to up my own apology game to make sure I'm holding myself to the same standard. He didnt understand for a long time why saying you were sorry was important, and why saying what you were sorry for was just as important. My dad also would rather have chewed glass than apologizes, something I've stubbornly pushed back on as I became an adult, so now apologies are really a wow when I do get them. I find men – my dad, brother, husband, friends – are more likely to do something "cute" or thoughtful as a sign of apology/acknowledging they did wrong rather than say the words. I hope to teach my son how to properly apologize when the situation warrants it, and how being right isnt always worth it.

    • Betsy says...

      I see the same with my brothers and Dad. I think part of it is the societal pressure to save face, and part of it is that tendency to compartmentalize events and emotion. Whereas my sister and I tended to hold on to things until we’d talked them through and gotten closure, my brothers would wrestle it out and leave it in the past.

      In a way, I wonder if it comes down to communication style? Like, it was fine for them because of their unspoken, mutual resolution, but when it came to the more verbal communicators, they struggled with understanding our needs and expectations.

    • Sarah K says...

      Thank you for your replies Erica and Betsy.

    • Hannah says...

      My husband tried this when we first got together, he almost wore it as a point of pride, saying “I don’t apologise for things. ever.” I was incredibly firm and told him basically to cut that shit out. I said that if he wanted to be in a relationship with me (and my at the time, 3 year old) he better get used to the idea of taking responsibility for himself, owning it and modelling emotional maturity to the kid. It might be a combination of how he was raised, socialisation around the idea of what it means to be a “man” or a lack of self awareness… but I don’t care. Emotional intelligence is something we can all learn. (I’m a therapist) Husband has risen to the occasion and is now most excellent at saying “sorry” and repairing things. Firm boundaries, friends.

    • Ana D. says...

      It’s not a man thing. It’s a person thing. And it’s a person thing to sometimes find a partner who bears behavioral resemblance to your parent.

    • W says...

      No, it is not a man thing. But it is a thing for our society to be accepting (and even welcoming) of inappropriate behavior from boys and men. This is what misogyny is. It makes us believe that “bad” behavior can just be attributed to a gender :-( (and I am over generalizing with the word “bad” but not having the skills to apologize is not okay!)

      My son is 3 and he and a kid hit each other at preschool. When the director told me about the incident, it was very much a “this is what boys do – get used to it” kind of narrative. The very next day my son complained of a girl pushing him and the director was immediately appalled and said she was working on it with her. She saw the same behavior COMPLETELY differently in the two different children. It’s so sad how systemic it is.

    • Agnes says...

      Nope. My dad always apologized after his outbursts and my mom never did. Not a ‘man’ thing at all from where I’m looking..

  96. Peg Serena says...

    I do this! I feel like if I make a mistake, I can always turn it into a good learning moment for both me and my boys. And in doing so I am (hopefully) teaching humility, empathy, compassion and responsibility. I also think maybe we will build more trust and also hopefully teach that we don’t have to be right all the time. Being right isn’t necessarily winning. And now that I think about it maybe also show them that we never stop learning and trying to do better.

  97. Amy says...

    One of the things I say when I’m apologizing has become a mantra in our family.

    “I love you, even when I am angry” and “I love you, even when you are grumpy” and “I love you, even when I am frustrated.”

    It’s a very calming reminder for all of us.

    • Lisa says...

      That’s so sweet.
      And on a silly note: “I love you, even when I’m hungry.”

      Hanger is real and I always feel so bad afterwards. Some fights can be avoided by a snack sometimes… but you only know in hindsight :)

    • Nova says...

      I noticed in the past year that my 4 year old would just shut down, storm off and cry if we spoke in any sort of stern/frustrated tone to her, so I started reciting the following to her at random moments:
      “I love you when you’re happy,
      I love you when you’re sad,
      I love you when you’re angry,
      I love you when I’M mad”
      She doesn’t want to hear it when she’s upset, but I’ll often say it while we’re playing/laughing/roughousing, hoping that it will sink it…

    • Roxana says...

      Oh, I love this Amy! Thank you for sharing this. My daughter once asked me if I still loved her (sob!) after I’d yelled at her :(. I’m definitely going to be adding this mantra to our conversations.

  98. Ceridwen says...

    Thank you Joanna, such a beautiful post. Full of truth. I try and do this too if I have overreacted. I will remember too, no two people are ever always attuned to each other, when my daughters argue. You expect and want them to get along all of the time. Impossible. I love seeing how they repair…sometimes with an apology but more often by showing one a cute photo of a pig on the phone or sharing a book.

  99. Daisy says...

    I believe in apologizing to your kiddos! I have 3 kids– 3 and under. And before I stayed at home I was a teacher. I apologize when I lose my temper… if it’s to my kids or whole class. Sometimes it is hard and sometimes it is easy to apologize after blowing up. An apology says ” I care about you enough to work through this.” It says I am trying my best, but am not perfect. Everyone is worthy of an apology. No matter how young.

  100. Heather says...

    Some of my sweetest moments have been these moments where we both get to apologize and recommit to each other. I’ve also learned a lot about how to recognize my triggers and keep my cool from an amazing parenting coach, Ralphie Jacobs. She runs the website https://simplyonpurpose.org/ where she shares tons of free parenting resources, but I mostly love following her on Instagram @simplyonpurpose. She really empowers me to play to my strengths as a parent and to keep trying, no matter what parenting fails I’ve had recently. And, her practical advice, delivered with grace and humor, has helped my fails become more infrequent. Go check her out!

  101. E says...

    My mom is so good at saying “I’m sorry” and I didn’t know how rare that was in a parent until I was much older! It has made our relationship so much stronger. She also says “we’re all works in progress.” No one is perfect, including parents, and I so appreciate her grace in apologizing, letting us apologize, and showing us that we can strive to be better people and forgive ourselves and others when we’ve fallen short. Good for you, Joanna! You’re a work in progress, just like Anton, Toby, and all the rest of us, and you’re showing them (and us) that it’s ok to make mistakes :)

  102. K says...

    I’ve fantasized about being that fairy godmother caretaker that just soothes everything with a whisper and a joke. But as you implied, I think it’s part of life for kids to see adults lose their temper. Sometimes kids *are* annoying, as we all can be. Learning to treat conflict as nbd is so important (I wish I learned before I became an adult! Still learning!) We snap, take a breather, apologize for the outburst, and figure out what we were *actually* frustrated about. And then we see if we can both do something different–maybe not complain less often about the dishes, maybe not take the complaint about dishes personally, maybe go over again why we “embrace the suck” of boring chores, maybe get some fun sponges and soap dispensers to make dishwashing a slightly more enjoyable chore (I heard Scrunge and Sponge daddys are cute and effective!).

  103. Jane I. says...

    This made my mama-heart so happy! I had a similar experience just this weekend. My toddler (who is teething) kept having melt-down after melt-down! He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to wear shoes. He didn’t want to get in the car seat… toddler stuff. I was BEYOND irritated with him and kept saying, “What’s wrong!? What do you need?! Help mommy!” He just kept following me around the house tugging on my clothes, crying and wailing.

    Suddenly, it dawned on me: I have bad days too. (lord knows) He’s just having a bad day. I decided to stop yelling at him. I bent down and held his little face and told him, “It’s okay to be grumpy. We all have bad days.”

    Even though his little toddler mind can’t fully comprehend what’s going on, it helped me so much to shift MY perspective. He is a human with emotions. Toddlers aren’t the chaotic monsters we make them out to be. I want my son to know that it’s okay to feel whatever he is feeling – good or bad. He’s allow to have a crappy day and eat puffs in his pajamas just like the rest of us.

    • Jessica says...

      I’ve been following a lot of pediatric Instagram accounts that that talk about how toddlers have such big feelings but lack the skill set, vocabulary, and development to know what to do with them, which results in tantrums. This has helped me SOO much in staying calm during my 2 year old’s tantrums.

    • Jane I. says...

      This sounds awesome! Do share!

  104. Hope says...

    I recall first apologizing to my daughter after she had a meltdown minutes before her fourth birthday party. Poor thing was running a bit of a fever, and we had no idea. Her behavior was so uncharacteristic, we just assumed she was having Big Feelings in anticipation of her party. Over the weekend past, my girl, now thirteen, and I were taking a drive around to nowhere, and I brought up how bad I felt over that yell a decade ago. The best news = she didn’t remember anything about it?! She did remember the birthday pinata my husband made of the Eiffel Tower. I also asked her about other incidents when I had over- yelled at her. She vaguely remembered one time when she threw her hat out the car window. Her memory wasn’t about me yelling, it was about me jogging (picture Frogger) out onto a two lane highway to retrieve her beloved sun hat. For the record, she has an impeccable memory, so I’m thinking the apologies over the years are working.

    • Roxana says...

      Your comment is sweet and made me laugh “she did remember when she threw her hat out the car window.” Hahaha!

  105. Amy says...

    I love this post—I agree that it is so important to acknowledge to your kids when you mess up and tell them you’re sorry. Kids are so tender-hearted and need to hear us say that. I think thankfully this is a generational shift towards being more real with our kids (or maybe my parents were just not well informed about emotional development and others were. They never apologized for the messed up things they did. I think parenting was mostly about maintaining authority and saving face for them).

  106. Naomi says...

    I think it is really important to apologize and discuss what/why it happened… but it’s equally important to explain in calm terms how the child’s behavior / actions helped cause the situation. In this case (not that I was there, but imaging a similar situation in my household), I would then say to my daughter: “I’m really sorry I reacted this way. I was frustrated and tired and let it get to me. But you also need to understand that sometimes, when I ask you to do something easy, and you refuse or don’t want to listen, that it is really frustrating to me. We are in this family together, and we both keep things going by helping each other out – so even when we just don’t want to put that plate away… we do it. Can we agree to be more helpful to each other going forward?” Everyone has a role, and everyone can sometimes push the boundaries of that role or refuse to participate – but then we take a breath and rejoin the team.

    • Christina says...

      Yes!

    • Ana D. says...

      This is often true, but no one causes another person’s emotions or behavior. And drawing that line is crucial. It doesn’t matter what somebody else did – what did I do that was or wasn’t ok? There isn’t perfect parity in the world between responsibility. It doesn’t always “take two to tango”. Sometimes somebody’s dancing a tango solo on the dance floor.

    • Fabi says...

      “We take a breath and rejoin the team” – yes, yes, yes what a wonderful comment and phrase. Whenever I mess up, which let´s face it happens often, especially during these challenging pandemic times, I try and remind myself of the following: parenting is not a sprint run, it is a marathon and we are here for long run. So if we fall, we get back up and we continue running and trying.

  107. Adel says...

    Joanna, thanks so much for sharing! This took a level of risk and vulnerability to share, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy! Brene Brown would be proud :) Just another point to add- from my experience as a psychologist, I can say I’m most worried about the parents who never lose it, because it’s usually indicative of a more controlled affect and limited range of displayed emotions. I’m not talking Autism Spectrum Disorder- I’m talking about repressed emotions in an effort to engage in perfect, almost emotionally controlled parenting. While it may look, and these are the parents who always say the right thing, they tend to lack the appropriate empathy when they make a decision that’s painful (and possibly necessary) decision for the child, or even ability to show unbridled joy in their children. This is so much healthier!!

    • Katey says...

      Thank you for this insight. It is a good reminder to be careful what we wish for.

  108. Charlotte says...

    My mother has an un-diagnosed borderline personality disorder and as such, my childhood was a minefield of explosive, unpredictable, violent anger and chastisement. Due to the limitations of her disorder, an apology for anything was wildly out of the question, which is still true today. The process of unwinding these traumatic experiences and rebuilding myself as an adult has taken many years and an excellent therapist, and yet, even as I read this, my heart broke for the child I once was because I would have done anything to be seen and loved in such a way as you care for your children, Joanna.

    To Joanna and all the other parents here who are raising their children with empathy, honesty and self-reflection: you are doing such a wonderful job. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Liz says...

      A fellow child of someone with bpd feeling seen and sending love

    • Amanda says...

      Sending a bear hug, Charlotte.

    • Nicole says...

      So beautifully put, Charlotte! I agree 100%. I am also a child of a mother with BPD and it took so much time and life experience (even having my own child!) to truly understand the emotional trauma I went through as a kid and how it has shaped my behavior my whole life. When my therapist explained the notion of rupture/attunement to me I was blown away but also saddened to know that my ruptures with my mother had NEVER healed.

      However I consider it a blessing to be able to break the circle and raise my daughter in a empathetic and loving environment where she will feel safe expressing emotions with me and vice versa.

      Thats for your comment — it is always so comforting to know you are not alone :)

    • C says...

      I remember when my youngest was around 2 or 3 realizing that no one would ever love me the way that I loved him. That my chance at having a mother had passed. My heart broke in a way it had never broken before. Loving him well plunged me into deep grief and healed some of my own childhood trauma. While I can never have a mother Or relive those childhood days, I can love my children as we all deserve to be loved and heal a little bit of the child inside. 💗

    • K says...

      I’m in the same boat in my mid-20s, just recently discovered that my mom likely has undiagnosed BPD thanks to the help of a therapist. It’s definitely awakened me to a LOT of emotional trauma from childhood (especially given that I historically have mostly reflected on my childhood as being a good one), but it’s also led me to realize that a parent-child relationship doesn’t have to be that way and really helps me value having other supportive relationships where I can practice nonviolent communication and healing. It’s hard and heartbreaking because we didn’t deserve what happened to us, yet I similarly feel comforted to see parents who make an effort to build an empathetic, loving relationship with their children and know how to repair even when they make mistakes.

    • Angela says...

      Another daughter of a mother with BPD. Feeling so seen here in the comments. Lots of healing to do for myself, and lots of love without conditions or exceptions to heap on my kids and husband.

    • A.E. says...

      Charlotte, I see you. I’m 33 and the past few years have really been a reckoning for me in confronting the toxic relationship I have with my mom. Reading these comments made me so emotional because I know my mom would never apologize sincerely for anything, and often she’ll “apologize” to get me to apologize for having any feelings visible to her. It’s such a hard thing. Sending you, and the other commenters here, love and strength.

  109. celeste says...

    I do this with both my kids, so I guess even though my 13 year old daughter is really tough right now, I am just doing the best I can.

  110. Kate says...

    Perfect timing. I also grew up in a house where my parents never apologized. What’s up with that? Anyhow, I yelled at my two kids last night when they had trouble settling down for bed. Such bad timing! On the way to school I talked to my 5 year old (the older of the two) and it was so good to apologize. I talked about my assumptions. “I assumed you were trying to sleep and your sister was keeping you awake. Was that right? Or were you two having fun together?” Then, “I assumed it was stressful for you. Is that right?” Then, “It was stressful for me and I let that stress turn into anger. Yelling didn’t help and I’m very sorry I yelled. What I really wanted was for you two to calmly go to sleep quickly, but that didn’t happen. Then I made it worse!” After a laugh we came up with a better plan.

    What really freaked me out last night was how unhelpful it was for me to yell at them about sleep. Yelling is opposite of calm, obvi, but deeper than that I was cultivating a fear of lack of sleep. You know, that thing where you lie in bed panicking about how little sleep you’re getting? (Face palm) My kids don’t need to be exposed to that type of thinking.

  111. jane says...

    My mother used to do this, and yes, it was tremendously healing in the moment for me. Also it helped save my respect for her when otherwise her actions might have generated a rebellious streak.

    We talked about it when I’d grown and I thanked her for apologizing to me as a child/teen and she confessed that she used to drink an entire pot of coffee just to get through each day and coffee plus no food (she was always super weight conscious) equaled epic ‘hangry’ fits. She finally quit coffee and became far more of a human.

  112. Lindsay says...

    Yes, I apologize whenever I feel like I overreacted with my kids or my husband. I grew up in a family where no one apologized. Ever. So I wanted to parent differently and even within my marriage. Hopefully as my kids grow they’ll model that behavior in their own relationships❤️

  113. Amanda says...

    Culturally, my parents are very against the idea of apologizing to a child, especially for something as “trivial” as a lost temper. This was really hard for me for many years, up until a few years ago, when I addressed this challenge with a therapist. There were many times when stress was taken out on me or my sister through yelling, and when I expressed my hurt or anger, it was brushed off. This strained my relationship with my parents for years. I feel so lucky to have access to resources that have helped me move on from this, and have showed me what apologizing can look like. I actually ruined many friendships and relationships because I never saw what it looked like to apologize meaningfully. I agree that it is absolutely fine to lose your temper and have those moments, and it is wonderful to see what apologizing can look like within a family, between parents and children. This is definitely something I hope to practice once I have my own kids.

  114. This post makes me think of a situation right now with my mom. She’s elderly and our relationship has turned to where I’m helping her out a lot now. I think there’s frustration on her part and maybe she’s scared too. She recently snapped at me and it was very hurtful. The daughterhood role is making me look for new ways of communicating with her. While I don’t have kids, I’m trying to look at how my mom’s idea and experience of motherhood is changing as she ages.

    • Agnès says...

      Hi Lisa, i think i understand your feeling. I m taking care of my 90 y old father, a lot, and i am the youngest of his children (i am 47). Old age is so delicate, vulnerable and yes, humiliating i think. My father is sometimes harsh and i get it. I don t think it s a good idea to live too old… it seems hard and lonely. sending you patience…

    • cg says...

      I don’t know your heritage and cultural background, but perhaps I can suggest something. There’s been a lot of talk about love languages, and I think that pertains to not just couples, but in all relationships. My background is Chinese-American, I am first generation, while my parents are immigrants. My mom had a more “global” upbringing, while my dad’s was very much steeped in Confucianism. Up until I was in my mid teens he openly kept asking my mom for one more child, a son. Anyway, all that to say, I have always had a difficult time connecting with my dad, and have had our share of differences in perspectives. One way we communicate is through food. He has never apologized for anything, and even after two degrees (one post grad), and being the first in his whole family to go and graduate from college, it wasn’t until I got married when he told me he was proud of me. I didn’t hear “I love you” until after we adopted our daughter. But food is how we communicate. I bring food over to show my love, and my parents give us food to take home to reciprocate. My mom can say all the things of affection, but I know that when my dad insists we take food home, or says he bought “this” just for us, that’s his way of saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry”. Perhaps you can think back about the ways in which your mom communicated with you not through words, and reciprocate that way.

      BTW, I went through two years of therapy to figure this out many years ago. I was dealing with an autism diagnosis for my (then) very young daughter and was very angry at the world. One day in session I had an epiphany, I had equated silence/non verbal communication as rejection and disappointment, and thought that was going to be the type of relationship I’d have with my (then, non verbal) daughter. All based on my own relationship growing up with my dad. It was very powerful to realize that connection, and in turn, I had to learn to find other ways of connection that was just as meaningful and genuine. It was a journey, I wish you only the best on your with your aging mom.

  115. Jill says...

    I know this happens to every mom out there!
    I wonder if this technique would work with adult children. Tailor it to fit the situation and go from there. I’ve been living with a bit of guilt over a few parenting choices I made so many years ago. I’m going to think about this.
    Thanks Joanna.
    Have a beautiful day.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh, I think so, for sure! My mom and I actually went through a tricky patch when I was in college and she brought it up to apologize many years later and we were both in tears and it was so healing!

    • Shannon says...

      Jill, this reminds me of Emma Straub’s novel All Adults Here, about a mother and her adult children. The mom in the story is also dealing with guilt about some of her parenting choices when the kids were younger, and it’s a beautiful story about how they all navigate their evolving relationships.

    • Cecile says...

      Hi Jill, I’m no expert, just saying this as a daughter: YES, it would work. Taking responsibility, saying you’re sorry, going through (possibly false) assumptions: I strongly believe that all these things always work with everyone, even if it’s about things that happened very long ago. There’s no guarantee that people will shower you with love for it, but they will know that you care about them. Which is such a big thing.

    • KH says...

      Just want to second this. I had a very difficult stretch with my parents in my teens (stress related to my brother’s illness and death). I literally went to Africa when I was 18 to get away from it all. Years later both parents have apologized to me and I’m now living 10 mins away and see them all the time.
      All this is to say, yes apologies are still powerful later in life. And you can rebuild the relationship even stronger than ever. Good for you for recognizing your mistakes and wanting to own it – no matter the timing!

    • Kirsten says...

      Chiming in to say it’s never too late to repair! I had such a difficult relationship with my parents (who never apologized). After they divorced my mom went to a ton of therapy and spent a lot of time while I was in my 20s talking openly with me about what she wished she had done differently (and really listening to me without reacting or getting defensive), and it was tremendous for our relationship. And to this day my father has not figured out how to repair but I wish more than anything he could. Talk to them! Kids always want repair, no matter their age.

  116. Elspeth says...

    My parents were really great about apologising to us as kids. Their humility meant a lot and as you said here, that reconnecting is so important. I was desperate to please them and for their affirmation, and for me knowing that I wasn’t in the wrong entirely on occasion was important (as well as knowing we all make mistakes and that’s ok).

  117. Tanya Waissman says...

    Thanks for your honesty. If parents are being honest, we all have (many) moments like this, and the repair is the most important work.

  118. Betsy says...

    Thanks for this. I have a classroom of 28 kiddos, and apologizing after a public flub is a real exercise in humility, for sure. If I’ve learned anything from years of messing up, it’s that trying to save face isn’t equitable to your relationship with a child. I’ve had to say to all 28 students, “I overreacted when I publicly spoke to so-and-so. I was impatient, too confrontational, and caused them unnecessary embarrassment.”

    This year it seems to happen more frequently than in the past, but I’m happy to say (I think) that this is the best year I’ve had for student/teacher dynamics.

    • Jilly says...

      Came here to comment the exact same thing! This can absolutely also be applied to teaching. An apology goes a long way, especially when we are all dealing with an incredibly difficult school year.

    • jane says...

      That is beautiful! Thank you for doing this in front of all the kids – truly teaching!

  119. Suzanne says...

    Happens here all the time. :) Our eight year-old is a tough customer with some development problems that can lead to meltdowns and frayed tempers all around. Ever since he was a toddler, we have always said that anyone can start over whenever they’re ready. And now he’s as likely to say it to me when I’ve had a bad moment, “Mama, do you want to start over? You can do it whenever you’re ready.” Cue the teary apologies and hugs. (Is there anything more heartbreaking/heartwarming than your child saying, “It’s okay. I forgive you”?)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That is so so sweet!

  120. Megan says...

    Yes! The most important thing I vowed to do differently than my parents is to say I’m sorry to my daughter when I mess up, and I do. It’s so crucial to our relationship, and I’m so grateful when she extends her forgiveness to me. And if I want her to apologize for hurting me or others, then that has to be modeled by me first!

    • Kasia Keenan says...

      Thank you for keeping things real and honest. Loved reading this and the comments.
      I didn’t hear I’m sorry often when I was young and it stood out to me when I was single in the business world a coworker that would own her mistakes and didn’t try to run or hide.

      I told myself I wanted to be like her when I grew up.

      Flash forward to today….I have a soon to be 4 year old sweet girl. I have found myself yelling at times and I do apologize followed by coming up with what would be a better “redo”. I feel like this builds trust in showing our kids the humanness in all and also moves away from the false notion of perfectionism.

      My 3 year old asked me “do you promise not to do that again?”….I thought this too was a perfect opportunity at teaching her to accept all of ourselves..I told her that I aim to do my best but at times as a human, I may mess up.

  121. Jessica says...

    I’m on a real cycle of rupture and repair. Grateful that children are so loving and forgiving. But also so frustrating and infuriating! And around we go. haha.

    • A.N. says...

      Same. I start my days with the intention of being calm and in control, but between both of our full-time jobs, virtual kindergarten, and a newly turned 2 year old at home, I lose it way more often than I care to admit. Rupture and repair, rupture and repair. At least I always attempt to repair?! Solidarity, sister.

  122. Susan says...

    I love this! My dad was a fantastic apologizer. He passed away while I was pregnant with my first baby. I try to apologize regularly. I am a high strung enneagram 1 who really likes things done perfectly. Not great in a pandemic with an 8 year old, 6 year old and 4 year old who are always home. We are all learning through this and I *think* I apologize daily. It’s a good practice for me to be humble towards my children. I try to tell them, “it’s ok that mom felt angry but it was not ok that I lost my control and yelled.” It’s ok for us to have feelings we just have to watch what we do with them. Parenting is hard! Thanks for sharing with us and being vulnerable. A great mentor told me vulnerability breeds vulnerability. You help make us feel more human and less alien. We need that.

  123. Maryann says...

    Thank you for sharing. I think of this often in my current life with teens. I feel like someone is apologizing to someone else in the house every day, especially now with all of us home all the time! It’s intense and overwhelming. And we all get frustrated and short-tempered at times. But I totally agree: apologizing and making space are the best things that we can do for the ones we love.

    • Maryann says...

      Thanks, M! What a great analogy. I really love Lisa Damour. I’m reading her second book right now and its so helpful for my kids (and me!).

  124. Frankie Rose says...

    “and it was a pandemic winter”… thank you for this post. I have snapped a couple times over the past couple weeks at my darling, sweet, loving and kind almost 3 year old daughter. One time, I cried so hard (also pregnant so the hormones are really affecting me) and she told me “it’s ok to be sad”, which made me cry even more; I love her so immensely! I vented to my two best friends on the phone that I am feeling so burnt out with this pandemic (“I feel like a full-time working mom and a stay at home parent”), the bitter cold, the never leaving my home and we all commiserated. I love this idea of rupture and repair and strive to just let my child know how much she is loved and also express my feelings as best as I can (“I’m so sorry, I am feeling frustrated and tired”). Trying to dream of a very different life come summertime but it’s feeling more and more bleak. Sending love to all parents out there feeling this pandemic! You’re doing an amazing job. xoxo

  125. Brooke says...

    I apologize to my children! I taught preschool for 10 years before I had children and one may assume that might give me all the patience, but no. I’m human! We all are. I apologize when I’m wrong. I noticed when teaching that some young children really had a hard time apologizing.My 3 and 6 year olds willingly apologize to each other when needed. Perhaps because it is modeled for them?

  126. Jess says...

    Apologizing and reconnecting all the time over here!
    Have found so much sound advice on this by following Dr Becky at home, on Instagram.

  127. AC says...

    My dad set the best example of doing this growing up and it has stuck with me into adulthood. If there were ever a “snap” reaction, he would let me sit in my room to calm down (himself too I imagine) and he would come in a few minutes later & sit on the edge of my bed and start with “You know I don’t like to yell at you…” We’d have a brief conversation about what happened and then move on. I think about this often when I get in a tiff with my husband, the same action of circling back and apologizing- it means so much.

  128. A says...

    After living with parents who never apologized, it’s been vital for me to learn how to do so (in a healthy way) as an adult.

    Brené Brown interviewed Harriet Lerner on the first season of the Unlocking Us podcast and it is so, so good. Please give yourself and others a gift—go listen to it. It has changed the way that I look at myself and others.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh would love to listen. thank you for the rec, A!

    • Monica says...

      I was just talking to a friend about this two nights ago after a fight with my dad who’s never apologized to me and who has always been temperamental (and a mom who enables it by saying “that’s just how he is.”). As an adult, it was one of the first things I felt I needed to address when I started therapy, and learning how to do so is probably one of my favorite accomplishments.

    • Amy says...

      A,
      I am searching and can’t find Harriet listed in any of the Unlocking episodes. Was it by chance another podcast (or maybe just something I’m doing)?? I’m really interested to listen!
      Thank you!

    • Alexandra says...

      A and Monica, I just want to say how much I relate to this! Growing up, my dad would frequently say cruel things to me when he was angry, including that he hated me. He never gave a genuine apology or even acknowledgment that this happened. Similar to your experience, Monica, my mom enabled it by saying that “he just has a bad temper” and telling me that I shouldn’t be “so difficult.” It has been challenging but vitally important for me to learn how to apologize to others (and to gracefully accept their apologies!) now as an adult. I will check out that podcast rec, thank you thank you. And thank you to you both for sharing your stories, I’m cheering you on.

    • Amy says...

      Thank you, Nina ! xo

  129. Hayley says...

    Really needed to hear this today, thank you! We have an almost 4 year-old and her Dad has been away 5 nights a week in rehearsal, and I feel like I’ve been losing my temper more – definitely lost it last night. Lately it’s just been such a struggle getting our daughter to clean up her messes. It’s an exhausting, arduous process with lots of whining and resistance that just draaaaags out.

  130. Laura says...

    Absolutely. I apologize to my son the way I would with anyone. It’s SO important to model taking responsibility for my actions, admitting when I’m wrong, and making amends when necessary. This was not how I was raised, and it definitely impacted how I interacted with adults and people in authority for a long time.
    I want my son to be able to see that nobody is perfect, that it’s ok to mess up, and that it’s important and not a failure to admit doing/being wrong. This has opened so many doors of trust between us, and I have seen him respond in such a mature way when he has had conflicts with his friends.

    • Signe says...

      This morning I did the horrible offense of serving breakfast to the 4 year old.
      At this age we repair a lot. But it means so much to me that we can be in a fight and I can still say “do you need trøst?”
      Which I guess translates to “to be comforted”….And she’ll come right over for hugs and cuddles.

      On some good days she’ll comment “we did good today, we didn’t fight at all” ❤️

  131. Marie says...

    This is so powerful! I have a short temper many times and I always make a point of stating “I was wrong. I should have said….”. I was raised by the opposite of this, an angry narcissist who always made it my fault and acted above error. It destroyed me for decades. I ASSURE you I’d rather have heard a sincere apology than no conflict at all. Our kids will remember our humility.

    • Rachel says...

      Right there with you, Marie. For daughters of narcissistic mothers, I highly recommend the book ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough?’ by Karyl McBride. It was a life-altering, earth-shattering book for me. I no longer blame myself for my mother’s behavior, and I also no longer seek an apology that I know will never come my way. Parents, it on us to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse (it IS abuse) and apologizing to our children is a momentous step forward in healing this trauma.

  132. Caitlin says...

    We have a lot of big feelings in our house these days. Learning to say sorry and work through them has been necessary for us all. Modeling I’m sorry is so powerful. Kids get it! And everyone is the better for it. Nobody’s perfect. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Cheryl says...

      When I fly off the handle and later apologize (but not too much later) my daughter is so responsive. A huge hug of relief, so much love, her own apology, a complete reset, a feeling of harmony…and I didn’t “lose face”. Isn’t that what we all deserve? It’s a beautiful concept. Life is too short and precious for any other way.
      This is wonderful advice!

  133. Hanna says...

    Joanna,
    I can totally relate to this! I’ve been losing my temper more often with my 9 and 7 year old. Every night before going to sleep, I feel so guilty about what I said and how I reacted then I end up doing the same thing again the next day! Ahhhh! Thank you for bringing this up and helping us deal better with our everyday challenges.

  134. TJ says...

    I always always always apologize for my mistakes. Growing up, my parents never did and it made me feel like everything was my fault (and that’s a heavy burden). Plus, apologizing to your kids acknowledges that they are human beings, independent of you, who deserve respect.

  135. CaraM says...

    Thank you for covering this – I need it this week. I’ve had several moments where I’ve just completely snapped and I’ve gone back to my 3 year old later and apologized. Instead of being so hard on myself (I just keep thinking – Janet Lansbury wouldn’t do this!), I need to see this as a positive opportunity.

    On a separate note, as an adult I’ve recently been diagnosed with ADHD. This isn’t something I’d anticipated – my sister brought it up after her own daughter was diagnosed. Many of the symptoms are different for women/girls. It helped to explain so much – especially some of my emotional dysregulation. This often shows up when I’m stressed and gets released impulsively – sometimes at my child or partner. I’m learning how to deal with it – but at times I feel so overwhelmed. Thanks for adding this article – it helps me feel seen.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is great that you know more about how your brain works, cara! knowledge is power:) did you see this story about ADHD? I found essay and comments all very insightful and I thought maybe they’d be helpful as you learn more:
      https://cupofjo.com/2021/01/adhd-adult-woman/

      xoxo

    • CaraM says...

      I had to laugh at your link to that ADHD article, Joanna! I consider myself a daily reader of COJ and yet I missed this…. probably due to the 50 tabs open and my staring at the “wikipedia of Bobby Canavale.” Thanks for being so inclusive and making me feel like I’m not alone. Love this community and the insightful information.

  136. A says...

    Thank you! I needed to hear this.

  137. Caro says...

    Thank you for this, Joanna!