No, I will not make my child apologize.
The other day, I was walking down a hallway at work when a coworker bumped into me, rushing to his next meeting. I instinctively blurted out, “oh, sorry,” a reflex as natural to me as breathing. Why? Because as women, we are taught practically at birth that we need to apologize: for taking up too much or too little space, for speaking up, for having ambition, for simply existing in a world that sometimes wishes we would just be quiet, just be compliant, just be.
How many times a day do I apologize for minor infractions like leaving the house? I am honestly afraid to count. From innocuous encounters in the workplace, to disagreeing in a more palatable manner (“I’m sorry, but . . . ”), to committing the sin of asking a server for more water, I apologize constantly. And I hate it.
Not only am I not sorry, but it dilutes the times I really am. When you apologize constantly, the words lose meaning and fall flat when you truly need forgiveness. They ring hollow and rightfully so, and they don’t convey anything past regret. So as I raise my toddler beast, I resist the urge to coax apologies from her. She doesn’t have to say she’s sorry when walks in front of someone else or talks out of turn. She doesn’t even have to apologize when she hits or acts out. Before the accusations of lax parenting roll in, that doesn’t mean negative behaviors don’t have consequences. But those consequences don’t include parroting words that don’t mean anything to her yet, and won’t assuage the person who has been hurt.
So instead of sorry, we talk about the person who was hurt. By focusing on how that person feels instead of internalizing a system of minimization, regret and apologies, we can talk about why we don’t hit, why we need to listen, why we follow the teacher’s instructions instead of climbing the walls, sometimes literally. In teaching her empathy over the rote recitation of words, I hope to teach her that golden rule, and when she feels the need to apologize, it comes with a promise to do better next time, not just repeat the behavior and think that “sorry” covers it.
I won’t be the one to make her feel guilt for being human and having the courage of her convictions. And if her current personality is any indication, she will have a lot of them. Be brave, little beast. And never apologize for it.