Note: I wrote this before seeing the Pantene commercial or the recent Huffington Post article. I'm good like that.
I am always saying sorry. It's mostly because of my big mouth and inability to think before I speak. I can't blame it all on myself, though. Some of it is situational.
Being a parent and saying sorry go hand-in-hand. I'm always either apologizing to my children or someone else, on behalf of my children. I apologize to my kids every day. "Sorry, you can't eat ice cream for breakfast. Sorry, you can't stay up until midnight watching cartoons." Every day I break bad news to the kids and tell them I'm sorry before doing so. Then, there's all the people we encounter on a daily basis and my flow of apologies that come along with our interactions. "Sorry my daughter hit you in the ankles with her little shopping cart. Sorry my kid hit your kid in the face with a sand bucket. Sorry my kids are screaming on this airplane." Sometimes, the sorry isn't done with words but with eyes, eye brows, and a sorta shrug. My kid is on the ground slamming her hands and legs into the ground, while making a screeching sound. I try to wrangle her up and out the door as fast as possible, glancing around at everyone staring at us. I make apologetic eye contact and give a little sorry shrug, eye brows raised, as we speed out the door into infinity and beyond, and most importantly, everyone else's eye sight and ear shot.
I've noticed that I do lots of apologizing at work, too. We all do, because we have been trained that the customer is always right. We've also learned that it's better to ask for forgiveness than to wait for approval. Technology has furthered our need to apologize, both professionally and personally. I have taken note of the number of times I write, "Sorry for the delay" in a message. If I get an email, say at 5pm on a Friday, and I don' respond to the email until Monday at 9 am, I find that I start the message, with "Sorry for the delay." If I get a text message and it takes me longer than 1 hour to reply, I will generally start with the reason why it took me 60 minutes or more to write back. "Hey- I am so, so sorry, I just got this. I had to go to the emergency room because one of the kids fell and got a super huge gash on her head and then I had to take the cat to the vet to be put down. I'm really, really sorry for not getting back to you, but yes, I totally agree, Walking Dead was awesome last night- so intense!"
I feel like I am the master of apology, but for the wrong reasons. Is it really necessary to apologize to my kids for laying down the law with them, for managing their expectations, and making hard decisions that are for their own good? Should I worry that my kids aren't robots and regularly act like kids and require me to parent them publicly? Is it necessary for me to feel guilty because I didn't reply to an email when I'm technically not required to do so? Am I a bad person for not being available every moment of the day? Why, as a society, have we set these expectations for one another and ourselves? I wonder how many people bring their lap tops or smart phones to the bathroom to ensure there is no break in communication during potty moments and showers. (Nobody wants taking a crap to be their excuse for the five minute text message response delay!)I walk around all day, feeling bad for the wrong reasons.
I could spend the rest of this post on technology and the demand to be plugged in every second of the day but that's not my real point, at least right now. Here is what I'm getting at: I apologize less often to Andy. I could likely count those apologies on my fingers. Over the last 10 years of our marriage, it has been a real process for me to a)acknowledge that I am wrong and b)to openly admit it to him. I used to feel no guilt whatsoever for yelling at Andy, making petty, hurtful comments, or giving him the silent treatment. If by chance, I came to the conclusion that I was indeed wrong, I'd never openly apologize to him, but rather would allow the issue to disappear as life went on. It is only in the last five years or so that I have started to use those otherwise highly over-used words with Andy: I'm sorry. If I am in a monster mood in the morning before work, I now, on occasion, will write him an email that starts with "I'm sorry about this morning." During an argument, or at least in the days after, I may come back to him to say, "You were right." This has been a big deal. It's like my apologies went from extinct to the endangered species list. The apology is no longer almost dead, it's still a rarity but it's coming back to life. No wait, it never existed so I've discovered a whole new beast. And it feels good to use an apology when it really matters, with people who really matter.
The forced apology is part of the Growing Up 101. Kid hits other kid with a sand shovel. Mom drags the hitter over to crying kid and says, "Say you're sorry." The hitter begrudgingly mumbles, "Sorry." and scurries away while the crying kid moans into his mom's arms. Mom of the moaner says, "It's ok, right little Johnny?" We know that doing so gives the hitter an out and teaches the hitter that an apology is required even if you don't really feel sorry or care. Parents do this over and over again, what they think is teaching their children the importance of apologizing. This sounds good, right? I do it all of the time. So, what goes wrong? To me, what is very interesting in the situation is not that the hitter said sorry. It's that the mom recognized the wrong doing, and in essence, apologized for her kid's actions. We feel compelled to apologize on our kids' behalf and feel relief as long as they go through the motions of apologizing.
I sound terrible. It's not that I think it is ok for a child to hit another child and not apologize. It's very important and parents must teach their children the necessary value of an apology, and not just saying it to say it. I need to figure this out. It seems to me, that there is a hole in the apology process. We apologize (particularly women) for things that we really shouldn't be sorry about (again, returning an email on Monday morning, sending a text 10 minutes later) and don't always say sorry for situations that deserve an apology. Or is it that we place more value in an apology during one situation over another? Is it more important to apologize to a stranger for a kid tantrumming in public or to your spouse for saying something really nasty in the heat of an argument? We need to look at the outcomes of the apology and my guess (how do I really know? I am flying by the seat of my apologetic pants.) is that we should determine the value of the apology. If the customer walks away happy, maybe it is worth it. If the stranger watching your kid tantrum turns around and helps you carry your groceries to the car, maybe it is worth it. If you find that your spouse also starts to apologize, maybe it is worth it. And if that mom, cuddling her crying, sand shovel assaulted child, raises her eye brows and mouths "Thank you" which is code for, "Thank you for being my friend, being there for me, and understanding this is hard and we are in it together" it is definitely worth it.