I think I have been guilty of saying “I’m sorry” too much, and that seems to have given my children the wrong idea. Years ago, for example, when my five-year-old fell off his bike, I said I was sorry. I had specifically told him to not ride up the hill on his newly acquired used bike until his dad had checked the brakes and taught him to use them, but he went up the hill anyway.
The brakes worked fine, as it turned out, but he didn’t know what to do and panicked. He sailed down the hill, veered into a cornfield, and caromed back onto the road, where he crashed. He doesn’t remember anything after that, but he was found chin down on the asphalt and needed some stitches. When I arrived at the scene of the accident, I said I was sorry.
Of course, I was sorry. I felt terrible for not having watched him more closely. I felt his pain as we rushed him to the hospital. I still feel sorry every time I notice the scar it left. But somehow, my “sorry-ness” caused a misunderstanding.
A few weeks ago we talked about this event that took place years ago, and he still thought that accident was somehow my fault. He didn’t remember the clear warning. He didn’t remember disobeying. He only remembers me saying I was sorry, which he took at the time to mean that I had been to blame, not him.
Sorry-ness is an easy habit to fall into, and it can develop into a pattern where teens blame their parents for the consequences of their own bad decisions. In reality, if the parents have been doing their job of teaching their children to make smart, responsible decisions, when accidents happen or things go wrong, it is usually the children’s fault for not listening to their parents.
I’m sorry my son disobeyed. I’m sorry he got hurt. And I’m sorry I allowed that misunderstanding to happen. I’m sorry for my sorry-ness. I should have said, “I’m so sorry you disobeyed. I’m sorry you didn’t listen. I’m sorry this happened, but I’m sure you learned a good lesson and won’t make this same mistake again.”
The happy ending to this story is that I was able to clear up this misunderstanding with my son, who is now a teenager facing much bigger decisions than where to ride his bike. He knows he will always have my help, love, and sympathy, but he also understands that ultimately he bears the responsibility for his decisions.