The Value of an Apology

It was happening again. I could hear my words and knew, even as I was saying them, I was hurting my children. Not only were they words meant to tear them down, they were in the loudest, most angry tone I could muster. In one moment, I became the one thing I swore I’d never be. I became a yelling mom.

I never thought it would happen to me. I rarely raised my voice at my siblings growing up (and there were many opportunities to, believe me). But somewhere along the path of motherhood, I lost control of my temper and emotions. I yell because I don’t know what else to do. I yell because maybe for once I’ll actually be heard. As you might have guessed, yelling never brings the desired result. Instead of regaining control, my children cry uncontrollably out of confusion because they don’t understand why Mommy is mad. Instead of producing respect in my kids, I produce hurt, and the evidence of that is very clearly on their faces…and it kills me.

Yelling = Fit of Rage = Sin

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this first hand. I KNOW I’m not the only yelling parent out there. But I’m not here to make you feel guilty. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably doing a good job of that all by yourself. I’m not here to give you 5 steps to stop yelling, because I don’t think yelling is something I’ll be able to conquer on this side of heaven, much less in 5 steps. And I’m certainly not here to excuse the yelling. Fits of anger (yelling) are listed in Galatians 5:20 along with all sorts of deplorable sins, no, to excuse this sin would be to mock God.

So I’ve sinned against my kids. Now what?

Well, I hope I’ve made it clear, without making you feel too guilty that yelling is wrong. But what should you do after the fact? This is a question I have asked myself many times. And the answer is never as complicated as I think it should be. In fact, it’s a simple one word answer: Apologize. When we were kids, our parents made us tell the other kid we hurt that we were sorry. Now I don’t like the idea of apologizing when I don’t mean it, because that, in my opinion, doesn’t qualify as an apology. But you can’t ignore the fact that the relationship between you and your child has been broken, and you broke it. It’s time to restore the relationship.

Get away and pray

In the heat of the moment, the last thing I want to do is speak kindly and gently to my children, much less apologize for my behavior. And I certainly don’t want to give them an insincere apology either. When I’m unable (or unwilling) to soften my heart and let go of my anger and frustration, I have to get away. I usually go into my room, lock my door, turn on the very loud floor fan, and then hide in my closet, away from the whines and demands of my children. In this quiet environment, I’m able to call my husband on the phone and also talk to God. I vent to both as a means of processing and then I’m usually able to quiet my heart enough to honestly examine it and figure out the root of my sinful attitude. This time of quiet reflection allows me time to confess and repent of my sinful behaviors and cry out for strength to get through the next couple of hours.

Sometimes this is enough to bring me to a point where I can honestly and sincerely apologize to my kids. There are other times when I need to wait ’til I’ve put them in bed and they’ve said their prayers to be calm enough to mend the broken relationship.

Why bother with young kids?

I often asked myself if I should be apologizing for my sinful behavior toward my kids while they’re little. I argued that they wouldn’t understand the meaning of it and they would get over it. Maybe you have made that same argument to yourself. But here’s the dirty truth: That’s just your pride talking. As with most things in life, the younger you start, the better. I don’t want to wait until my kids are old enough to fully grasp the spiritual aspects of sin to get in the habit of apologizing to them because by then, it will feel awkward to everyone involved.

To paraphrase Rachel Jankovic in her book Loving the Little Years, they saw the sin. They need to see you make it right. In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Ted Tripp explains the importance of letting your child know that even you sin and need a Savior. Because you can’t expect them to be open to your correction when they are older if they saw you ignore the sin in your life for years. To apologize to your children for your sins against them is to open the door of the Gospel to them.

It also shows them what taking responsibility for one’s actions looks like. A good apology requires a confession of some kind. If I were just to come up to my three year old and say “I’m sorry”, he’d be confused. But by being specific, he remembers what the sin was and understands that Mommy is sorry for it. It also gives him the chance to ask me why I yelled. I feel it’s important to note that I do not make any mention of his behaviors that pushed me to the point of anger. I try not to say “I’m sorry I yelled but you need…” because in that moment, it’s about me mending the relationship that broke because of my actions.

Restoration

The point of apologizing is not to make you feel better about yourself nor should it be a means to make you feel worse. The point is to restore the relationship between you and the one you hurt. Apologizing to my children forces me to be honest with myself. To have a meaningful apology I must first humble myself and remember my weakness and God’s strength. It brings me to a place where I not only confess my sin, but can bask in the richness of God’s grace because I know I’ve been forgiven and that one day, my children will understand forgiveness and be able to extend it when I need it most.

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