Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. To Understand.

If you’ve followed along at all this year, you’ve either deduced or read or read directly between the lines that there has been some strife at the Barlow house. It is an ongoing issue focused primarily around our 17 year old, with a little trickling in from her 14 year old brother in a show of solidarity. Which I love, incidentally, that he will support her in nearly everything regardless of its validity. Maybe love is a strong word. I respect it. It also drives me crazy at times with direct reference to the validity.

Anyway, in a few of our many sessions with the relationship/issues/how was your childhood/how is it affecting you now/can’t we all just get along doctor, the topic of apologies has surfaced. Yes, more than once and in more than one form. Which has been a bit odd to me – as I’ve always believed that apologies count and should or should not be accepted by the receiver (their choice really) and should then be followed by some sort of moving on plan, either acknowledged aloud or not.

Backing up a little – like five-ish years – let me say that Rich is a huge apologize-r when it comes to the kids. At first, I thought it a bit overdone and strange – like ‘okay already, do you need to keep apologizing and in such a formal, planned out and deliberate manner?’ But when I realized that these apologies sat in the front seat of a busload of history, I also realized that they were born from buckets and buckets of guilt (the apologies, not the kids). That guilt was/is Rich’s go-to-feeling whenever the kids felt/feel any sort of emotion or act out in any sort of way. It’s a bit heart breaking and something we continue to work on slowly.

So, the point is, the kids have, over their short lifetimes, become accustomed to a certain ‘kind’ of apology. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t realize how that might affect them going forward – until when, a few weeks ago, I found out that my apologies weren’t necessarily ‘counted’ because they didn’t fit that same method. As is customary when I learn something like this – I zip through a wide range of reactions over the course of several days and weeks. Some of these include:

Disbelief Anger: Um, what the eff? My apology didn’t count because it didn’t meet your apologetic requirements? So, a 14 and 17 year old are now dictating which elements my apologies should include going forward in order to meet those needs…and therefore, count? Maybe disbelief isn’t the right label on that reaction. Maybe that’s got a hint of anger.

Disbelief Sadness: Um, well, now I feel bad for the kids. Or maybe sad, not bad. Sad that they would hold onto years of anger because they felt my multiple apologies weren’t sincere because they (the apologies) didn’t fit the apology requirements they’ve just now filled me in on. Sad for me because it felt a lot like we were cancelling all the good talks and moments we’ve had over the last several years – talks and moments that included apologies.

Disbelief Determination: Wanting to find a good, solid wall to bang my head into and being completely unable to find one that meets my head banging needs. Yet, I will keep trying because that may be more useful than trying to dig through this.

DisbeliefOpen-Mindedness: I mean, I’m always up for learning new things – especially when it comes to parenting. Just ask Rich how welcoming I am to such advice. And because I still feel mediocre confidence in my parenting skills, generally the kids can hint that I’m doing something wrong and put me in a total mental tailspin of ‘oh, man…you can’t do that…?!?!’ Sometimes they are correct (as in, nearly dropping an 8 year old Zack off at Hair Cuttery before 11 year old Zoe said we should stay (oh, yes, that does make sense)), but sometimes I swear they are playing on my insecurities like I’m the limping gazelle at the back of the pack. In the case of the incorrect apologies, I’m not actually sure who is, well, not on target? No, that’s not the word – I don’t know…I guess I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a right or wrong way to apologize.

Back to disbelief. Is this really happening? Getting schooled on apologies by my children? Am I going to buckle down and listen with interest or blow it off? Inquiring minds want to know. Including me.

Here’s the not so condensed version…

When I apologize for something, I generally A) apologize and B) offer some sort of explanation. Not an excuse – an explanation, I want to be very clear on that. And I do that because often I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where I took a wrong turn and then why I took that wrong turn and how I can avoid that wrong turn going forward. This is generally why it takes me several days to get to it. I’m picking my brain right now trying to find an example of this and, of course, can only come up with exactly the topic the kids and I were discussing. So, honest blog alert…we were talking about how difficult I was on Zoe during a period that covered most of her eight grade year. And I was difficult on her, she is right – it was not my shining parental moment.

Here’s where the topic of apologies diverges. Zoe, I’ve now learned, only wanted to hear that I was sorry for being difficult with her. Hard stop, No Mas, Pound Twenty. What I’ve given her over the past three years were numerous apologies that included explanations of why parenting was so difficult for me (honestly – because I was brand new at it, primarily, with a sprinkling of other issues that pop up when you gain an instant family, husband, new home base, etc. all in the span of a few years). So for the last three years, there have been multiple deliveries of apologies – and while I was just now reaching the point of ‘okay, enough, the apology train has stopped; either accept my apology or don’t, but we need to move forward’ – Zoe had been sitting in the back seat stewing because all those apologies also included an asterisk (her word) of ‘here’s why this happened.’

Now, I do hear this. I hear what Zoe is saying and I hear what Zack is saying in her defense. Actually, Zack could have completely been paid as the expert in family counseling with regards to his interpretation of ‘how apologies work.’ It was quite stunning coming from a 14 year old boy and floored everyone in the room – counselor included – and was like a neon arrow sign pointing to the person in the room doing the most listening. Here, buddy, take my co-pay, let me know when my next session is.

I guess the thing I’ve literally never, ever thought of was that, in some cases, one might need to tweak their apologies a touch to really be heard by the receiver. I’m not going to make a declaration on whether this is right or wrong. I’m not going to write in stone whether or not my way of apologizing is correct or whether the kids preferred way of hearing it is correct. I’m not going to continue shaking my head working through it.

I will say that just today, after delivering the most Zoe-customized type of apology last week, I learned that she still is leery about whether it was sincere. Which it was. And is. But I also, just today, got permission to move on – that at this point, I truly have apologized in every possible form known to mankind (well, the skywriter has yet to be available). Now it is actually up to her to accept it (or not) and come with me in moving forward (or not).

And perhaps even more importantly, I’ve learned that maybe, just maybe…there is more than one way to skin an apologetic cat. No, that’s not right. That there’s more than one way to bake a sorry cake. Nope. Wait. There’s more than one way to peel a sad orange. Shoot. I’ll get there. More than one way to shoe a guilty horse. Gosh dang it.

Anyway. Moving on.

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