I’m Sorry

Yesterday I realized something I should have figured out a long time ago. For Eila, the words “I’m sorry,” imply that she’s done something intentionally bad. At daycare, two kids in a fight have to apologize to one another and they have to use those exact words, “I’m sorry.” At home if she flouts authority she’s sent to her room to think about it and can’t come out until she’s ready to say the words–and again I’ve been asking for those words exactly.

The upshot is that when yesterday she broke something by mistake, she had no words to express how she felt. She knew “I’m sorry,” wasn’t right, since she hadn’t broken it on purpose. There was talk and there were tears. I’m not sure if she came away much wiser, but I know I did.

Parents need to have working solutions to all the moral questions in the world and, among them, action and intention is a tough nut. It’s not that hard to explain that one is still responsible for things one does accidentally, but one has to know that this needs explaining–over and over again. One has to explain that the words “it’s alright honey, but try to be more care careful in the future” will come more easily to one’s lips in response to an “omigosh, I’m so sorry!” And by the time one is done explaining, the words feel like a formula with the merely pragmatic purpose of pushing bad things away.

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2 thoughts on “I’m Sorry

  1. That’s interesting. It throws light on something Squiss has been doing lately: as soon as something accidentally spills, falls, breaks, whatever, she’ll exclaim, “It’s not my fault!” or “I didn’t do it!” or something along those lines. It isn’t as though the problem is something we’ve ever made a big deal out of; there will usually be some sort of comment, in tones that vary from understanding to irritated, about being more careful, but that’s it. We’re trying to get her to see that “who did it” doesn’t matter: it’s done, let’s all just clean it up. But when agency is so new, relatively speaking, perhaps it’s unsurprising that you would still very much want to identify it — even negatively.

  2. You call me to greater honesty. In fact the first words out of Eila’s mouth when she broke the thing were, “it was already like that.” (Which was funny, since 50 broken pieces were scattered at our feet.) I didn’t say this before partly because I was embarrassed for her, and for me too. But also because I knew immediately that she was groping for words that would explain that it wasn’t her fault, i.e. was an accident.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head when you define the choice: do we stress agency or just clean up together? I’m doing the former both because I do want her to be more careful–especially at dinner when she spills a lot of food–and also because if she ever breaks a friend’s priceless vase or a neighbour’s window I want her to be a mensch about it. I want her to know that the consequences will be less harsh if she owns up–which is surely true when we’re dealing with friends and neighbours.

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