One of my children has the unfortunate habit of screaming like a banshee when something has offended her, or her sister has teased her, or anything has angered or annoyed her in any way. The other one has the unfortunate habit of trying out different forms of insult humor, then throwing a tantrum when no one finds it funny. Then trying to pretend it never happened and opening up new conversation as if she hadn't just skewered her opponent, then crying about it again when her conversation partner isn't ready to move on yet.
Both things happened yesterday, and, at different times, in different situations, I explained to them that sometimes saying sorry is the best way to move forward. If the one's screams have offended all within hearing distance, and she wants to then play, perhaps a simple, "I'm sorry I lost my temper right then," would help pave the way to playtime. If the other snuck in a jab, then wanted to recover because she's embarrassed it wasn't funny, but was instead hurtful, an "I'm sorry I said that about you. I was just trying to be funny, but that was wrong," would probably move everyone along much faster.
But my kids think of apologies as punishment. It brings about a responsibility they don't feel toward their actions until it is uttered. And they don't like that. They don't yet see how apologizing is a necessary, and NICE part of life. That boulders can be moved with sincere apologies, and that those types of apologies make us better people, stronger people, happier people. That an apology is not just to assuage the offended but to offer greater insight to our characters.
Right now, apologies are still "gross". Whatever that means.
Anyway, last night, right before bed, I was able to get a legitimate and heartfelt apology out of the screamer. I felt proud and happy that she seemed to understand what I meant.
Until 7:30 this morning when she called me from my warm bed.
"Mama, I'm sorry I cried and screamed on our special date."
That "date" was a month ago and that "date" was not something to apologize for. In that instance, the screamer was legitimately distressed out of her mind because she was separating from her twin for the first time. At the time, I did everything in my power to comfort and distract her, and we eventually (after hours) had a good separate day.
What kills me about this is that instead of connecting an apology to the annoyance of or mistreatment of someone else, she connected it to her feelings.
I told her that wasn't something she ever needed to apologize for. That her crying in that instance was understandable and right and that she has a right to her very real feeling.
My heart broke though.
Apologize for the time you tantrumed when I didn't give you chocolate, or made you put on your seatbelt or brush your teeth or go to school on time.
Don't apologize for the one time you felt scared and helpless and alone.
...We have some work to do.