I’m not great at apologizing.
My attempts always feel so bumbling and awkward, and there’s an undercurrent of petulant resistance that tries to thwart my efforts. In such moments, I’m at war with my ego, and the 9,582 reasons why I most definitely should not have to apologize scroll through my mind like the end credits of a movie.
My ego loves to flatter itself, to believe that I was not wrong in the first place, or, if I obviously was, to believe that my offending behavior was somehow warranted or justified, and an apology is just not necessary. I know how bitter my pride tastes, and I have no interest in swallowing it. I want to hold on to that smug sense of superiority, to clutch it with selfish white knuckles. I do not want to give it up, and an apology requires that exchange.
So I’m not great at apologizing, but I am getting better.
We do foster care, and though we try to live at peace the best we can with the children in our care, arguments do break out between us. While I strive to not be the instigator, I am quick to the defensive, and exchanges become heated. It's not until the argument is over and the bedroom door slams that I'm flooded with shame and regret. I know that I should make amends, but it's hard to forget the blows I myself have suffered, especially when I did not strike first. I'm hurt and indignant, and I want an apology.
But that's a big thing to ask of kids who grew up in homes where apologies are seldom given. Demanded of them, yes, and often for things they didn’t even do wrong. But given to them?
Rarely, if ever.
They have just not seen such a thing. How are they supposed to learn how to repair broken relationships if they’ve never had an example?
So, as much as my ego wants to fight it, I know that I must be the one to show the way.
I hate this, I really do—but it is getting easier with practice.
I do want to be a person who is quick to apologize, even when I am not entirely in the wrong, even when I didn't start the argument. And when I am wrong, I want to own my mistakes and make them right. I want to be that person—I admire such strength of character in others, after all.
But it’s not easy.
As a foster mom, I know that I have to set the example.
I am being given a chance to impact not only my foster child, but potentially every relationship in that child’s life. I am being given a chance to teach my foster child how an apology can deescalate conflicts and restore broken relationships. I have to teach the skill of apology, to empower the children in my care to go forth and do likewise.
Apologies can be powerful things. They are hard to give, but when they are offered in good faith and humility, apologies are restorative. Taking that first step shows just how much you value that person and your relationship with them. It makes space for a response, but it does not expect or demand one. A sincere apology, no matter how awkwardly given, is always worth more than the words that convey it. I know that I wronged you, it says, and I care enough about you to wade through my own discomfort to reach out and make things right between us. And when they are accepted, they bring such relief, and I find myself wanting to be better, to not make the same mistake again. Apologies make us better people.
When I am mindful of this larger, broader goal, I soften, and it becomes easier to summon the integrity to apologize.
I’m still not great at it, but I don’t think that matters—the genuine attempt is what counts. And I’ve seen genuine attempts from our foster children in return. Their willingness to try is precious to me, and their apologies, even when given through gritted teeth with downcast eyes, are indeed worth more than the words that convey them.
I have never, not once, regretted making an apology.
In the end, our willingness to reestablish connection, to come together again and restore what has been broken, is what’s truly important, no matter how clumsy our efforts are.