Growing up I can remember many disagreements with my two older sisters where my Mum or Dad had to step in to referee. We would all stake our claim that ‘SHE started it’. Sometimes I’d side with one of my sisters to say that it was the other one’s fault. Regardless of these assertions usually the outcome was the same – Mum or Dad would insist that we apologised to each other, irrespective of who had ‘apparently’ started it.
It always felt desperately unfair and I can remember even then finding it incredibly challenging to say those two little words, ‘I’m sorry’.
As I grew to be a teenager, the fights with my siblings decreased and they were replaced with arguments with my parents (mainly my Dad). Sometimes I was fully aware that I’d been out of order or grumpy and that perhaps the argument was my fault however I still found it difficult to utter those two little words.
Then came disagreements with boyfriends and friends. Occasionally I’d know I was the one in the wrong but once I’d started down that path it was so difficult to retract what had been said and actually admit that I was ‘sorry’.
Recently I’ve been observing my eldest daughter (age 2 years and 8 months) and have been amazed to see how at such a young age the words, ‘I’m sorry’, seem to cause her such difficulty.
Occasionally she does something naughty to her baby sister such as a heavy handed pat (AKA a whack) or grabs a toy off her. Recently she has started to hit out at me and her Dad. Aware we must teach her that this behaviour is unacceptable, we take her away from the situation and talk to her insisting that she says ‘sorry’ to whoever she has upset. Well, you would think we were asking her to jump into a pit of snakes. She will do absolutely everything possible to avoid saying those two little words. She would rather sit and scream in her room for eternity than say those words.
We offer her bribes:
‘’If you say you’re sorry we can all go out and have fun after at the park’’
‘’If you just say you are sorry you can come and eat ice-cream with us’’
Sometimes she will slowly move towards whoever it is she is meant to be apologising to, hanging her head, avoiding any eye contact. She will stand like that for ages and no amount of gentle persuasion/bribery will get her to say those words. We have now offered her the option of giving the person a kiss instead of saying those oh so difficult words. Even still she just can’t quite bring herself to do it. Very occasionally we have been known to hear the words we’ve been eagerly awaiting. But those occasions are rare and the words are muttered so quietly under her breath, whilst still avoiding all eye contact, you could blink and miss them.
As an adult I understand that the reason I don’t like to say sorry sometimes is either because I absolutely believe I’m right or I know I’m not right but just can’t quite deal with losing face – that little thing called pride not helped by my stubborn nature. There are occasions, I will concede, that I have been known to have a row with my husband and I’ve completely lost what my initial point was. Worse still, I’m suddenly aware that I’m being totally unreasonable yet I just can’t seem to stop myself (it can’t be just a coincidence that such arguments tend to happen at a certain time each month and during the early weeks of both of my pregnancies! I’m of course apportioning all blame for these crazy mood swings and irrational behaviour to hormones). The argument can sometimes carry on in this vein for several minutes. It’s only after some cooling off time that I may be able to swallow my pride, admit I was wrong, and say, ‘I’m sorry’.
So my question is, when my little girl seems to find it impossibly hard to say, “I’m sorry”, is this because she believes she is in the right or is it because she knows she’s in the wrong but doesn’t want to lose face?
Unfortunately, I’m no child psychologist. I don’t have an answer to this question. I’m thoroughly intrigued by watching my daughter to see how her relationship with these two little words may develop as she grows older. She certainly takes after both myself and her father with her stubborn nature- it’s fair to say she’s a chip off the old block!