Apology Not Accepted

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sorryThe other day I screwed up.  I lost myself and yelled at my daughter.

It started with a crappy sleep.  Nothing specific happened to lead to a bad sleep, I just couldn’t sleep well, probably because it was a Sunday night and I rarely sleep well those nights – looming Mondays and all.  So I started the day tired and grumpy.  All morning and early afternoon my daughter and I stayed inside playing.  While we had a good time, I know that we both need our outside time to really feel good, something we didn’t have.  Then my girl went down for a nap an hour before we were supposed to pick up my stepson (who is in Grade 5) from school because his after school care was closed that day.  I spent her nap time getting some work done, but stressing about the many upcoming deadlines I have, the fact that there was a screw up in the pay system at school so I didn’t get the money I was supposed to get the previous Friday (which is always fun when bills are involved), and thinking of the million loads of laundry, grocery shopping, and other errands that also demanded my time.  Not exactly the kind of stuff you think of to calm down.

An hour passed, my daughter was still asleep, and I was due at my stepson’s school to get him.  He’s old enough to hang out for a while on his own or with friends, and actually does so regularly when I have appointments and know I can’t get him right after school; however, I had it in my stressed-out head that I had to be there on time.  So I woke her up – as gently as possible – and got her ready.  She was clearly tired, but to her credit she tried to be happy about it all.  Then we went to the car.

10 minutes late already.

At the car things start to fall apart.  You see, lately she’s decided she has to get into the car and her car seat herself.  I open the door, she climbs into the side without her seat and then heads over to her seat and climbs in.  No problem – ever.  However, today I put on shoes that apparently have lost their grip.  It was like she was wearing socks and so every time she tried to put her foot on the door frame to climb up, she slipped down.  I watched her try a few times, me getting more and more impatient with each failure as she got more and more upset.  I bent down to try to put my hands out so she could use it as a step. It just infuriates her.  She must do this herself.  At this stage, I’m truly regretting not setting the limit on how many times she can try, but honestly, she’d always done it so quickly before it was never an issue.

15 minutes late.

I have the – I think – brilliant idea of taking off her shoes so she’s barefoot.  This works.  She gets a grip on the door frame, gets into the car, I smile and pat myself on the back.  Until she seems to think this is cheating and climbs out of the car instead of into her car seat and asks me for her shoes.  I try to explain that the shoes don’t work so please just climb in again.  She wants her shoes.  I start to get antsy and angry myself.  Just once, why can’t she do things the easy way?  Why does she have to be so freaking independent?  She’s crying and I’m clenching my fists.  But I take a deep breath and put her shoes on.  She returns to the door and can’t get up.  Her feet are slipping out from under her again.  She gets even more upset and angry.

I’ve had enough.  I pick her up, put her in the seat, yelling, “That’s enough!”  I shut the door and go around to the other side.  I open that door and tell her she can climb into her seat, but she’s not climbing into the car anymore.  (I can add here that when my daughter fights getting into her seat, you can’t force her unless you try really hard to hurt her physically, something I’m not okay doing.)

My little girl is hysterical.  She’s crying that she wants out.  I say, “No” and look at my phone.

Just over 20 minutes late.

I take a step away from the car and take a big breath.  I go back to her side, open up the door and let her out.  I tell her she can try one more time but that we need to get her brother.  I’m still antsy and wondering how the hell this is all going to work out – cursing everyone from my stepson’s daycare which is closed to schools that, in my opinion, end too early, in my head at that point.

Between sobs she manages to climb in herself.  I can’t help but cheer for her when she gets in and she looks at me with her wet face, still crying, and points to herself to say, “I did it”.  Then she climbs over and gets into her seat.  She takes some deep breaths to calm down and is soon not crying.

I do the same.

And I start to feel absolutely horrible.  I realize I have not being fair to anyone.  That this has all been about me and my need to have things exactly as I wanted.  I have it in my head that I have to be there on time, despite the fact that I’m picking up a child who loves time to play with friends after school (what fifth-grader doesn’t?).  In a day of stress, I want control over this.  Why?  I don’t know, but this is all about control not what’s best for anyone.  My daughter could spend an hour trying to get in the car and no one else but me would care.  So I apologize.  After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?  Say you’re sorry and people will forgive you.  Say you’re sorry and those horrible feelings will go away.

My daughter – who signs instead of speaking, outside of some names – says “Mom” and signs sad and scared.  I think she’s telling me I was sad or scared, so I say, “Was mom sad?” and she says, “No.”  Then says, “Mom”, points to herself, then signs sad again.  It takes me a moment.  “Did mommy make you sad?”  “Yes.”  “Did mommy scare you?”  “Yes.”

I have done what I had hoped to never do.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I can remain totally calm in the face of my daughter’s anger or sadness or frustration, knowing that she’ll get through her hard time by having me be there for her.  And in my anger, tiredness, and frustration, I completely forgot that there was a little girl who was equally angry, tired, and frustrated.  Only this time she didn’t have her mom to help her through it because her mom was too focused on her own feelings.

“Oh baby.  I’m so sorry.  Mommy never should have yelled.  But please know that mommy loves you.”


“No?  No.  Mommy does love you.”


“Who does mom love then?”

“Dad.  Des.”

“And Maddy.”



We survived.  I spent the car ride reassuring her that her feelings were totally fair and that she had every right to be angry with me and that even though she may not realize it, I do love her very much.  We got to my stepson’s school over 30 minutes “late”.  He was, as expected, playing with a friend and didn’t even notice us arrive and was actually sad we’d come to take him home as “early” as we did.  Within a couple hours or so, things were back to normal with my daughter.  She accepted my love and was cuddling and wanting to play.  By nighttime, she was eagerly climbing into bed with me.

What’s the point of sharing this?

First, I had to present that awful story for any mom who’s been there and feels like shit.  Because I think most of us have, but these aren’t the stories we generally share with our friends, unless we feel completely safe and secure telling them our ‘lesser moments’.  I think it’s even harder in circles where we speak so openly and vehemently about peaceful parenting and not harming our children.  To admit we’ve screwed up, even once, in this regard can be nearly impossible.  And so for these moms, I hope you can take some comfort knowing it’s not just you.  That we can try and try and still fall sometimes.  And that’s when we need to stand back up and try some more because one fall doesn’t equal failure, but giving up after that fall does.

But it’s more than that.  The real reason is that this made me really realize how much our actions affect our children in both how they feel and think.  My daughter is 2 and I imagine her feelings of sadness, fear, and loss of love are not unique to her.  And yet in an effort to help parents, especially moms, not feel guilty, we have a society which tells you not to feel bad for snapping once in a blue moon (or every month, or week) because we all do it.  But the fact that everyone screws up now and again doesn’t make this particular action any more excusable to my daughter than if everyone didn’t screw up.  And in our many attempts to live guilt-free, we ignore the very real effects on our children.

I’m not saying that parents should forever feel like horrible human beings for snapping (though feeling bad after is generally a good sign of our moral compass).  But we should be cognizant of how these actions affect our children.  And just because they are sometimes too young or too emotional to tell us exactly how they feel doesn’t mean they don’t feel as awful as my daughter did that day.  And as I learned, sometimes even saying your sorry won’t be accepted right away.

And that’s okay.

Our children are human and subject to the same whims and emotions that we are – if not more so because they can’t always contextualize or rationalize events that happen around them.  Oftentimes I see parents who either ignore their child’s emotions altogether or who assume that once they apologize, the child should simply get over it.  It’s not always that easy – just like it isn’t always that easy for us.  We want it to be because when the apology is accepted, we can let go of our guilt, something we can’t do if our child remains upset.  Sadly when children don’t accept the apology, parents can get angry all over again.  I shudder to think how my daughter would have felt if I had taken that route.

What we as parents have to remember is that the guilt and bad feelings we have when we screw up are our problems.  They are emotions we need to process and we can’t expect our children to make it better for us.  If we apologize only to make those feelings go away, we’re not honestly apologizing to our children.  In fact, we’re teaching them to ignore the feelings of others when they don’t coincide with what they want.  And that’s not right.

Loving your child means accepting how they feel regardless of how much it may hurt you at a moment, or drive you crazy, or make you feel bad about yourself.  Allowing them to express that emotion without judgment will not only make your child stronger emotionally and more secure, but will lead to a better relationship in the long run.  We will all screw up – to err is human – it’s how we handle things after we’ve done the inevitable that we need to be more mindful of.

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  1. lcd2 says

    I enjoyed reading this, I think we all have snapped at our children and lived to regret it. Thankfully our children have also emerged relatively unscathed. My 2 are 18 months apart, the oldest is now closing in on 3, there were times, especially in the early days when I would snap at him because I was trying to care for a newborn and 18 month olds are demanding as well and I had relatively little support, my family is far away and my husband works fairly long hours. I found that adjusting expectations worked well, I would always try to differentiate between needs and wants, obviously all needs would be met quickly and wants would be met as I was able. I would tell my oldest what to expect, even though he was young, he would start to catch on. If we were in your situation I would have told him, well before we left the house, that his sister was waiting so Mommy would put him in his carseat and then he could climb out of it by himself when we got to where we were going. Obviously he wasn’t always happy and I would try and label his emotions, ie. I know you’re mad and I’m sorry, you’re allowed to be mad and Mommy will listen to you. It definitely helped me not snap at him because it made me mindful of his emotions and I think it helped him too. Now that he’s started preschool his teachers tell me that they are amazed that he labels his emotions. When he is sad he goes to them and says: “i am feeling a little bit sad now, I need a hug.” and when he is mad he says “Colin is mad, its ok but I am mad mad mad!” and goes off by himself to blow off steam. It is funny how quickly they pick up on things.
    I only posted this after reading your other piece on sanctimonious assholes who preach and how sometimes people want advice. I also enjoyed that piece because parenting is really hard and no one has all the answers. It really bothers me when people refuse to admit their own parental shortcomings because, as you said, it prevents us from coming together and really helping each other.

  2. Em says

    I am in the same boat as lcd2 – my daughter just turned two, my son is 6 months old, hubby works long hours and I am doing a uni degree part time via distance ed. The last six months have been the hardest of my life, especially with my girl at that age where she is wanting a lot more independence. The method I have found to work best for us to to have limits – if we were in the above situation, she would get maybe 3 attempts and then I would put her in, say I’m sorry she is mad/frustrated but we have to go now or the other person will be left waiting and will we scared that we have forgotten him, and that she can try again on her own once we pick him up.
    It is great for kids to be able to do things themselves but they also need to learn that sometimes we have to do things or miss out on things for someone elses sake.

    • says

      Em, trust me, I’ve tried putting my daughter in her seat against her will. She is big enough and strong enough to resist it. Neither hubby and I could do it without actually hurting her :( That I won’t do. But we do have the number limit for many other things we can control and it works quite well, we just never had the need to do it with climbing in before!

  3. says

    SO been there. I try to think of it as a good thing, that he is learning that negative reactions happen, even in loving relationships. And modeling the apology is good too. But it doesn’t stop feeling totally shitty.

    We have so many clothing and car seat battles lately. It’s so hard, because usually we’re going somewhere I know he really WANTS to go. So do I force him into his pants and shoes and car seat, despite screams of protest? It seems more unfair to him to just give up on a fun family trip when he’s being stubborn. (Today we went to IKEA, had lots of fun, ate dinner, came home with fun stuff for him to use at home… But only after having to physically force him into his car seat against his will. He did calm down as soon as we drove a couple blocks, but I still hate having to overpower him, even as the means to a fun end.)

    I am seriously jealous that your little girl wanted to climb into her own seat!

  4. melissa says

    It is so amazing that she felt safe to communicate that you had been scary, that speaks volumes about her trust in you.

  5. Melody says

    This was a refreshing piece to read. Sometimes with EP and AP the standards are so high and with a high needs 16 month old (nursing every 2 hours; colic; up in the middle of the night for an hour etc. since birth) there are times I just am so exhausted. He requires at least one hour of soothing before bed and at least 30 minutes before his two naps which is so hard on my body. The other day, I was so frustrated I grabbed him more forcefully and just begged for him to sleep and cried. However, my anger was more towards my support system then at him. I don’t feel angry towards him but when I am exhausted and nobody is around and he is demanding my every waking ounce of energy sometimes we lose our composure. I think there needs to be more discussion about the high demands of these styles of parenting. I am very fortunate I don’t have to work because I don’t know how moms can work and function nursing a baby every two hours etc. for months and months. I have more resources than a lot of moms too and I am still extremely exhausted and will be amazed when I survive this time in my child’s life.

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