Saying "I'm sorry" to yourself

We all know the problem with demanding an apology - of a child or of an adult.  This is why this formula, presented by the teacher-author at CuppaCocoa, is so smart. She learned it in an educational training as a way to broaden the meaning of an "I'm sorry" so students would stop with the empty apologies, and she put it to work in her own classroom. 

Instead of the usual, an apology follows this format:

I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…
In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?

Her stories of how the "I'm sorry" script worked play out just as you'd hope as a parent, with kids coming together in confessions and forgiveness to be better people to each other. I greatly value all of the lattice-method multiplication strategies and social science projects on city architecture and biographies on freedom fighters that my son is learning in school. These moments, the ones of real social connection for one child and among a whole circle of students, hold just as much value for him living and learning and loving and working in the world as spelling tests and science fairs. 

And "I'm sorry," both spilling out the words and soaking them up, is a hard lesson to learn. Maybe a lesson we are always learning.

That's why, when I read this rich piece, I thought about how much I've worked on my own apologies since having a child and especially in the years I've been a single mother. As he's grown and gotten more curious, questioning, courageous and even mouthy, he's had to say more of his own sorries. I have, too. Because once we established the necessity of accountability and apologies in our home, I had to step up as well. I had to show him how it is done.

That doesn't mean I'm the perfect apologizer. I catch myself regularly in the "I'm sorry but..." trap. So this formula CuppaCocoa's presented here for young students serves as a great guide for kids - and parents - at home, too.

But there's one more way we, as single parents, can work these words. I think we need to say it to ourselves. I think we need to practice and practice and practice this sorry script until we've committed it to memory and to our own well-being.

An example from my own experience: Once I was in a safe and stable place after serving divorce papers to my ex-husband, my therapist and I chose to move away from survival techniques and just making plans and being sure I could breathe, pay bills and make healthy choices like eating meals and sleeping while being a good solo mama. We started digging in to how I was accountable for everything that led up to divorce.

Believe me, friends, the circumstances of my marriage's end make it very easy to put this all on the other parent's plate, to blame him and be done. But that would not be productive, particularly if I didn't want to repeat the whole scenario again (which I really, really did not) with someone new. And so I started by listing the behaviors I'd overlooked, the moments I'd prayed away, the cracks in the foundation I'd stepped over just hoping like crazy to save the whole family. Then I examined who I was in that relationship, where it came from, what I wanted to do better when that someone new came around. 

It was not easy. Since it is an ongoing process, it still isn't. Sometimes, it is complete hell. What felt important then, and now, was to say, "Here's who I was in this situation. She was not always awesome. Or pretty. Or right." I could have stayed there, stuck in the crappy feelings about how I contributed to a terrible end to marriage. But that would not have been productive either.

Instead, I had to get good, or at least adequate, at apologizing to myself. 

It sounds so awfully cheesy, doesn't it? I mean, who wants to say aloud or in the ridiculous horror of a private journal that one day a kid will surely find and read, "Dear Me, DAMN! I am so sorry, girl"? Ummm, no one. Not a person. 


  You should totally print this off and put in your journal. 

You should totally print this off and put in your journal. 

I guess that is part of the reason it is such a useful exercise - because it feels uncomfortable and embarrassing and kind of Nutters McGee. If the choice, though, is to stay stuck in the muck of wrongdoing or pull yourself out with your bare ass showing to all the world (or to your diary pages or to the mirror or to just your therapist, who - believe me - is getting paid plenty to sit through this and nod encouragingly), well, then I think you get down on your hands and knees and say you are sorry to you.

Why is this extra important for single parents? Well, most of us don't have a partner we can rely on to participate in the mutual apology love-fest, let alone who will apologize to us or hear us out when we need to make amends. We may not also have a compassionate new partner or friend or family member who gets the whole story enough to remind us gently to let that shit go. AND AND AND, we've got to take care of ourselves in many ways. Like the eating and sleeping and making minimum payments, this is one way. One way we can certainly ignore but, if we don't, will fuel us as much as other kinds of self-care. What the sorry ritual is in for students in a morning meeting circle before a quiz on fractions, it can be for single parents before running off to a second shift or to put another load of dishes away. 

When you do apologize to yourself, something great happens. That original sentence continues. It doesn't end at, "Here's who I was in this situation. She was not always awesome. Or pretty. Or right." It goes on with, "But here who I am now. And she feels so much better. And happier. And healthier."

You get to put that part behind you, at least for enough time to exhale, pay the bills, fix lunch, maybe shimmy into something fabulous for a third date. It definitely helps if you want to look your ex in the eye during the next child visitation hand-off. And most importantly, to look yourself in the eye the next time you feel a crying jag or guilt tsunami or what-if riot-fest wash over you.

One more benefit of using this apology formula on yourself, for yourself? It rolls off the tongue easier when you are faced with looking your child in the eye and saying you are sorry for yelling when it was ten minutes after you should have all been out the door, that you are sorry for forgetting to send field trip money or for throwing away the outgrown Spidey undies. 

In the even bigger picture, getting good, or better, at apologizing to yourself for the failures and missteps and very-human things you so wish you did not have to be accountable for, will serve us all well when we have to guide our children through the same process. One day, when that precious child fails AP Chem or calls us a nasty name or hits a kid on the playground or backs out of an engagement or backs the car into the fence, we're going to get it in a deeper, more connecting way. 

Of course, accountability - in the form of repaying that fence repair in chores or taking summer school or calling up the bloody-nosed kid - is something we will require of our kids, too. After that, we can teach our children to say the "I'm sorry" script to themselves, to move on, to be better, happier and healthier than they were in that moment of time.

At least that's the hope. If it doesn't work out just like that, then I hope we are well-practiced enough to work the steps all the way through to forgiveness with them, and ourselves.