Over my sixty-nine years, I’ve done many things for which I needed to apologize. I’ve lied, cheated, talked about others behind their backs; I even stole candy from the local deli as a child. And each time I was caught, I had to put on my big girl panties and own up to the misbehavior. But there’s one thing I refuse to ever apologize for, and I mean ever.
About a month ago, I was with my third daughter, Lauren, for the Christmas holiday when I noticed a book she was reading, Strong Moms, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. Lauren is currently the mother to two wild and crazy little boys, and she said a friend highly recommended it.
The title piqued my curiosity. I grew up in a family of men—three brothers and a dad—so I remembered how my strong mother ruled the house—often with an iron first (claws included). Rules and schedules were her go-to for control.
I chose to raise my children differently. Suffering a miscarriage in the early days of my marriage, I was told by the doctor I’d never have children. So, as three daughters and then Tim came into this world, I felt blessed and made it my mission to make life—theirs and mine—magical. Children are little for only a short time. There would be plenty of days where responsibility would overshadow play time. Once they reached a certain age, they’d spend the rest of their lives working.
Tim (or Timmy, as we affectionately call him) was an easy kid in his youth. Rarely did he demand anything, and this included attention. Perhaps he instinctively knew not to ask because his three sisters had already soaked up the lion’s share. Girls have a way of whining and needling until any parent can’t stand it. So, I gave in. But because he was surrounded by bossy women, even more so when his dad left when he was twelve, I often worried about his manhood and if I was doing right by him.
All these years later, as I poured through the chapters of Lauren’s book, I began to weep. Dr. Meeker claims that by indulging our sons, we deny them the ability to grow strong. With these overzealous actions of help, we subconsciously tell them we don’t trust that they can stand up on their own two feet or take the consequences for their missteps in life. And while I raised Tim with strong morals and guided him to be a kind and decent human being, there were two areas where I screwed up royally.
Back in the day, my children had no chores to speak of. I didn’t even have them make their beds before running out the door. I have a fetish on how beds should look and knowing I’d just have to go in and redo them, I waited till they went to school to create the military corners with sheets tucked so tight you could bounce a penny on them. They each had a laundry basket in their room, ready to receive their dirty clothes right after they took them off. But it was I who collected the soiled tee shirts, underwear, dresses, and pants off the floor. Then it was to the laundry room for an evening of washing, drying, and folding. There were no doing dishes, mowing the lawn, or taking out the garbage. And when it came to forgotten schoolwork or lunches, yes, I was that helicopter mom who’d fly back to campus at recess to hand it over. God forbid they miss a meal or get a lower grade on a school project that I helped them with.
Perhaps the bigger mistake was in my discipline. While some parents punish with yelling and screaming, grounding, or even hitting the child, I used my known disappointment over his behavior to shame him into doing better next time. And, let’s face it, shame is far more painful than a slap across the face.
Unable to bear these errors, I sat and wrote my long list of mea culpa. And as my tears turned into that ugly cry, I had to sit with myself and ask, “Why? Why was it so important to make their lives as perfect as possible?” I’m not so naïve to think magic would last forever. We all must experience the tough times to appreciate the good, so why attempt to do the impossible and shield them from all the bad? Then, it hit me. I did it all because of my deep love for each one, and the main component of my love language is doing service to others.
There was a line from the movie “Love Story” that claimed love is never having to say you’re sorry. I was a teenager when I heard this and to this day feel that’s the worst thing we can do—never apologize for our hurtful actions. If we truly love, it’s all the more important to admit our fault and ask for forgiveness. Being vulnerable is a gift we give because life is much richer when we go deep.
Today, Tim has a great job and is a proud homeowner. He is a husband and, recently, a father. He is well-read, a forward thinker, a friend to many, and a wonderful son. Despite all my mistakes, he turned into an incredible human being and, hopefully, a piece of that came from the fact he always knew how much he was loved.
So, parents remember—we all screw up. It is part of our human experience to make mistakes. But if our children and grandchildren know our actions come from a deep expression of love, whether through service, words, or actions, all things are possible. Everything I did, I did because I loved them—and for that, I will never apologize.