By Bev and Phil Haas
I have a stressful job, but that’s no excuse for allowing my bad day at work to follow me home. I’m too embarrassed to go into detail about how I spoke to my kids. Any suggestions on how to make right the wrong I inflicted on my family?
You’ve admitted something many parents often find it difficult to acknowledge—parents misbehave too! It’s easy for us to overlook the most obvious response when we misbehave—namely, apologizing. In reality, it’s hard for most adults to say, “I’m sorry”—especially when it is being said to our children!
How many times have you been hurt or hindered by someone who refused to speak that simple phrase? Though it’s not usually a response adults are swift to offer, apologizing is actually an act of strength, not weakness. By saying you are sorry to your children you are showing maturity and modeling the behavior you want your children to follow when they do something wrong.
Five Parts to a Successful Apology
Some years ago we came across an acronym for the word sorry that we believe touched on the most important parts of an apology. We hope this practical tool will help you make right the wrong you allowed to spill over onto your family through your harsh words.
The first two factors include a swift response offered willingly. Don’t allow much time to pass between the offense and the apology. The sooner you offer an apology, the better for you and the person or people you have offended. Our experience is that prompt action keeps the hurt from becoming inflamed. If an apology has to be pulled out of someone rather than offered willingly, the words come across empty. What parent hasn’t heard the words “I’m sorry” motivated not by a contrite heart, but by the fear of getting into trouble? Let your family hear an apology that comes from a repentant heart.
There are three more keys to a successful apology: regretting your actions, being willing to remedy the situation, and taking ownership of your responsibility. A tone of regret needs to resonate from your words. You wish you hadn’t, and you are determined not to repeat the same behavior in the future. Proverbs 15:1 teaches that a soft answer will turn away wrath. A soft apology is more likely to produce a positive response.
The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19 is a noteworthy example of someone making restitution for his harmful actions. When Jesus visited his home, Zacchaeus stood in front of everyone present and courageously announced he would repay anyone he had cheated four times the amount. We may flinch at repaying four times the amount of any damage we may have caused, but we must not resist the biblical principle of making restitution for our wrongdoing.
As the one in the wrong, it is your responsibility to get your family back on track. You must resist the temptation to stall in hopes that your children will forget about what you did. Instead, take the initiative by approaching your children, acknowledging what you did wrong, and offering a sincere apology to them. In our family we not only say the words, “I’m sorry,” but we also add the question, “Will you forgive me?” This additional phrase gives the offended person an opportunity to forgive others as God has forgiven them. Some people seem to be able to offer forgiveness immediately, while others need a bit more time. To keep an apology from dangling too long, our family rule is to respond before the sun goes down.
(See Ephesians 4:26.)
Saying “I’m sorry” sounds like a simple solution, but the words don’t always come out when and how we want. If you say them soon in a heartfelt tone, your apology will communicate to your children your feelings and attitude about the actions you regret. Remember that in addition to saying these healing words, you should speak them swiftly, offer them willingly, express regret over your hurtful actions, be willing to make restitution, and take full ownership by accepting your responsibility for what happened.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.