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An Open Apology To My Eldest Daughter

There is a sweet little drawing of a smiling face scribbled on the wall next to my bed. The artist is my youngest child when she was about three years old. At the time I calmly told her that walls are not for drawing, and then complimented her on her artwork.  I left her original graffiti there on my wall because it is beautiful, and because it reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned since being a new mother of one child, to a seasoned mother of five children–a span of 19 years between the oldest and youngest.

When my oldest daughter first drew on a wall, first cut her own hair, first filled the toilet with non-toilet items, first lied to me, I did not yet know that all children do these things (or some facsimile). I did not realize then, as I do now, it’s part of growing up; of curiosity, testing, exploring, imitating or avoiding. I was harder on her because I was young and didn’t know better. Her actions were not personal, but in my own immaturity as a parent I perceived them as direct affronts. I would overreact and make a big deal out of ‘bad’ behavior by shaming or lecturing her at length for what I perceived as big infractions. By the second, third, fourth and now fifth child I know better as a mother. I don’t claim to know best, it’s just that I know better the mother I choose to be.

As I sat on the edge of my bed looking at the smiling graffiti, I was thinking how much I wished I could change the parent I sometimes was to my oldest child. Then the phone rang and there she was, on the other end of the line.

I shared with her all I had been thinking about. I told her I was sorry that when I was raising her I wasn’t as calm or as mature or as wise as I am now. I told her I wished I could talk to the mother I was then and tell myself all that I have learned so I could do better. I apologized. She laughed and acknowledged having to “pave the way” for her siblings and she told me I was forgiven. In turn she apologized to me for her teen years. We laughed together about pay-back. I loved her for the grace of absolution she blessed me with so easily.

I can’t go back in time and give myself the wisdom of mothering that I have now, but I can share it with you. (Lucky you!)
First: It’s not always about us. Our children are growing, stretching, testing. We can love, guide, offer reasonable consequences and did I mention; love, love, love them? But there is no need to bully, shame or just generally freak-out. Second: If we do freak-out or overreact (because we all do) it’s okay to forgive ourselves and do better when we know better. Third: It’s less okay when we know better, and we don’t do better. That’s when we rationalize, make excuses for ourselves or place the blame on our children for how we choose to react. We’ve all been there, let’s just choose not to live there.

My oldest and me on her wedding day!

My oldest and me on her wedding day!

And lastly: There is great courage and love in risking vulnerability and humility. There is no shame in admitting fault. Fallibility is an inherent quality of the human condition, especially in parenting. Instead of defending our less flattering behavior to suit our need to see ourselves in a better light, admitting our mistakes as parents is important in validating what our children experience, of honoring their truth.

A close friend said to me after I told her this story, “Do you know how many adults would love to hear; ‘I’m sorry,’ from a parent? It would heal so much for them.”

Wise words from another seasoned mother.

Mammaste~
There is so much divinity in the everyday.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cynthia Joyce #

    Hi Lori,

    You are so right!! I have found that apologizing to your children when you have made a mistake (overreacted, freaked-out) to be well received and accepted. It also allows the child to know it’s OK to admit to making mistakes and that they are truly loved for who they are, not what they may or may not have done.

    You are a great example of a person with a heart of gold.

    Cindy

    January 11, 2012
    • “It also allows the child to know it’s OK to admit to making mistakes and that they are truly loved for who they are, not what they may or may not have done.”
      Exactly! Beautifully said Cindy.

      January 11, 2012
  2. Paula #

    It is unfortunate that children do not come with a handbook. I too, have asked for forgiveness from my adult children, as I don’t believe I was the best mother I could be. They just laugh at me and said it was fine to play Duke’s of Hazard, driving through the ditches in a 1975 Mercury Marquis station wagon.

    It seems as our children grow into adults, they see their childhood was different than others, but embrace the experience they had. I have learned to not be so hard on myself. If you parent with love and compassion, you will do the best job you can.

    January 11, 2012
    • Parenting from a foundation of love and compassion is so important, as is having love and compassion for ourselves. Thanks Paula!

      January 11, 2012
  3. Robin #

    Earlier this afternoon I over-reacted to my bright and beautiful 13 year old boy who refused to do his homework – it was an ugly exchange that left him feeling angry and powerless, and me feeling like a bully. Of course I know better than to get all up in my son’s grill (to use his language) but in that moment I didn’t consider where his negative reaction was coming from – he was disappointed that an after school get together with a friend had to be postponed.
    While I am much more easy-going with my younger child than I was with my oldest, I still need reminders (although less often) that our children are divine gifts that need to be treated thusly.
    Thank you for this timely and thoughtful post, Lori.

    January 11, 2012
    • I love that statement that they are divine gifts. Beautiful. Thank you Robin.

      January 11, 2012
  4. Carrie Schwert #

    Lori,

    This is such a familiar place for me as i raise my special daughter, Emma. Since communication between us is sometimes difficult because of her autism, I often get very impatient and raise my voice in frustration. But she can’t help how she is and I have to keep reminding myself that there are other ways of sharing besides with words. Sometimes simply watching her play or move or sit quietly tells me how she is feeling and what she needs. This story you wrote helped remind me of this — to cherish Emma for her unique and wonderful self.

    Carrie

    January 20, 2012
    • Beautiful Carrie. Thank you so much for sharing.

      January 20, 2012
  5. Reblogged this on mammaste ~ divinity in the everyday and commented:

    Because it’s Mother’s Day, and my oldest is about to be a mother, I’m reblogging this, with love.

    May 12, 2013
  6. ed mathie #

    Great post – as usual. It makes me wonder as we’ve gone from a nation of families of eights and tens to one of twos and threes if we haven’t also become a nation of rookie parents.

    Great to have people like you sharing the wisdom. Again, as always.

    Perhaps the new social connectedness will help new parents avoid some of the mistakes and overreactions of our generation.

    May 12, 2013
    • Social media is a vehicle for where we want to go. Like most everything it just depends heavily on one’s intended destination. Social media is so much about what we make it, and it can be a great resource, that’s true. Thank you Ed, for such a thoughtful comment!

      May 12, 2013

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  1. Lori Anne Yang’s Open Apology to Her Eldest Daughter « Triumph of the Spirit

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