Today was a harrowing, scary kind of day for a parent. Not all of it, just a few heart-stopping minutes.
We had a homeschool field trip across town, and ended up at a local playground for a little while because 80° temperatures in February should be celebrated and enjoyed. This playground happens to be the only one in town with one of the old-fashioned merry-go-rounds. You know – the metal spinning disks with handlebars. The kids hold the handlebars, run like mad, and jump onto the merry-go-round while everyone screams and pretends to fall off.
My kid wasn’t pretending.
All three of my kids love this playground. They made a bee-line for the merry-go-round and joined the throngs of happy kids in school uniforms being pushed by a couple of tweens. Everyone got seated. The Destroyer was sitting in the middle, on his butt, holding onto the handlebars and waiting excitedly.
Instead of starting off slowly and speeding up, the older kid took off like a rocket, jerking the kids. Jerking my 3-year-old’s hands right off the bars. He started to slide, and I could see the panic on his face as I ran screaming towards the merry-go-round “STOP! STOP!! STOPPPPPP!!!!” A couple of dads jumped in and helped stop it, as I deflected past the still-moving, still-pushing tween while I ran to the now-screaming Destroyer partially hidden under the merry-go-round.
He fell off. Not a huge big deal, they weren’t going that fast. No, the problem was the tween didn’t notice. The older kid didn’t SEE my toddler start to slide, start to fall off, and land on the ground. No, the tween kicked him in the head while running around the merry-go-round.
Picking up the pieces
One of the dads helped the Destroyer up as I dashed around the tween and got to my kid. The dad told me the tween kicked him, and pointed out where. I was furious. I ignored the tween – my kid needed me and I had to find out if anything was seriously damaged. The other dad mumbled “it was an accident.” Pretty sure it was tween’s dad.
I wanted to scream! Sure, it was an accident. The kid was careless and not paying attention. I get that. But accidents aren’t an excuse – they don’t excuse the result: a screaming, kicked-in-the-head toddler. If the tween had kicked him 2 inches lower, my kid could have lost his eye. Broken a nose. Lost teeth. Sorry wouldn’t have been enough – and we didn’t even get a “sorry” out of the kid anyway.
Once I settled the Destroyer down and calmed myself down, I realized we’re dealing with this a lot lately. This idea that “sorry” cures everything. My kids think that no matter what happens, “sorry” is enough to fix it. It’s not enough. It’s rarely enough, even when it’s sincere (and it often isn’t.)
Sorry isn’t enough
Earlier in the day, I heard “sorry” when the Engineer blatantly disobeyed me and picked up the hanging glass terrarium by the hook while I was telling him “don’t touch that!” Crash! Broken terrarium. Then he compounded his error by trying to pick it up. I didn’t waste words on that, I simply stopped him physically before he could cut himself on the jagged glass. “Sorry” he said. I looked at him, furious because he had ignored me and did what he wanted instead. “Sorry” can’t repair the broken terrarium. He paid for it out of his allowance money instead.
The day before, the Princess hit her brother on the top of his head with a toy car. “Sorry” she smirked, and walked away. No, sorry isn’t enough. Sorry doesn’t get you out of trouble. Sorry is a good start, but sorry doesn’t stop the tears from falling or the pain from hurting.
I don’t like sorry. I don’t like casual, dismissive attitudes. I want remorse. I want guilt. I want them to try to make it better. Instead of sorry, I want to hear “I should have listened to you mom.” Instead of sorry, I want her to put the car down and give her little brother an ice pack to help his head feel better. And a hug, if he wants one. I want my kids to be caring and kind when others are hurt – not walk away and pretend it didn’t happen.
My kids don’t like feeling guilty. They will invent incredible, crazy reasons why they aren’t at fault, and they will stick to their story no matter how silly it is. I don’t verbally beat my kids up over messing up, but I do want honesty and repentance. I struggle teaching them that – modeling it apparently isn’t enough. I tell them “accidents happen, but people are still hurt and it’s your job to help them feel better.” I tell them “sorry isn’t enough, you need to try to fix it.”
Like every other life skill in our house, we’ve had to actively teach remorsefulness and accepting responsibility. It’s a work in progress. It’s a life-long effort, really. No human likes feeling guilty. We don’t like taking responsibility for our screw-ups. Teaching our kids to do that is hard. It goes against the grain. It’s not a lesson that they want to learn. I keep telling my kids, “it’s my job to teach you to be a decent person.” I will not allow them to ignore this lesson.