Thursday, November 4, 2010

When You Screw Up

When you screw up, what do you do to make amends? What do you teach your kids? Is saying "I'm sorry" enough? I know it is situational to a degree but I'm really trying to look at the big picture.

Recently, I was hurt by someone. Someone that I trust and respect and care about lied to me about something really trivial and unimportant. When I found out- when I caught them in the lie- I was hurt. Like most everyone, trust is a really big deal for me. When someone tells me a lie, I wonder about what other things they've lied about or will lie about.

Part of my concern is my own fault.

I used to lie. A lot. About everything. Big things, small things, made up things. I answered questions with lies, I butted into conversations with lies, I made up stories just to have something to talk about. I have no clue how many lies I told. It started sometime in elementary school and went on through high school. It was when I finally got some much needed help for the jumbled mess of my heart and head due to all that abuse history that I was able to stop lying and start really being honest. And honest, while intensely scary, felt amazingly good. And I trained myself to take the risk and be honest all the time. And it's the very best way to live life.

You can see why I might have a hard time trusting people when I used to practically be a professional at lying.

So when this person told me a lie, my first reaction was to set it aside. This isn't like me. I can be somewhat emotional in my reactions. But this felt like too big of a deal to spout off about. I needed to understand myself before I could proceed. So I took the time to do just that. Once I had myself sorted out, I went to that person and started a dialogue about what had happened.

I really wasn't too concerned about the subject that had been lied about- it was truly unimportant.

As the conversation progressed, it became clear that we could easily be in a stand off. They were defensive and I was trying to determine how far to push... but what was I pushing for?

That became the big question for me. What was I seeking?

I wanted an apology- and once I asked for that, I got it. I also wanted amends. I didn't want just words of apology. I wanted this person to make a choice that would be opposite of the previous choice. By choosing to lie to me, they chose to hurt me. Now I wanted a choice to help me feel secure in my relationship with them. I wanted- maybe even needed- them to choose something to make me feel better about "us."

It was kind of an "ah-ha" moment for me. I started to think about managing interactions with my kids. Often, conflict resolution includes separation of parties, time out, then coming back together to apologize and that's the end of it. There is no plan for going forward.

How do I teach my kids from this little lesson? How do I teach my kids the importance of repairing the hurt and also planning to avoid it in the future?

Repairing the hurt. Avoiding future hurts. Those are big words, big statements, aren't they? Do we teach our kids about the importance of those 2 things in relationships? Do we even know that in ourselves?

And isn't it easier to see it in ourselves than to give it to others when we screw up?

How often do we hold it in... bear a grudge... because the wounding party isn't doing "enough" to prove that they are truly sorry? How often to we feel justified in holding on to that ugliness rather than forgiving and letting it go? How often are we sitting up on our pedestals, waiting for the other person to realize what we need or want and come to us?

How often do we do for others what we want done for us? How often do we take the first step?

When I was a kid and a teen, I lied. I lied and I stole and I snuck around. I did a lot of things and part of why I made a lot of those choices was because I wanted to hurt people. Specifically, I wanted to hurt my parents. Inside, I felt worthless and dirty and broken. So I lied and snuck around and stole and yelled and fought and accused and denied because that was how my insides came out. I think part of me needed to push and push and push until I completely pushed them away. I was trying to prove that I was as unloveable as I felt. Thankfully, my parents- for any and all faults that they had and have- continued to love me. Sometimes they loved me in a soft and gentle way and sometimes, most times, they had to love me in a tough and hard way.

I look back and realize how much pain and anguish and hurt I caused. I wonder how my choices may have impacted the way my parents raised my brothers- how my choices ended up impacting the lives of my brothers.

To my mom and dad- I am so deeply sorry for the choices I made during those immensely difficult years. I know that our relationship has healed and that we are very close now. I cherish that and I know you do, too. I know that I had valid reasons for the choices I made- but I won't use those reasons as excuses for why I did the things I did. I'm sorry I lied to you, stole from you, broke your trust, and ran from the love and stability you tried to give me.

Funny that one little lie on one little day in my future could bring all of that home. Funny that one little lie could have such huge ripple effects.

That person and I are fine now. They apologized and repaired, I forgave. We move forward.

But I'm still thinking about how I'm going to teach my kids this lesson- if it can even be taught.

How have you taught your children to not only apologize but also make amends? And what about forgiveness from the hurt party? I think we've typically fallen into the general routine of mom or dad decide which kid was right and which kid was wrong and make the wrong kid say "sorry" after a time out. On a good day, we might push for "I'm sory for ______." But I think we need to teach more than that.

Words are empty without action.



Anonymous said...

Very well put. It's amazing what little, minor, non-events can trigger massive thoughts & actions.

We work very hard to enforce the idea that if you say something & act something different, the actions speak louder than words. This works with apologies too. You can't just say sorry -- you have to show it too. Sometimes, this can just be a hug. Sometimes, this is helping fix what was "broken".

kbiermom said...

It's an important question. In our house, I feel that forgiveness is left unspoken -- I didn't teach them when they were little to specifically say, "please forgive me," and "I forgive you," because I really don't talk that way myself. I tend to be fairly transparent -- it's easy to see when I'm over something and when I'm not. So that kind of language (though I've seen it at work between other little kids, and it's beautiful!) always seemed a bit artificial to me. On top of an apology that they only begrudgingly give in the first place. So, for the run-of-the mill squabbling between siblings, I just don't know. I need to reread "Siblings Without Rivalry."

When one of them apologizes, sometimes I'll remind them of my definition: "sorry means that you are not going to do that again." So the intention to make amends is understood to be part of the apology.

Regarding when I screw up? If it's someone close to me, they know whether it's a one-time error or one of the demons I'm continually fighting. Either way, they know I'll do my best not to let it happen again. And I hope they know I do the same for them. In a situation like the one you describe, it would be enough for me if they showed that they learned something about me -- for example, that I have reasons for taking even a small lie as a bigger deal than the next person might -- and if I saw that our relationship was stronger for that new understanding.

Unknown said...

Such a hard thing to "teach" really, because it almost seems to be one of those lessons hard learned. One thing I do is try to point out how much EASIER it is to be truthful. Even if the truth is going to get you into some trouble, lying about it and getting caught later is going to get you into SO MUCH MORE trouble. Plus, how troublesome is it to keep up with that tangle of lies???....because we all know that lies are a snowball have to tell a 2nd one to cover up the first...and so on and so on. It's a hard concept for kids to grasp...I think this is one of those times that we, as a parent, sound much like our own parents did, all those years ago. "I wish you would just listen to me instead of learning the hard way". Good luck...we do what we can, right?

Ian said...

The entire post can be summed up into what the last sentence is.

Words are empty without action.

The entire way I was thinking, I used to lie. I can spot liars...etc...but that last line grabbed me more than my high school sweetheart down there.

Well done.

Katherine said...

We have worked hard with our children to teach them about respect and apology. I think that it's important to teach our kids that it's okay to say sorry. We set the example that we can apologize. I think by seeing that parents do it, kids are more likely to as well.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree and we talk a lot - saying sorry just isn't good enough.

I particularly like the Little Critter series for kids. "I'm Sorry" is one I use to teach them. We read it and then talk about it because Little Critter just says sorry for everything and then he goes on to do it again.

C. Beth said...

Wow, thought-provoking post. I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's something I want to mull over.