A few months ago my kid picked up one of my worst habits. I wish it had been swearing and not constant apologizing.
I have a lot of bad habits. For one thing, I swear like I’m being paid to do it, and I rarely curb my foul mouth around little kids. I also leave cabinet doors open after I get something out and clip my toenails in common areas. It was really only a matter of time until my child picked up on one of my terrible habits.
We all expected it to be the swearing, to be completely honest. We were just waiting for her teacher to ring us up and tell us that our daughter had been caught dropping F-bombs on the monkey bars. Unfortunately, it’s worse than we expected. My daughter has started apologizing.
You might not think that apologies are a horrible thing, and at face value, they aren’t. I definitely want my daughter to know that when you wrong someone, she deserves a sincere and heartfelt apology, full stop.
But this is just becoming ridiculous. “I’m sorry, but I have to say something,” she’ll quip at the table. Or we’ll remind her to do her chores and she’ll fall all over herself apologizing for not unloading the dishwasher five minutes after returning home from school. The other day, I forgot to sign her reading folder and she practically hyperventilated trying to apologize for not remembering to remind me so that I could remember to do it.
In my quest to understand when my daughter became such a doormat, I had to face facts: I am a serial apologizer. The other day in the store some guy rammed into my cart, presumably because I got in his way while he had “Very Important Things To Do.” Even though I was annoyed, I still apologized profusely while he grunted irritably, because that’s what we teach girls to do.
“Sorry” is how girls ask for permission. Being assertive and demanding is unladylike and sometimes downright uncouth, and so we begin our sentences with “Hey, sorry, but…” as a way to cushion the next thing out of our mouth. It’s like a little feeler that we put out to test a situation and see if we’re allowed to take up space in it.
It’s also the way in which we give other people permission to dismiss us. “Sorry if this is a stupid question…” or, “Sorry, but I was wondering if…” I had a professor in college who finally forbade her students for apologizing before adding to the conversation. “Sorry is a garbage word unless you have something to be sorry for,” she told us. And she’s right. It loses pretty much all of its meaning if you say it enough.
So that’s why we now have a “sorry jar” perched on the kitchen windowsill. I always thought swear jars were pretty stupid, because, hey, they’re just words, right? The fact that I’m OK with my kid using “oh, shit” in the right context but “I’m sorry” in the wrong one is not completely lost on me, but the jar is working, so I’m not going to dwell. There’s something so rewarding about my child starting to apologize for something totally dumb and then changing it midway when she catches sight of the jar in her peripheral:
“I’m sor… ta not going to even waste my time apologizing for this right now.”
We now owe a whole quarter if anyone in our family apologizes out of turn, and that alone is enough to keep my daughter and me from doing it too much. After all, my quarters are my gumball money, and I don’t want to just be giving that away.