I grew up in a house where the words "I'm sorry" were never used and arguments were never discussed. That made it hard for me to understand how to resolve conflict the right way. I am now doing everything I can to make sure to teach my daughter the power of apologizing.

By Leah Campbell
December 05, 2019
The author and her daughter.
Leslie Meadow Photography

It's 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and my daughter and I are working on her math homework. I can feel my blood pressure rising as the minutes tick by. This is the subject she struggles with most. As a result, it's also the subject she's most likely to give up on. And that's when I get frustrated. It's not her getting the wrong answer that bothers me. It's her not even trying at all.

I've never been a yeller. But something about motherhood manages to push me to that edge more often than ever before. I can feel the frustration boiling to the surface. And before I know it, I'm spitting out angry words to my daughter, far more harshly than I mean.

I'm not proud of any of it. And a minute or so later, I call a timeout for us both. Sending my daughter to her room with a coloring packet and a snack, I head to mine to breathe. The snapping mother is not the mother I want to be.

Once we've both had a chance to cool down, I knock on my daughter's door. "Can I come in?" I ask. "Yes," she sniffs, much to my dismay.

I sit on her bed and place a hand on her knee. "I'm sorry, honey," the most important words I ever say. "Mommy got too frustrated and it wasn't right of me to talk to you in that tone. Can you forgive me?"

She nods slowly and curls up into my lap. And after a few minutes of cuddling, we talk about why I was frustrated, why she was frustrated, and what we can both do to make it better. "I'm sorry, too, Mommy," my little girl says sincerely.

This is the gift I give my daughter: My humility. I’m showing her my willingness to admit when I'm wrong, apologize for it, and talk through conflict rather than ignoring it.

I know how important this is because it's not something I had growing up. In my house, frustration was always the thing festering beneath the surface while raised voices were saved for true blowups. And apologies were almost never muttered.

What would happen is those frustrations would sit there unaddressed, until the moment when they boiled over. Every few months, someone would erupt. Words would be yelled, objects would sometimes be thrown, and lots and lots of tears would be shed. Every moment of anger and frustration from the preceding months would rise to the surface and be thrown down as a gauntlet. And then there was silence for days after.

The worst part about it was there were never any apologies. A few days of quiet would pass, and then someone would enter a room and tell a joke or offer a brownie and pretend the fight had never happened at all. And that was it—there was an expectation that the fight was simply over. I was always left shaken and confused. How could I pretend the angry words screamed between us had never been said at all?

Without talking it out, we never worked through the issues. They just continued to linger there, waiting for the next blowup to be thrown around as ammunition.

My confusion over how conflict should be resolved impacted me well into my teenage years and adulthood. It turned me into someone who was passive aggressive and avoided true blowups at all costs. It took years of therapy, and some very patient and understanding friends, for me to recognize what was wrong with my conflict style and start working to change it.

One of the things I realized I needed, most of all, was closure to any dilemma that took place. I needed apologies and I needed to be someone who knew how to apologize.

Today, this is a lesson I prioritize with my daughter. I don't shy away from showing her I'm human by admitting when I've been wrong and working to fix it. I always encourage her to do the same.

I'm teaching my little girl that there is no shame in apologizing. And that sometimes closure comes as a result of being the first willing to say those two little words. We all screw up and I'm working hard to show my daughter that being willing to admit to that is sometimes the best way we can start working toward making things right.

I want her to grow up knowing how to deal with conflict better than I ever did. And I want her to enter adulthood recognizing the power of "I'm sorry" far sooner than I was able to.

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