These Two Words Can Help Strengthen Your Family Unit

Saying “I’m Sorry” can be seen as weak in Latinx households, when in fact, it can build trust within families. Here’s why it’s time we all learn to give a proper apology.  

latino dad apologizing

We've all seen the TikToks and memes parodying the Latinx parent apology. It usually involves avoiding any discussion of the conflict that may have occurred, followed by a quick attempt at moving on by asking something like "Quieres comer?" to their kid. Some of us may have even experienced this at one point or another, but minimizing and avoiding discussions surrounding mistakes and disagreements, as well as refusing to apologize for hurting someone (whether intentional or not), can be damaging.

"In Latinx culture [being right all the time] is tied to machismo culture and power and it's very one-sided," says Yolanda Renteria, a Hispanic Licensed Professional Counselor. "Parents may view being right as being in control, so anything other than being correct threatens that."

Teresa Solis, a 36-year-old Mexican American mom of two, reflects on her own experience as a child. "I would've liked for my parents to apologize to me in situations in which we had disagreements and they knew I was right, but they wouldn't admit to being wrong. They considered themselves to be right, just because they're the parents," says Solis. And while many of us may be used to this type of behavior, it doesn't make it acceptable, nor does it mean we need to continue this pattern in our own parenting. "I am changing that with my own children by admitting to my mistakes," says Solis. "If we argue and I realize I am wrong, I apologize to them."

While previous generations may have balked at the idea of parents saying "I'm sorry" to their children, breaking generational cycles requires conscious effort.

Yolanda Renteria, LPC, shares with us why apologies are important and how they offer an opportunity to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones.

Tell us the importance of apologizing?

Apologizing starts the process of repair, helps people feel understood, and allows connection to happen because it gets people to be in that place of openness. As humans, we are always going to make mistakes, and it's important to acknowledge when we have messed up so that we can improve and show up in a better way in our relationships.

Why does it feel difficult to apologize at times?

It depends on how apologies were modeled in our families. Some people grew up in environments where apologizing or being wrong was seen as weak or as a personal flaw. There are certain perceptions tied to what it means to be wrong. When people grow up aiming to be right all the time, it's hard to admit when they are wrong because it threatens our worth and power.

How can we change the idea that apologizing is a sign of weakness?

We can start by normalizing in society that it's common to make mistakes, and it's okay to admit to mistakes. People only see things through their own experiences and it's inevitable to get things wrong. We play a role in every relationship we have, as a parent, as a child, as a partner, and as a friend. We are only one part of that relationship, so it's not possible to be right all the time. Part of being human is learning, having an idea of self and an idea of others in the world. It's about trying to understand each other.

That sounds like it can be a lot of work.

It's easier said than done. A lot of it has to do with what we were exposed to growing up. It's important to be open to the idea that just because it's all we have been exposed to doesn't mean it's right. In order for personal growth to take place, and in order to have growth in our relationships, things need to be done differently.

Sometimes people are in disbelief when they hear about what a healthy dynamic looks like, or it seems unrealistic to them because they aren't used to it. In healthy families, people can own up to things very easily because it doesn't threaten them. It's not about ego, sense of power, control, or worth, it's about being [willing to] acknowledge another point of view and another opinion. Being able to apologize makes relationships easier.

What makes an apology sincere?

An authentic apology has no "buts." Don't excuse your behavior. Forget about your side of the story. It's not the time for that. Be present to the other's experience and let them know that you're trying to understand. It's different for each person, but there are components to an apology that can make it authentic.

Validating someone, listening with the intention of understanding rather than responding, and reflecting on what that person said to you. What is the takeaway from the experience and what are you going to do to change it?

Offer an action plan.

Should an apology towards a child be approached differently than an apology between adults?

It depends on the situation, but with both children and partners, you need to acknowledge the moments as they happen so that hurt feelings don't build and lead to resentment.

With children, we are building the foundation of trust in the relationship. Adults already have their own triggers based on upbringing or previous experiences.

It's important not to be dismissive and recognize that maybe because something isn't important to you doesn't mean it's not important to the other person.

It's not so much about the apology sometimes but the acknowledgment.

What advice do you have for adult children who know they won't ever receive an apology or any kind of acknowledgment of wrongdoing from their parents? How do you proceed in that relationship?

Grieve the need for an apology and validate your own emotions and thoughts. Give yourself space to experience the pain of not receiving an apology and having to live without it. It's important to have your pain acknowledged, but sometimes you can only do that in therapy. Acceptance will eventually come.

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