For as long as I can remember I’ve had a hard time apologizing to people and I know exactly why. I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in an abusive home after my parents divorced and my mom and I moved in with my grandparents. Though she did not have a job, my mom kept herself quite busy out and about which meant I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I don’t know the details, but it seems my grandfather essentially rescued her from a bad family situation when he married her. Translation…she had a lot of issues. And it seems she took those issues out on me. I was not the perfect child. I’m sure I had my moments that would drive any parent crazy. But I did not deserve the treatment I got. No child should ever feel afraid in their own home because of their own family.

More often than not, those times when my mom was gone and my grandfather was either gone or in the basement working on his inventions turned into episodes of violence and intimidation. It was like she had two completely different personalities, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute she’d be out of control, screaming and hitting and pulling my hair, and then the phone would ring and she would answer in the sweetest voice as if everything was just fine. No one outside our home had a clue…and neither did my mom. Every time she came home my grandmother would make sure to get to her first so she could tell her version of the day’s events. That always resulted in me having to apologize to her and tell her I loved her. Even as I’m sitting here typing this my heart is racing as those memories I normally choose not to dwell on are still vivid, like it just happened yesterday.

So I hope you can understand why I have a hard time apologizing. Over time it’s gotten easier, but it’s most difficult with the people I’m closest to, my family. My early experiences definitely created a roadblock or wall which, to others, probably looks a lot like a stubborn streak. It’s just not always easy to separate those times when I was forced to say I was sorry when I really, really wasn’t from the times when I want to say I’m sorry because I really, really am.

Now that I’m a parent and trying with all my might to make sure my kids have a better childhood than I did, I’ve started to try to see our life through their eyes. What is it like to wake up in their beds with me standing in the doorway telling them they need to get up? How do they truly see me as I’m pushing them through their morning routines? I know they’re not afraid which is truly a wonderful thing, but do they mostly see me smiling or frowning? Do they really know how much I love them and appreciate how great they are even if getting them to do their chores is like pulling teeth?

Thinking about all these things has made me realize that I have to consider the possibility that my grandmother never, ever asked herself how she looked in my eyes. She was always so concerned with how everyone else saw her and our family. She made it very clear that I was never to tell anyone what went on in our home. Obviously on some level she knew it wasn’t ok, but I think it’s possible that she really didn’t understand how bad it actually was and how much damage she was doing. Maybe because of her past it all seemed fairly normal, just nobody else‘s business. Or maybe she so identified with the person everyone else thought she was, she just assumed no one would ever see her differently no matter what she did.

I’m in no way saying it was ok, but now I’m seeing how easy it is to behave in certain ways without realizing how we’re coming across to those around us. And let’s face it, our family sees us at our worst. There are days when I’m grumpy and irritable and make very little effort to think before I speak, but somehow when I’m around other people I manage to control myself. Sometimes I can be impatient with my boys because I know they’re smart and capable of so much. Yet I would never speak to someone else’s child in the same tone of voice.

So I ask myself again, what does life look like from their perspective? Do they see a mom who is loving and happy and cheerful most of the time? I actually am very happy with my life now, but I wonder if that’s what they see or if most of their interactions with me have a negative tone. When I talk to them about life and how to navigate through it with goals and a positive attitude do they see how passionate I am about making sure they understand because I want what’s best for them or do they just see it as nagging? Other people say I inspire them (which is extremely humbling considering how I’ve lived most of my life), but do I inspire my kids or do I make them feel like I’m not happy with them the way they are?

You may be reading this thinking I’m beating up on myself, but I’m really not. I’m just trying to ask some hard questions because the last thing I want is to be one person to everyone else and another, completely different person to my family. When I really concentrate and imagine that I’m each of my boys I see a picture of me that I’m not entirely happy with. And that’s great! Not because I haven’t always been perfect, not one of us has, but because I can see clearly where I need to improve and what I need to apologize for. Not once when I was growing up in my grandparents’ house did my grandmother ever apologize to me. And it didn’t happen after I grew up and she mellowed out a bit, either. What a difference a simple “I’m sorry” would’ve made. Not a meaningless one, like all those I said to her over the years, but one from the heart knowing she needed to do better.

I guess part of me has always felt like apologizing is a sign of weakness, but now I know I couldn’t be more wrong. It takes courage to be willing to look at ourselves and come to terms with the fact that we have things to be sorry for, especially with our families. They see us at our worst and love us anyway. That doesn’t mean we should take advantage of the situation and continue on as we have been. It means that they deserve to know that we “get” how much we’ve hurt them even if we didn’t realize it at the time. They deserve to know how much we appreciate them for always being there through the good and the bad. And I can’t think of a better way to show our love and appreciation than by saying I’m sorry…and meaning it, no matter how hard it is.

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